Laptops or pen and paper? Laptops may be less effective in note-taking

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February 3, 2014

11:04 PM

In the digital age, using laptops for note-taking has become a common practice in many college classrooms. Although using laptops in class may be convenient, recent studies have shown that electronic note-taking may not be the most effective method for actually learning the material.

According to a recent Huffington Post article, students who use laptops are not as well-versed in the material because they simply copy everything the professor says without absorbing the information. While they may have the professor’s lecture copied down word-for-word, they lose understanding.

Philosophy professor and Department Chair Elizabeth Radcliffe said she prefers the pen and paper technique and sees copying an instructor’s words verbatim as a flaw in laptop note-taking.

“I think note-taking is becoming a lost skill,” Radcliffe said. “I don’t expect students to repeat back to me verbatim what I said. I don’t think note taking has to be of that form to be valuable. Taking dictation isn’t thinking. It’s just writing down words.”

Classical studies professor Molly Swetnam-Burland agrees that the pen and paper technique is optimal. While she concedes that laptops can help her students zoom in on pieces of artwork she includes in her PowerPoints, she said that they are, for the most part, a distraction. Swetnam-Burland also encourages her Latin students to copy conjugations of verbs repeatedly to solidify the words in their minds, a tactic that would be much more difficult with the use of a computer.

“[Using] pen and paper focuses your attention, and you’re entirely giving your mind over to the task at hand,” Swetnam-Burland said. “It helps both because you’re using more of your brain and because you’re really, really engaged in making choices.”

Others view using laptops in class as a convenience.

“[With laptops] you have the ability to look up information on your own [during lectures],” Mike Kikta ’17 said. “In history, you can copy and paste [notes] into chronological order. You have an added level of control.”

Conversely, Christine Swengros ’16 said there are drawbacks to using a laptop in class.

“[Laptops] distract me sometimes. People go on Facebook or shop,” Swengros said. “I’ve always been taught there’s a connection between writing and remembering things.”

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  • Eleanor Lamb

Senior Staff Writer Eleanor Lamb '16 is an English Major. She previously served as Associate News Editor.

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