Jame Doubek at NPR aptly begins the title of his article with ‘Attention, Students,’ since that is what his subject primarily concerns. Why are some students more easily able to recall lecture material than others? It is tempting to think this might have something to do with anal-retention; that students who fastidiously take notes like scribes for the lecturer are also the ones who retain the most. Of course, our modern day scribes are on laptops. Turns out, the intuition does not give the most bang for ones tuition. Doubek cites two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, whose findings we should bear in mind to avoid becoming MacBook Airheads:
For their first study, they took university students (the standard guinea pig of psychology) and showed them TED talks about various topics. Afterward, they found that the students who used laptops typed significantly more words than those who took notes by hand. When testing how well the students remembered information, the researchers found a key point of divergence in the type of question. For questions that asked students to simply remember facts, like dates, both groups did equally well. But for “conceptual-application” questions, such as, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?” the laptop users did “significantly worse.”
The same thing happened in the second study, even when they specifically told students using laptops to try to avoid writing things down verbatim. “Even when we told people they shouldn’t be taking these verbatim notes, they were not able to overcome that instinct,” Mueller says. The more words the students copied verbatim, the worse they performed on recall tests.
Even when laptop users were asked to selectively process and record information, the participants writing in longhand were still able to perform better. Which is the stronger, the pen, or the Word? For certain purposes, clearly, it is the pen.
Read his full post at npr