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Technology roundup: paper and pencil vs. digital note-taking

03/12/2014

For years, pencil and paper have been the main tools of a student. When we were in elementary school, that’s what we were taught to work with. This method has stuck around so long because it simply works. Perhaps that is why, even with the onset of the Digital Age, pencil and paper remain strongly prevalent.

Because so many have adjusted to the traditional ways of working with pen and paper, the potential of better incorporating technology into education has gone largely unnoticed.

With the possibility of Jacksonville State University providing iPads to incoming freshmen in the future, I feel it is time to revisit how much using such technology in the classroom and embracing digital content can change the college experience.

The important thing to consider is that it does not take an entire conversion. Students who prefer to work with digital media and students who prefer physical content can work together for an altogether more flexible learning experience that everyone can benefit from.

Let’s start by discussing the limitations of using strictly physical notes. Most students only have the original copy of their notes. Notes are limited to the taker’s perspective. Most importantly, it may be difficult for a friend or partner to understand what was written.

While students have been getting by just fine with these limitations, some of these issues could easily be solved by taking a hybrid approach in learning. Instead of maintaining a single physical copy of notes, it is strongly recommended to scan them every few days.

Scanning your notes has several advantages.

Getting a digital version of your class notes allows you to have them backed up, so there’s no fear of a tragic coffee spill on test day. It’s easy to share digital notes with others. You can also review them anywhere through multiple devices. That is one of the easiest methods of giving physical notes some of the advantages that go with being a digital student. However, it does not meet some of the other untouched potential of digital note taking.

Because we are so used to doing things in terms of pencil and paper, a lot of the strengths of digital note-taking are currently being overlooked. Services such as Google Drive allow multiple users to modify a single document simultaneously; this means that a group of students could work together to get notes from multiple angles.

What one student misses, another might catch, and a bit of preplanning could lead to amazing possibilities.

Imagine if one student was dedicated to pulling definitions and putting them into the notes, another was assigned to find related media such as PowerPoint slides, a student who sat near the front recorded audio, and another could simply build a general outline. All of this could be done at the same time and in one place, the notes would no longer be limited to what one student was able to hear.

Incorporating easily accessible multimedia into the notes and lectures could appeal to people who prefer different learning methods.

It could also take away some monotony and encourage students to get more involved with their notes, as opposed to taking them and putting them away. A study group where everyone was working with the same notes could be highly beneficial. Of course digital notes could always be printed just as easily and then gain some of the advantages of handwritten notes.

Handwritten notes and digital notes both have their advantages and can coexist, but the idea of copying information from a whiteboard that has been drilled into our heads since we first started school has lead to lack of creativity with digital notes.

I hope that students who are growing with technology in the classroom learn to take advantage of all of the benefits that such devices can provide.

If you have not yet attempted collaborative study, I highly recommend it. It makes many parts of being a college student much easier since you are never working alone. Adding a resource such as audio clips or related links will certainly take more time, but will make the process more interesting and enhance your understanding.

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