Thursday, August 24, 2017

Susan Dynarski publishes Brookings article stating that students should take notes on paper, not laptops


In a recent piece for The Brookings Institution, Professor Susan Dynarski explains that learning improves when students forego a laptop in favor of a pen. “For Better Learning in College Lectures, Lay Down the Laptop and Pick up a Pen” reveals that students who take notes electronically learn less and receive lower grades.

Dynarski cites studies by Princeton, UCLA, and the United States Military Academy which concluded that students who handwrite lecture notes perform better on tests of the lecture material. One possible explanation is that students with laptops tend to transcribe a lecture instead of processing and summarizing it. Students with pen and paper, on the other hand, must consider what a speaker said and quickly condense it on paper if they want to keep up with the material being presented. This involves cognitive processes that help students remember more of a lesson.

Dynarski reports that electronics are also distracting. Students on laptops tend to multitask, and multitaskers in a U.S. Military Academy study scored “about 11 percent lower on a test” taken for the study. Students who were not multitasking, but who could see another person’s screen, scored “17 percent lower on comprehension than those who had no distracting view.”

As the professor posits, “students may object that a laptop ban prevents them from storing notes,” but she argues that students can use smartphones to convert handwritten pages into PDF notes. “The best evidence,” she says, “suggests that students should lay down their laptops and pick up a pen.”

Susan Dynarski is Professor, School of Education; Professor of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; Professor, Department of Economics, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

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