Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Chronicle of Higher Education, Should You Allow Laptops in Class? Here’s What the Latest Study Adds to That Debate:
Point: Laptops are a menace, undermining how students take notes in class and distracting not only those using them but also their neighbors.
Counterpoint: Laptops are a lifeline, allowing students with disabilities to participate fully in class.
Plenty of professors have strong opinions about whether laptops belong in the classroom. They also pride themselves on holding opinions based on research. So a new paper investigating the difference between taking notes longhand or on a laptop was bound to attract attention. But that doesn’t mean it offers a definitive answer.
The paper, How Much Mightier Is the Pen Than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014), was published this week in Educational Psychology Review. As the title suggests, the authors tried to replicate a well known study that found that students who took notes by hand fared better on conceptual test questions than did those who typed notes on a laptop [The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note-Taking]. Students who took notes on a laptop wrote more, and were more likely to write what a lecturer said verbatim, according to the original study. Perhaps, the authors of that study wrote, students taking notes on laptops did so “indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content,” did not form a deep understanding of the material, and therefore did worse on the items that demanded such understanding.
The original study was cited among several that led one professor to ban laptops in her classroom in a widely read and much-debated New York Times article.
The new paper, in contrast, couldn’t completely replicate those findings. Instead, it found that students who took notes by hand fared a bit better on factual test questions, but not on conceptual ones. While both papers find some advantage for students who take notes by hand, the new study at least complicates the 2014 paper’s theory about why handwritten notes appeared to improve conceptual understanding in particular.
So where does that leave us in the laptops-in-the-classroom debate?