Photo by Justina Huang
It is the arguments you have heard over and over again. Taking notes via the pen comes with fewer distractions than with the laptop. I buy this argument. What I do not buy as much is the argument that since research “proves that typing is a more shallow cognitive process,” that laptops should be banned in the classroom.
Most correlational studies (Kraushaar & Novak, 2010, Skolnick & Puzo, 2008, Sovern ,2013) deal with the tendency of laptops to distract students, and the idea that students who multitask during class will not do as well. By the same token, I suggest that research should be conducted through brick-and-mortar archives, as databases such as EBSCOhost may invite distractions such as Facebook or YouTube. Perhaps your local doctor should handwrite every prescription and hope that you can read it, because he should not go on a computer where he might be prone to multitasking! Oh no! When it comes to research or professional jobs, we are quick to defend technology because we believe that the convenience of the keyboard will outweigh this supposedly profound connection we have with the pen-and-paper. However, simply because distractions are more easily accessible to the laptop user does not mean that it should be written off as an inferior means of learning.
But Justina, most professors do not ban technology in the classroom because it may invite distraction! They trust you as a competent student to learn if you need to. They do it for your benefit! You see, writing is a more active process that allows you to encode information better, while typing is passive and allows you to store information better! Just look at that DiVesta & Gray research in 1972! I see two problems with this. The first is that if the research was conducted in 1972, typing was most likely second nature for these participants, as technology was just becoming more accessible. Of course they are going to find it more difficult to retain information that they type! The second is that as Kiwera’s 1985 study pointed out, students who study their notes will do well regardless of how they encode their information.
But Justina! Laptop note-taking is less engaging because it gives you the option of verbatim transcription, which takes away your ability to note-take with generative, summarizing statements that engage with the text! Yes, that is correct, but these studies take into account how typed versus written content is received. In addition, if you study your notes outside of classroom like you should, how you write down that information does not matter.
What if I told you that in classes where I was allowed to engage with technology, I could type down everything faster and Google terms that confused me, which led me to be able to engage with the content right then and there with the professor? Even if another student may spend class on Reddit, what does banning technology for the entire class say? From where I am sitting (which is often the front of the class), it is saying I do not trust your ability to learn. I will subject you to conditions I see as most beneficial under somewhat limited research in the hope that that student, who would rather be watching porn, will not be watching porn in my class. You may not be able to handwrite every last detail that I recite, but that is okay, because as a class, we will minimize distractions and learn better.
You know what this argument sounds like? When the pen, the first technological tool to record thought, was attacked. Socrates opposed writing for it would “create forgetfulness” and according to Erasmus, the printing presses would fill the world with books that are “foolish, ignorant … impious and subversive.” We heard this again with the invention of the modern pencil, where schoolteachers were also convinced that erasers attached to pencils, in the comfort to make mistakes that it provides, would encourage students to not prepare for class. Yet today, we do not look back on the pencil or printing press as enablers of our inner idler. Imperfect penmanship or “making mistakes” become uncontested parts of the creative process that is writing or learning. In other words, with every technological advancement, something is also lost.
I agree that I may lose something when I type in the classroom, but I spend hours outside of the classroom to get it back, and that is what matters.
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