Saturday, August 06, 2005

Taking Notes: Pen vs Laptop

I got an email recently asking about laptops in class. Here's my response:

As far as using laptops in class, there seem to be two schools of thought. The first camp comsists of diehard pen-and-paper users, and there are a few at Queen's. In fact, I would have to say that some of my brightest, sharpest classmates stick strictly to taking notes with ink. But they are the minority. By far. The second group, more than 80% of students, come to class with a computer. Queen's will even lend laptops to students through the Office of Equity to make sure that any student who wants to take notes on a laptop will not be "disadvantaged". However, it is not clear who is at a disadvantage. Laptops come with problems, it is not clear that the benefits of bringing one to class outweigh its potential detriments.

One problem with bringing a laptop is that it can be distracting. All the classrooms are WiFi enabled so instead of paying attention, you can surf the web, write emails, send instant messages, or read blogs (like this one). You can circumvent this problem by disabling your WiFi card, but few students do.

There are other hazards. I know many students who play video games in class. Some just play hearts for 5 minutes while others spend the entire time building and conquering empires. Another hazard is that computers crash (even Macs). If you need to restart your laptop, for whatever reason, you will end up with a gap in your notes. You may lose all your notes if you haven't saved your work. For these reasons, some students purposefully leave their laptops at home. I think each student must decide on his/her own. If the pitfalls outweigh the advantages, perhaps taking notes on pen and paper is a better idea.

In some cases, you won't have a choice. A few profs have decreed that their classrooms are computer-free. This seems rather patronizing and dictatorial for my taste, but I can see the reasoning behind the rule.


At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add to your comments, I just finished first year using a laptop only for 2nd term. After comparing both, I think I'll be returning to traditional pen and paper for 2nd year. The main reason is that since I write much more slowly than I can type, I processed the material more actively, having to summarize what the prof is saying rather than just typing madly on my computer. I also process the material and summarize again when preparing summaries from my hand-written notes, which means you end up with shorter, clearer (and thus more useful) summaries.

And yes, under no circumstances should you allow yourself to be distracted by your computer - it's amazing how quickly 10 or 15 minutes can slip by, and you'll be lost for the rest of the lecture.


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