dimanche 26 octobre 2014

Handwritten vs laptop notes - A large study with interesting results

For a while, I was planning to write about an interesting research on student performance in tests comparing handwritten and computer assisted settings.

One of the biggest recent publications was written by Mueller and Oppenheimer (see the full reference below). In an eleven pages publication, the authors present results of three large sample studies comparing different aspects of handwritten notes and computer assisted work. All computers did not have an internet connection and all distractors were removed. One of the studies even focused on long term retention … but I’m getting too far ahead!

The first study focused on 67 students following selected five 15 minutes TED Talks covering "interesting but not common knowledge topics." Students (alone or in group of two) followed a lecture projected on a screen and used either a notebook or a computer (full keyboard) to take notes. Thirty minutes after the lecture, following 10 minutes distractor tasks, students have completed a set of recall (factual) questions and a set of conceptual-application questions blind scored by two raters.

Following the analysis, the authors found that students wrote significantly less words by hand than on computer. Moreover, laptop notes contained an average of 15% of verbatim overlap whereas hand written notes contained only 9%. Students who took more notes performed better but those whose notes had less verbatim text also had better results. In short, on factual-recall questions all participants performed equally well. However, on conceptual-application questions students taking hand notes performed significantly better. The authors suggest that
[T]his study provides initial experimental evidence that laptops may harm academic performance even when used as intended. Participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap with the lecture. … mindless transcription seems to offset the benefit of the increased content, at least when there is no opportunity for review.
The second study involved 151 students in a similar setting. However, this time the researchers have attempted to influence students’ behavior by suggesting to take notes “in their own words.” Unfortunately, the suggestion had no effect and the results of this study aligned in the same direction as the previous one: students with handwritten notes have performed better in conceptual-application type of questions.

In the third study, 109 participants have been part of the research in a 2x2 setup: handwritten vs. computer and revision vs. none. All participants have taken the test a few weeks later in order to see if larger note set will significantly improve test performance. Statistical analysis has shown that those who took handwritten notes and were able to study them performed significantly better than any other group in all question categories.  In fact researchers suggest that
it is also possible that, because of enhanced encoding, reviewing longhand notes simply reminded participants of lecture information more effectively than reviewing laptop notes did.
In the scope of an everlasting integration of technologies in kindergarten and up, it is interesting to view this research as a small inquiry into possible effects of educational changes induced by technology. For instance, even in participatory social constructivist classroom a student taking notes on a computer during a wrap-up or presentation by another team could be disadvantaged in all types of analysis-reflection questions asked after. Similarly, a traditional lecture could represent an even bigger problem for many students with laptops resulting in an even bigger loss of information.

However, should we rely on note taking as a study method?  Could we get rid of all forms of note taking completely? Is this the future? How much information can be remembered without any form of note taking?

UPDATE 27/10/2014 : It is now almost midnight and I just had an interesting conversation with my friend and colleague on this research. Despite my fatigue, I will ponder here a few short ideas to play with. He brought up an interesting hypothesis or ... a set of ideas if you wish:

  1. It is possible that the students that have been tested in the above mentioned research have never been taught and thus do not have the skills necessary to take effective notes on the computer.
  2. It is possible that the above tested students did not have sufficient exposure to note taking on the computer: they have learned to take notes by hand and have been "imprinted" with handwritten method versus computer assisted. Thus, their "habits" influence their actions.
When we actually take time to play with the ideas mentioned above we realize that it is possible: all this research could simply demonstrate that our students are not prepared to take notes on the computer. Just think about it!
The above students were born before iPads and even before major adoption of technologies in the classrooms. Teachers that have thought these students were not teaching technology assisted note taking skills or technology assisted anything for that matter. It is probably safe to say that most of these kids did not see much of tech in their classroom until their 10th birthday and sometimes even later. It is therefore possible that this generation simply does not know how to effectively use the tools in the learning process. Have we wrongfully assumed that our tech generation is so good with any IT tools that they will simply naturally know how to use this tech for learning? Could it be that we have been wrong, that our students need good examples, training and exercise in the same manner as they needed before with paper?

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological science, 0956797614524581.

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