Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Have To Take Class Notes In College? Best To Do So By HAND!

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Handwritten class notes for a 'stellar structure and evolution' class at Univ. of South Florida. It appears handwritten notes assure the student higher grades than those entered by computer.

Some new research shows that the old traditional way of university note -taking serves students better than entering them digitally. When I taught physics and calculus none of that mattered, since computers didn't exist yet and all note -taking had to be done by hand. (Some students brought tape recorders but the content still had to be transcribed, including any equations.)

Now, I am told, the "sound track of higher education" is in the clatter of so many computer keyboards across the lecture room as 'x' number of students try to get lecture details down.   As anyone who keys in text - like I am doing now - can tell you, it's faster than writing long hand. In fact, according to recent research by a team from Princeton and UCLA it's 33 words a minute. This compares to 22 words a minute for long hand writing.  But is faster better? Not according to the researchers.

As per a WSJ piece ('The Power of Handwriting',  April 5, p. D1) the "very feature that makes laptop note taking so appealing - the ability to take notes more quickly-  was what undermined learning."

How in  the world can this be? Well, when you're forced to write down the information more slowly by hand, committing it to paper, you also more successfully commit it to mind.  In the words of Harvard cognitive psychologist Michael Friedman: "You are transforming what you hear in your mind."

It doesn't work quite the same way using a laptop. As the article puts it (ibid.):

"After just 24 hours the computer note takers typically forgot material they transcribed,  several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial."

And the long hand note takers?

"In contrast, those who took notes by hand could remember the lecture material longer and had a better  grip on concepts presented in class, even a week later. The process of taking them down encoded the information more deeply in memory, experts said. Longhand notes also were better for review because they were more organized"

Another aspect the Princeton-UCLA researchers discovered in three experiments conducted over 2014 (ibid.):

"Those who wrote their notes longhand wrote fewer words, but appeared to think more intensely about the material as they wrote, and digested what they heard more thoroughly - the researchers reported in Psychological Science."


"When tested, the longhand note takers did significantly better than laptop note takers despite the fact the laptop note takers had more notes to look at."

It appears that if you're a college student taking any kind of serious course or class, long hand note -taking is the way to go. And my own grade in the 'Stellar Evolution' course - after filling some 80 pages with notes all via long hand? Well, an A of course! (Ok, that course grade also included a (convective core) numerical stellar model, computed layer by layer,  in the days before computers were widely available.. I had to make all the calculations, for opacity, pressure, temperature etc. using a Wang calculator.

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