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Friday, January 31, 2014

Laptops, redux: Yeah, Science!

Here is a story from HuffPost about two studies by UCLA psychologists concluding that students who take notes by hand learn better than those who take notes by computer, both in short-term and longer-term learning. They found that computer users tend to engage in "mindless transcription," which gives them lots of notes, but did not learn as much, especially when testing focused on concepts rather than facts. In addition, at one point they specifically told laptop users not to simply transcribe what they were hearing, but it didn't work--the computer users were unable to stop themselves from trying to get verbatim notes.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 31, 2014 at 11:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

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The studies involved college students passively listening to lectures; I wonder if the same result holds for active discussion in a law school class.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 31, 2014 11:30:14 PM

I expect that the tendency to want to transcribe interferes with the student's active participation in those discussions.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jan 31, 2014 11:40:47 PM

Maybe, but I'm not sure. If you're listening to a Socratic dialogue, what do you transcribe? I assume students wouldn't transcribe the comments of other students. Do they transcribe the questions without any answers? It may be that the dynamic is the same, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Feb 1, 2014 1:48:27 AM

From what I remember when I allowed laptops, based on how loud things got, they all transcribed the question and whatever comments or elaboration the professor would give. And some would transcribe everything waiting for the professor to say the student was correct in her answer.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 1, 2014 8:42:41 AM

Not all law school classes are conducted along the lines of a Socratic dialogue, or even the law school version of that. And not all college classes are lectures in which the professor does not pause to ask questions or take questions from the class. I teach both college and law school classes. Law students do take notes on the computer just as we took notes in class before the advent of personal computers. Some of my classmates who wrote fast took down a lot, almost in transcribing mode. One wonders how people like that would do on tests. Laptops allow everyone to be speed writers. The question is whether there is something about putting pen to paper that aids memory and/or forces us to learn how to pick out and retain key information in a way that tapping on keys, or a screen, do not.

Posted by: CHS | Feb 1, 2014 10:52:08 AM

The study discussed in the HuffPost article seems to suggest that yes, there is something about it.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 1, 2014 11:41:06 AM

It would be interesting to know whether the people who are putting pen to paper, but in near transcription mode, are more like the "regular" pen/paper note takers or the transcribing computer folks. Is it about really listening to and grasping the lecture/dialogue or the creation of superior memory cues from pen and paper over tapping/typing.

Posted by: CHS | Feb 1, 2014 12:51:36 PM

I suspect there may be another component at work -- perhaps a tendency among computer users to think in terms of future retrievability rather than present learning. In other words, I focus on transcription now because my task is to create an accurate and useful document for retrieval at some future time (tonight, this weekend, study period) when I will actually pay attention to it. I needn't pay attention to what I'm writing and try to understand it as I write because that's a task I'm deferring. Of course, whether the retrieval-and-study phase ever comes is another question. In some ways, it seems to me, this generation of students tends toward the belief that learning *means* "availability for retrieval on demand when circumstances so require."

Posted by: Jim Gardner | Feb 1, 2014 5:22:09 PM

But the HuffPost story says that the second study tested that by testing them a few weeks later, on a known date and with an opportunity to study. The pen-and-paper crowd did better at both facts and concepts, despite having fewer overall notes. So the study suggests that typing is not better for either short-term or long-term retrieval.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 1, 2014 5:30:02 PM

I'd like to read the study. I'd like to know some of the answers to these questions: 1) did any students who hand wrote notes type them later? I used to the that b/c I could never read my own notes weeks later. 2) Did they see how the students studied? Maybe the laptop folks read off their laptops and then got distracted more? 3) Did they compare the notes? Did the notes differ, for instance, did the handwritten notes show higher order thinking? 4) Did the test match the notes? Meaning, if it asked for higher order thinking, and the handwritten note takers did better, would they have done better if the test was more rote?

Posted by: Mike Hasley | Feb 3, 2014 3:38:13 PM

TO: All
RE: Heh

My handwriting is so atrocious that I couldn't read my own notes 24 hours after taking the first days classes at the US Army Logistics Executive Development Course (LEDC).

The instructors talked so fast!

I bought a Mac laptop and took all my notes on that afterwards. I could at least read them.

Furthermore, if any other student missed a class, I could print out my notes and give them to him.

Advantages....Disadvantages....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[Amateurs study tactics. Professional soldiers study logistics.]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto | Feb 3, 2014 5:08:47 PM

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