why I type my notes

her hands
“her hands” by Vyacheslav Bondaruk

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.