School is starting next week, or started already for some folks, and one of the open questions I have is whether taking notes on a computer is better than old-fashioned paper. Truth be told, I'm on the fence about this my self. Here are my thoughts on pros and cons of taking notes on a laptop.
I remember starting off each school year with my stack of fresh, blank, spiral-bound notebooks for each class in high school. Once freed from the tyranny of teachers demanding such notebook of this size and paper in university, I took a lot of notes on top-bound legal-style pads (not legal sized). Stacks and stacks of them. Notes in the margins (along with various doodles as my mind wandered), lines and such drawn to mark off and denote different sections that relate to each other (but didn't follow together in the course of the lecture). Then when it came time to review for an exam or write a paper going through said notebooks hoping it would all make sense and I didn't miss and salient points of the lecture.
Ah the good old days. Maybe not so old, eh, because we all still take notes during meetings and conference calls and conference sessions. Are we much better off now than we were 20 years ago? Maybe. Now we have laptops and note taking software to help us record our thoughts. This must be better right?
I've used MindJet's MindManager--Mindjet: Brainstorming, Free Form Thinking, and Visual Aid Mind Mapping Software Program--Evernote--Remember Everything. | Evernote Corporation--even Personal Brain--TheBrain.com - Welcome to TheBrain--to both collect notes and relate them to work projects. I've had great success with some of these apps. I once put together an agenda for a high-level, day-long board meeting in MindManager then took notes on the agenda and was able to produce the minutes/action plans in, well, minutes. However I've noticed a couple things about these apps that are key here:
- Taking notes on the computer takes more concentration than writing notes on paper
- If you're taking notes in a particular system you need to stick to it and take all you notes in it or you are worse off than before.
So should we be teaching kids to take all their notes on their laptops? Sure they can benefit from everything being searchable and "organizable". It's also a good lesson in information management, but I'm not 100% convinced here. There are things that are harder to just "jot down" on a laptop. I quick circle or line or something. Staring at the laptop screen can put a barrier between student and teacher that might just cause someone to lose focus.
Paper doesn't need to reboot or have security updates or need to be plugged in to work. A cheap pen (though I only use fountain pens, myself) and paper works as a note taking system.
Still the ability to search through notes, connect them to other things (images, links, etc), and reorganize them later is a powerful attraction.
So to you all: Paper or laptop? Laptop: best app for notes? Paper: favourite pen?
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