Still Asking the Wrong Questions About Technology

I read an interesting report today about “Taking Notes by Hand Benefits Recall, Researchers Find.” The basic point is that students that take lecture notes by hand do better on tests than students that took notes on a laptop.

I don’t doubt the findings of this report. Taking notes by hand usually does require you to think more. The bigger question that the researchers are not looking at is “what is the best way to use notes”? They are still looking primarily at empirical/behaviorist stimulus and response in this study. The instructor passes out a stimulus (lecture), and students have to prove in their response (test) that the correct information was received. When we have all of the information that we need online, and when even students that score well will forget most of what they learned in a few hours… why do we need to use information this way? I would be more interested in what they can do with those notes on a real world project, or even more so in a group project. If you let the students taking notes on the laptops socially construct something new based on those notes – I would bet it would blow those test results out of the water.

This just goes back to the bigger problem in education, where we drag technology and teaching down by constraining it to one paradigm of learning. I know that there are times for stimulus and response, but by the time learners get to college they need to know how to do something with the knowledge more than just spit it out on the test. I’m preaching to the choir here, I know.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

5 thoughts on “Still Asking the Wrong Questions About Technology

  1. It appears you’re saying that if teachers allowed students taking notes on a laptop to then use those notes, that’d improve the results. But surely that’s the same offer for notes by hand?
    What this suggests is that the use of technology is an additional step in the learning process that could well be exposed as being redundant by basic note taking.
    The article you cite doesn’t focus on the ‘right information being received’, rather it says conceptual understanding, which to me extends beyond recall.
    But maybe asking the wrong questions about technology isn’t the question that needs to be asked, rather ‘why are we still squeezing kids through lectures’?

  2. Matt Crosslin

    I’m more saying that if teachers let students use laptops to learn RATHER than take notes, the results would be far superior in most cases than any form of note taking.

  3. I belong to the generation wherein taking notes was done by hands (no age jokes please) and I gotta say that how it benefits recall is true. We live in a world wherein taking notes by hands would look funny to some people (you gotta go with the flow right?) because technology has made it possible to do it in easier ways but as much as possible, I’d like keeping it old school every once in awhile.

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