Handwriting and idea generation go hand in hand. Researchers suggest that students may learn better when they take notes by hand, that the act of “putting it down” on paper forces the writer to focus on what is really important. According to a recent article from Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA, The Pen is Mightier Than The Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand over Laptop Note Taking, students learn more effectively when handwriting notes versus typing.
Many legal educators have criticized the distracting nature of computers and the negative effects of computing/multi-tasking on the decline in students’ note-taking skills. But, what if the answer is much simpler – that it is the lack of handwriting itself, not necessarily any distraction inherent in laptop usage, causing the decline.
Let’s be honest. Not every handwriter is a good note taker (just by virtue of being a handwriter). Every student should be instructed in effective note taking – whether on paper or on screen. Every student should be instructed to listen for structure and cues, to reframe concepts, to review notes, and to restructure notes for maximum effectiveness and understanding.
Additionally, laptops aren’t only used for note taking in the classroom. For example, in my legal writing classroom, students don’t have much lecture to capture with their keyboards. Class time is spent actively, with students working on writing exercises, student samples, and where laptops are more commonly used for individual and group in-class research.
Let’s not be too hasty to blame laptops on our students’ note taking and learning short comings. Perhaps we should also examine our own teaching methods first.