At Boston University, laptops take a close second to students as lecture hall attendees. While it’s still common to see some students taking notes by hand, the vast majority choose to type.
On the surface, typing seems to be the obvious choice. Most students would probably say that it’s faster, more efficient, neater and doesn’t waste paper. But in my opinion, these statements aren’t entirely true.
While typing is faster in theory, it rarely is in practice. A laptop with easy access to the New York Times mini crossword, online shopping, and other such vices can significantly slow down the speed at which I take notes. These accessible distractions often cause me to miss information in the lecture as well, leaving my notes unfinished and useless for studying.
I think almost all college students have had the experience of looking back at their notes before a test and realizing that they barely remember attending that lecture at all, let alone taking those notes.
Taking notes by hand may be the solution to this common problem. Instead of mindlessly copying word-for-word, writing by hand forces you to decide – in real time – what information is most important. This active thinking helps with comprehension and memorization, improving retention and reducing the amount of future studying necessary.
The physical action of writing, rather than typing, has also proven to help overall learning. In a 2014 study titled “The Pen is Mightier Than The Keyboard,” students in the group who typed their notes were shown to have performed worse on assessments than those who were told to hand write their notes.
Typing notes can also be nearly impossible for certain classes. For example, I am currently taking an astronomy course in which most lectures include multiple math problems and diagrams that need to be drawn by hand. I think we can all agree that doing math on a laptop is definitely a hassle.
Writing notes by hand also makes it easier to add extra information and drawings in the margins, and connect information with arrows. All too often, typed notes turn into a homogenous block of text that can be overwhelming and difficult to study.
For someone like me, taking notes on paper can also be a method to express some creativity (and an excuse to spend more money on more highlighters than I don’t need).
For all the stationery lovers, I recommend the Decomposition Book brand spiral notebooks, which you can buy at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street, and the MUJI 0.5 retractable gel pens, which can also be purchased on Newbury.
For those worried about the environmental impacts of using paper, Tablets with styluses may be the perfect compromise. They allow students to write directly onto the screen like a notebook, mimicking the benefits of a pen and paper, sans paper.
But don’t be fooled, the production of electronics like iPads does significant harm to the environment as well, as it generates harmful waste and pollution.
Tablets aren’t cheap, either. They can run you $1,000 or more, not to mention the additional costs of the stylus, screen protector, and other accessories.