The Handwriting v. Typing Note Taking Debate

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.


Does reading on digital devices lead to deep reading?

Does the technology we use to read actually change the way we read and comprehend written material? Is reading on a screen a different mental process than reading on paper? Reading is such a critical component for legal education and many legal scholars have found that effective reading comprehension skills are a key differentiator between successful and struggling law students.

Researchers are trying to understand differences in comprehension between reading on digital devices versus on paper to develop the best strategies to transfer tried and true print reading strategies into digital reading environments.  To be most effective, researchers suggest readers will need a “bi-lateral brain,” a brain that is adept with technology, but also employs deep reading skills no matter the technology.

An article in Education Week, Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students, summarizes the issue:

When reading on screens, for example, people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences. Research has also found that students, when reading digitally, tend to discard familiar print-based strategies for boosting comprehension.

A similar article in Scientific American from last year, The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens, summarized recent research on this issue, suggesting that while “E-readers and tablets are becoming more popular as such technologies improve, but research suggests that reading on paper still boasts unique advantages.”

When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation—strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way.




Law School Flash Fiction: Describe Law School In 6 Words Or Less

Lisa Mazzie, a legal writing professor at Marquette University Law School, challenged her students to a round of “flash fiction” – writing a story in six words or less. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway won a bet challenging him to write a story in six words or less. His flash fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

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Judges do not like “redundancy, verbosity, and legalism”

Here’s the dilemma. You cannot see how you could possibly reduce your brief to meet the court’s (stingy!) page limit. Every word , every sub-sub-section you slaved over is precious. What to do? You file a motion with the court to submit your overstuffed, er, overlength brief.

The court’s response? Instead of simply denying your motion, the court denies your motion AND publicly humiliates you by stating:

A review of the proposed, twenty-nine-page motion’s commencement confirms that a modicum of informed editorial revision easily reduces the motion to twenty-five pages without a reduction in substance.

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