I learned from Audrey Watters that if an email reply requries more than 500 words, hit publish. Here goes…
Of all the dozens of articles that I have published over the past several years, few have ever received as much attention as the ones that I have written about note taking. Seriously! Note Taking! I have written about project based learning, design thinking, social media, strategies for supporting digital literacy, 21st century learning, differentiated instruction, universal design for learning, flipped classroom, social justice, and more topics that I can even remember right now yet the note taking posts gain the most traction.
I first wrote this post on Edutopia back in 2014. After slogging through professional development workshops where I forced people to use a particular strategy in the name of “put a stake in the ground so that you can argue with it later,” I realized that it was absurd. Why should I tell someone how to take notes? Why should I remove choice and voice from the most fundamental of learning activities in the name of technology? Instead, I started thinking about the 4Ss. What do you need to support your own learning? How will you save your work across devices? Can you search your notes later when you want to retrieve something? And does your system allow you to share with others?
I also started this post in response to Mueller and Oppenheimer’s article, The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard. Their argument did not account for any of my criteria. Over the summer, Edutopia asked me to update that article with newer note taking apps. As a result, it has been making the rounds once again.
Interestingly, I wrote this companion article almost two years after the one mentioned above. It did not receive quite as much attention as the first one. I wonder if the concept required more thought and also implied a shift in pedagogical strategy. Instead of offering up tools and techniques for supporting traditional, teacher-directed instruction, this article connected the act of note taking with instruction that demanded a mroe student-centered focus and required teachers to engage students in more critical thinking and reflection.
Amazingly, the note taking on paper versus with technology debate seemed to heat up last year. A study from researchers Carter, Greenberg, and Walker (2016) asserted that students who used technology in lecture-based courses performed worse on assessments than students who did not. They used a randomized control trial experiment to support their claim. Since RCTs are considered the “gold standard” of research, numerous editorials began citing it – as well as Muller and Oppenheimer – to discuss the perils of technology in the classroom.
Sabba Quidwai and I did not agree. Combining our experiences as teacher and student, we offered up these three strategies for empowering learners with technology. Another note taking article that started circulating the Twittersphere.
Looking for Knowledge? Google Your Brain!
Last spring, Sabba and I took our note taking conversation on the road to the ASCD conference. We had quite the crowd for first thing in the morning. In that session, we also tackled the aforementioned study by Muller and Oppenheimer as well as a newer one from Carter, Greenberg, and Walker (2016). You can flip through our slides below.
Katrina Schwartz from MindShift gets a lot of credit for the success of this article. I reached out to her in response to one that she wrote about the aforementioned Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard and asked if I could offer a different perspective. We bounced between a number of drafts before this one appeared, as she felt – rightly so – that my initial versions were too academic and in the weeds of research without enough concrete strategies. I am not sure if any other article that I have ever published has received as much attention as this one.
Digging into the Research
But here’s the thing. I still wanted to tackle the actual research studies that so many other publications have cited (e.g. MindShift, NPR, Brookings, Usable Knowledge at Harvard, and even the New York Times). Unsure of whether or not anyone wants to read about how to dissect research, I put a few posts up on my EdTech Researcher blog to see what might happen. Surprisingly, there is interest! If that’s the case, then this is just the beginning. Start with the two posts below and know that more will be added in the future.