When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text. –Joseph Stromberg, Vox Magazine
Many of you long-time readers know that I take notes of presentations at conferences and post them here. I get lots of thank yous from folks for doing it, and that’s the main reason why I keep posting them publicly. It’s probably obvious, but just to be sure, you should know that I don’t handwrite them and then transcribe them later. I type them out on some sort of mobile computing device (laptop or iPad) and publish them after I do a look-see to make sure there aren’t any egregious errors.
What I don’t do with my typed notes is try to capture every word the speaker says, which is I think the digital note-taking that the author of the above linked article is critiquing. Instead, I actively listen to the speaker, and quickly synthesize their point into a sentence or two.
Sometimes I will quote directly if the phrasing or word choice is particularly poignant, but that’s hard if they are a fast speaker, because I end up missing a lot of what they say next in my attempt to capture it accurately. However, if I wait until they pause before their next point, I usually have enough time to quickly type out the point they just made.
This was an active choice on my part some years ago. I used to take notes with lots of bullet points and half-formed phrases, but they were virtually useless to me later on, and certainly not helpful to anyone who wasn’t there. When I take notes, I think about the audience who will read them later, even if it’s myself.
Which is another reason why I type. My handwriting is terrible, and it gets worse the longer and faster I write. If I want to know what I wrote more than a few hours ago, I need to type it.
So yes, students might get distracted by their neighbor’s laptop, but I think certain researchers will always find some classroom thing that distracts students and recommend we go back to the good old days. Instead, I think we need to work on the skills students (and future meeting attendees) will need in order to use their tools effectively and maintain focus.
If I can do it, surely they can, too.