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.