New methods for note-taking

Responses to technology in classroom varies among students and faculty

Price can affect students’ decision of which note-taking method to use in class.
Price can affect students’ decision of which note-taking method to use in class.
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While laptops and notebooks are popular note-taking methods, some students are starting to use tablets to reference course material and take notes in class.
While laptops and notebooks are popular note-taking methods, some students are starting to use tablets to reference course material and take notes in class.
Photo: 

A student complains of being distracted during lecture because a fellow classmate is watching pornography.

It’s a story that every politics student knows thanks to Professor Wayne Cox, who responded to the complaint by banning laptops in his class — a reasonable reaction given the circumstance.

After prohibiting the use of electronics to take notes, Cox changed his approach to presenting lecture material, relying less and less on technology.

He champions the traditional lecturing approach — it means no powerpoint, no iClickers, no tablets, no YouTube and especially no laptops.

But Cox is an exception.

Politics Professor Jonathan Rose takes a radically different approach to lecturing than Professor Cox. Rose’s classes make frequent use of technology.

He uses lecture slides in class and also records his lectures for online viewing.

Rose said students use technology based on their learning needs.

“The challenge of teaching is to respond to different learning styles,” Rose said. “You have some students that take notes faster with typing on keyboards … some spend time reflecting on what is being shown.”

According to Rose, classroom technology has a bad reputation among some faculty members.

“Before I recorded my lectures, a colleague told me that I would hardly have a person left attending class,” he said. “Based off my counting since last year, my class attendance has actually grown.”

Rose has students use an iClicker for class participation marks, a trend that’s more noticeable every year.

While several politics professors have started to limit or entirely prohibit the use of technology in lectures, Rose disagrees that technology automatically leads to attention deficiency.

“I think any tool, if used carefully, will work,” he said.

Over the past five years, the role of technology in Queen’s lecture halls has diversified, along with the technology provided by the market.

From laptops to netbooks, tablets running Microsoft Windows to Apple’s iOS and the ubiquitous pen and paper method, there is something for every note-taking scenario.

Tablets such as the Blackberry Playbook or the iPad can serve as an alternative electronic device that uses a keyboard. In addition, they have a relatively long battery life compared to their laptop counterparts.

However, a tablet can be costly.

Vaughn DiMarco uses a Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet in some of his Engineering classes.

“I managed to get this for a cheaper price because this is an old model,” DiMarco, Sci’11, said.

While the Playbook has had price cuts to as low as $149.99, the iPad starts at around $500 for the basic model.

DiMarco said he primarily uses the portable tablet to refer to class materials.

“Its small, seven-inch screen works well for viewing documents and pdfs in class,” he said.

But the tablet still has drawbacks for class use. DiMarco said he runs into issues using the tablet to take notes.

“Typing on the on-screen keyboard isn’t very effective,” he said. “Without keyboards and other input methods, we’re limited to what learning is possible off a tablet.” Typing using an on-screen keyboard can be a slow and frustrating process. Science, math and even language students face problems when typing exponents, fractions and accents — typing flow is seriously hindered when you have to look through menus just to figure out how to add a cedilla to a c in en français.

Aside from typing, tablets offer methods of writing notes directly onto the screen.

Mainstream tablets run off of capacitive screen technology, which needs to recieve an electro-magnetic response from your fingers in order to function.

As a result, the styluses for an iPad or Playbook operate like your thumb and don’t allow for a good writing experience. It feels more like fingerpaints.

I personally tried to take notes with multiple apps and styluses on an iPad to no avail; writing on a tablet is hard to get used to. The screens aren’t sensitive enough to detect all the nuances of available handwriting.

I had to fashion a makeshift glove to keep the apps from believing my wrist was the pen and putting smudges all over my virtual hand-written notes.

While laptops allow you to type notes on Microsoft Word or Note during class and keep everything visually organized, the obvious problem is battery life. Not every lecture hall has power outlets available for every seat. Many laptops die after only a few short hours, which poses problems for students who run from class to class.

Laptop users can buy spare or extended batteries, but it can cost more than $100 before shipping and other associated charges. Mac owners don’t have this option because Apple computers don’t have easily-replaceable batteries.

Because of the struggle to maintain battery life, some students utilize netbooks — essentially smaller laptops that use less power. They have much smaller screens, in the range of 10 to 12 inches, instead of the 13-, 14- or 15-inch displays on regular laptops.

Rather than spending at least $200 before tax on a new netbook, I spent less than $100 and got a wireless bluetooth keyboard and took notes onto my iPhone 3GS, avoiding bulky backpack loads and battery hassles.

I use Simplenote — a free application that allows the user to synchronize notes as well as edit, tag and share them from anywhere with an internet connection. Simplenote is currently on the App Store and is working on a release to the Android Market.

If technology isn’t an option when taking notes in the classroom, one is limited to the pen or pencil approach.

Those with messy handwriting benefit from typed notes, where the text is legible, storable and easily retrievable.

The range of note-taking methods reflects the varying ways students can learn.

“We’re at a stage now where this is the tipping point,” Rose said.

“There needs to be recognition that student have different learning styles.”

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