Friday, February 7, 2020

Put Away the Tech, Part 2 by Scott Harris

Attend a lecture at a local college or even look around at pictures internet, and you’ll see nearly every student behind their (usually Apple) laptop. They are allegedly taking notes, but research suggests otherwise. 

A 2010 study (Journal of Information Systems Education, v21 n2 p241-251 2010  Examining the Affects of Student Multitasking with Laptops during the Lecture.  Kraushaar, James M.; Novak, David C.) found that students spent 40% of their time on things unrelated to coursework. Ninety percent of students were engaged in unrelated activities for at least five minutes, and 60% were distracted for half of the class.

While colleges can block the internet in lecture halls, few do. This begs the question of why any professor or teacher would allow their students to take notes on computers. Some like Dr. Laurie Santos at Yale, have banned laptops. Yet even she got so tired of students asking for exceptions, that she made an exception. However, they have to apply, and she quarantines them in the cheap seats, where they can’t distract anyone else. (See picture below) 


Dr. Santos teaches “Psychology and the Good Life,” the most popular course at Yale. She knows the research is wildly against taking notes with computers. Taking notes by hand has many benefits. Students can type much faster than they can write, which would seem to be an advantage. Yet when an experimental and control group are set up, the students taking notes by hand did better on conceptual understanding, both an hour later and seven days later.


But the typists did better on detail, surely? No. The hand writers did better on that, too. It seems that you can’t keep up writing by hand is the beneficial part. That you have to evaluate, synthesize and condense what is being said is the very thing that forms memory hooks. Typists can essentially record verbatim what is being said; thus, the integration necessary for memory formation is not occurring. 

Then it occurred to researchers to tell the typists to synthesize and not record verbatim. It had no effect. It seems we just can’t help ourselves. If we can keep up, we will. Typing allows to record without really thinking.



Scott K. Harris teaches The Moral Sciences: A.P. Macroeconomics, A.P. Psychology, and Philosophy. He holds a B.A. in History/Psychology and a M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership. He has also taught U.S. History, World History, International Baccalaureate’s Theory of Knowledge, and coached swimming and water polo. He piloted curriculum for Stossel-in-the-Classroom and is an associate producer for izzit.org.