Dan Rockmore at The New Yorker investigates laptop use in the classroom…and the news isn’t so promising

I banned laptops in the classroom after it became common practice to carry them to school. I know that I have a hard time staying on task when the option to check out at any momentary lull is available; I assumed that this must be true for my students, as well.

Over time, a wealth of studies on students’ use of computers in the classroom has accumulated to support this intuition. Among the most famous is a landmark Cornell University study from 2003 called “The Laptop and the Lecture,” wherein half of a class was allowed unfettered access to their computers during a lecture while the other half was asked to keep their laptops closed.

The experiment showed that, regardless of the kind or duration of the computer use, the disconnected students performed better on a post-lecture quiz. The message of the study aligns pretty well with the evidence that multitasking degrades task performance across the board.

Recent Princeton University and University of California studies (investigated) the differences between note-taking on a laptop and note-taking by hand. While more words were recorded, with more precision, by laptop typists, more ended up being less: regardless of whether a quiz on the material immediately followed the lecture or took place after a week, the pen-and-paper students performed better. The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.

I tried to bring a laptop to a meeting once and was highly uncomfortable with it eventually abandoning the keyboard and taking out a pad and pen. I felt more engaged with the speaker and took notes that reinforced what I was hearing rather than just recording specifications. Lately, when engaging with clients one-on-one, I take notes but only using key words and quick sketches. This gives me greater eye-to-eye contact that also personalizes the interaction and provides more of a conversation about a design rather than it being just a note-taking session. It also gives me a chance to see the emphasis on some of those points made with hand gestures and body language that I can also follow with additional questions.

After the meeting I’ll certainly transcribe these notes into an email to my co-workers but the primary tools are still paper and pen. My preference is still quality over quantity…

Tweet that. But not in class…

November 11, 2007
by Garry Trudeau
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