Counterpoint: Should students abandon traditional note-taking?

Noah Loewy, Staff Writer

As the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) increases in

popularity, the age-old idea of taking notes by hand is quickly becoming a thing of

the past for many students. After all, typing notes is faster and can keep you

organized, particularly in an era when information in bulk is the norm.

However, a number of research studies show the disadvantage of

taking notes digitally, highlighting the fact that this method is not only

distracting, but negatively impacts the ability to retain information over

extended periods of time.

Researchers Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer

conducted a study to determine whether taking notes by hand affects

learning. In the study, the psychologists showed TED talks about various

topics to university students, and told them they would later be quizzed on

it. When testing how well the students remembered information, the

researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. Despite

the fact that the students who used laptops did equally as well on questions

that required memorizing basic facts, the students who wrote their notes by-

hand did “significantly better” on conceptual application questions.

According to Mueller, the primary cause of this phenomenon was the quality versus the

quantity of the notes recorded. Laptop students tended to copy the notes

word for word, while the longhand students were forced to be more selective and paraphrase the

material. The researchers determined that the longhand technique of

selectively paraphrasing is actually a form of processing the material, rather

than just copying it, and it benefited the students in the long run.

“Writing helps me stay engaged in the material that I’m learning,

whereas typing is often done mindlessly, and therefore I feel like it is less

effective than handwriting in terms of retaining information,” said freshman Isaac Goldstein. “However, typing can be useful at times, as it helps

maintain organization, especially for students that don’t have neat


In the age of social media, where a simple click can quickly take you

from notes to Instagram or Facebook, using a computer can easily become a distraction. Unlike traditional doodling, which some researchers

suggest can help visual learners, the temptation to surf the web often results

in a complete departure from the task at hand.

“Many students who take notes digitally often find themselves

surfing the Internet, playing games, or doing homework for other classes,”

said freshman Rebecca Packer. “I strongly advise for students to take notes

digitally, but only if they are able to display self-control and stay focused on

the material.”

Despite the advantages of using Google Drive type notes, another benefit of

traditional note taking involves the concept of muscle memory. Muscle memory, also referred to as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory

that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through

repetition. By writing down material, students are drilling the information into

their heads, which can be beneficial for courses where memorizing and

reciting information is stressed.

“The more times you write information down, the easier it will

be for your brain to remember the information later,” said junior Hugh

Owens. “Not only will you remember the information more easily, but

actually writing the words is helpful. If I see something similar on a future test, it’s easier for me to get the answer, because muscle memory will associate one key term with another.”

Some Schreiber students are aiming to get the best of both

worlds by first taking longhand notes in class, and then typing them up in

their free time. By doing this, students are able to utilize their muscle

memory to retain the information, yet maintain proper organization by having

typed notes to use as a study guide.

That being said, no two students are the same and the outcome of converting

to digital note taking will vary from person to person. A visual learner may

benefit from doodling in the margin, while an auditory learner may be able to

retype a lecture word for word. Regardless, the truth of the matter is that

scientific studies have demonstrated that those who opt to go digital should

proceed with caution.The right answer is the one that works for you, but perhaps you

should hold onto that pencil case for a few more years.