Handwriting versus typing notes

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Jade Cohen ’17

In a world dominated by advancing technology, students have the option to take notes using a laptop, traditional handwriting, or sketchnoting. Regardless of the method, the key to successful note taking is quality over quantity, and rephrasing over reproducing.
As laptops grow increasingly useful in the educational environment, many students are opting to type their notes. This is a faster method that allows students to reproduce a lecture verbatim, which they believe will help them better prepare for assessments, according to scientificamerican.com.
Experiments led by Ms. Pam Mueller, a graduate student in the Psychology Department at Princeton University, and Mr. Daniel Oppenheimer, a Professor of Psychology at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, have shown that this assumption is incorrect. In three different tests, students took notes in a classroom setting. Half of the students used a laptop and the other half wrote the notes by hand. The two researchers tested the students on their memory of factual detail, conceptual understanding of the material, and ability to synthesize and generalize the information, according to scientificamerican.com.

Jade Cohen '17
Jade Cohen ’17

The students who used laptops took more notes, as expected, but were deficient in all three aspects tested. Those who wrote their notes by hand, however, not only had a deeper understanding of the information, but also were more successful in applying and integrating the information, according to scientificamerican.com.
Although this particular study demonstrated the benefits of handwriting notes, it only tested a select group of learners. Since all individuals process information differently, typing may be more efficient for certain people. In addition, typing notes may allow some students to participate more in class because it takes less time to record the information.
“From my perspective, note-taking is about efficacy and understanding. Whether by hand or stylus, sketch-noting or doodling, any system of note-taking that offers shortcuts is preferable to reproducing an entire stream of information, ” Upper School English Teacher and Director of the Sacred Heart Center for Research, Teaching and Learning Mrs. Linda Vasu said.
Handwriting notes uses a different type of cognitive processing that improves learning. It helps students listen, digest, and summarize the shared knowledge, as opposed to robotically typing down every word uttered by their teachers. While typing saves time but inhibits genuine understanding, handwriting is slower and causes the brain to work harder. Thus, it facilitates greater comprehension and retention of the material, according to scientificamerican.com.
Upper School Science Teacher Dr. Kristina Gremski initiated an experiment last year, in which she required her students to handwrite their notes for at least one trimester. Dr. Gremski found that almost all of her students decided to continue handwriting their notes for the remainder of the year.
Handwriting notes forces you to synthesize information.  You can’t write as fast as you type, so your brain needs to think about what you’re hearing, so that you only write down the most crucial points,” Dr. Gremski said.
In addition, Dr. Gremski believes the best note taking method is for students to listen to the information and then write it down in their own words, which is a practice that takes time to master.
The fundamental difference between handwriting and typing is that “handwriting …requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key,” according to wsj.com. This distinction causes handwriting to activate regions in the brain related to thinking, language, and memory, which does not occur when an individual types his notes.
Even as handwriting becomes increasingly undermined in this digital age, it remains an extremely powerful agent in helping individuals of all ages to learn different languages, as well as formulate and articulate ideas, according to wsj.com.
Moreover, Ms. Shelley Paul, Director of Learning Design at Woodward Academy, and Ms. Jill Gough, Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity Schools, initiated a study on sketchnoting as an alternative approach to note taking. This method was recently determined to be a useful form of documentation that promotes visual learning and the memorization of information.
In fast-paced lectures, sketchnoting benefits students because it forces them to listen more attentively in order to create selective drawings, which later serve to trigger connections and remind them of missing information, according to ww2.kqed.org.
During the research stage, Ms. Paul attempted sketchnoting in a high school social studies class and found that she maintained an increased level of focus during the lecture. Therefore, Ms. Paul concluded that an individual can benefit as a learner by visually recording class lessons.
According to ww2.kqed.org, Ms. Gough stated in regards to sketch noting that “[i]t causes you to listen at a different level… [d]oodling has long been seen as a sign that students aren’t paying attention. But it may be time to give doodling an image makeover.”
Moreover, sketchnoting is a way of “making ideas tangible,” according to theatlantic.com. It helps catalyze conversation amongst students about the key ideas of a lesson, consequently promoting collaboration in the classroom, according to ww2.kqed.org.
A common misconception is that sketchnoting requires artistic skills. This idea is incorrect, however, since the sole focus is on formulating a “hierarchy [of] concepts” and a form of “visual communication,” according to core77.com.
Studies in neuroscience have proven the advantages of sketchnoting. For example, when information is transcribed as images, the brain commits the associated drawings to memory, which helps students better retain new material, according to ww2.kqed.org.
Overall, sketchnoting allows students to create visual “story chains,” which require selecting only the most important aspects of a lesson. In turn, this helps the memory encapsulate more of the essential knowledge.
“I believe some form of sketch-noting or mapping is a valuable strategy, especially for visual learners. With this in mind, I developed a lesson for AP World Literature Honors and English 10 students in the Makerspace, where they could learn and practice strategies for visually mapping and extracting essential themes and content from Hamlet and Antigone,” Mrs. Vasu said.
Sketchnoting has not only taken a hold in the classroom, but it has also inspired projects in the workforce. For example, a company called Sunni Brown centers around the concept of Infodoodling. This is a type of visual journalism in which the reporters capture the essence of the information presented at different events and document it in a visual way, according to sunnibrown.com.
In the twenty-first century, the underlying goal of educators should not be to restrict their students to one mode of note taking because what works for one individual, might be inadequate for another. Perhaps teachers could record their lectures to allow certain students to engage in auditory learning if they find it challenging to listen and take notes in class simultaneously.
“The importance of note-taking is learning, understanding, and retaining key concepts.  Effective note-taking allows a student to listen, attend to information, and ideate about the key points of a teacher’s or classmate’s comments,” Mrs. Vasu said.
Ultimately, in order for students to reap the greatest benefits of their education and acquire lifelong knowledge, they must be given the liberty to chose the note taking method that is most suitable for themselves.
– Jade Cohen, Opinions Editor