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As Laptop Use Grows, Study Shows Handwriting Notes Increases Retention

Natalie Battaglia | Loyola University ChicagoAt Loyola, professors often have their own preferences regarding the role technology — particularily laptop use — plays in the classroom.

As another semester at Loyola gets into full swing, students will once again have to contend against professors who don’t like their preferred way of taking notes — via laptop.

Students retain more information when handwriting their notes compared to taking notes on a laptop, according to a study by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study divided a group of students into two groups in which one group took notes on paper and the other on a laptop.

Each group was asked to view a lecture presented by experimenters and take notes depending on their assigned note taking style. Then, one week later, they were tested on the material. The results showed those who hand wrote notes had a higher testing average than those who typed them.

Some Loyola professors prohibit laptop use to allow for a technology-free class environment. Dr. Sarita Heer, an art history professor at Loyola, is one such professor — she requests her students take handwritten notes during class.

Heer said she thinks students don’t always process the most important parts of her lectures when they type their notes.

“I have allowed some students in the past and the problem I found is that it interferes with active listening because a lot of students, when using a laptop or tablet, will literally write down everything I say,” Heer said.

When Heer was in college, typing notes wasn’t an option and she found taking notes by hand helped her remember the content of lectures. Now, as a professor, she said she notices her students also seem to retain more when they write their notes.

Dr. Noni Gaylord-Harden, a psychology professor at Loyola, said students who handwrite notes are able to cognitively process them which helps with retaining information. However, Gaylord-Harden said students who use laptops in class are able to take more detailed notes because typing is often faster and easier than writing.

Gaylord-Harden said she doesn’t have a personal preference when it comes to how her students take notes. She said she’d prefer her students try out different types of note taking to find out what works best for them. But, not all professors allow their students to choose.

“Professors do have the right to decide how to teach their class,” Gaylord-Harden said.

Amelia Gonzalez, a junior at Loyola, said while she understands how laptops can be distracting, she thinks they have some value in the classroom.

“I like to write my notes, but sometimes professors talk really fast, so then I’ll type them,” Gonzalez, a 20 year-old psychology major, said.

According to a survey conducted by The Phoenix in 2016, most students agree with Gaylord-Harden. The survey found 65 percent of students polled think professors should be able to choose what role technology plays in the classroom.

Kayla Abrams, a first-year at Loyola, said she recently switched to handwritten notes because she feels it helps her remember more information.

“I feel more confident about understanding the content when I handwrite the notes,” Abrams, a 19-year-old psychology major said.

She said she finds herself getting distracted by social media or other students doing unrelated activities on their laptops. However, despite the added distraction, Abrams said she doesn’t have a preference about what type of note taking professors request.

Patrick Haynes, a first-year at Loyola, said he prefers taking notes on a laptop because it’s more convenient to put into a study guide or online flashcards for future studying.

“There is no reason to be that strict,” Haynes, a 19-year-old creative advertising major, said. “They could have people who want to type on their laptops be in the back of the room, rather than saying that we cannot use them at all.”

Haynes said he’s used both styles of note taking, but he doesn’t see a difference when it comes to exams or grades.

“They tell me that I retain information better by handwriting notes, but honestly it feels about the same,” Haynes said.

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