These days you can’t make it through elementary school without a computer, much less college. But recent studies have weighed the value of bringing your laptop to your college classroom and have given a decided thumbs down to digital note taking. Although you can take more notes from a lecture by using your laptop, the very act of taking the notes via computer may diminish your retention of the material and produce lower test scores. With this research in mind, here are five reasons to leave your laptop at the dorm or in your messenger bag and not break it out during class.
#1 You’ll Likely Be Distracted
If your laptop was simply a digital note taking device, that would be one thing. But, in fact, your laptop is chock full of distractions like email, the interwebs, games, Skype and a host of other apps that can keep your mind off of the course material. You may think you’re multitasking when you pop out of Word over to Gmail to send a message, but what you’re really doing is disengaging from the lecture. A recent article by Forbes explains why there’s no such thing as true multitasking and that switching between functions can kill your focus and productivity by up to 40%.
#2 You Won’t Absorb Relevant Material
A study out of Princeton University’s Psychology Department found that digital note taking produces inferior results. The study took multitasking distractions out of the equation by cutting off internet access so purely digital note taking versus good old pen and paper note taking were compared evenly. They found that laptops affected the “manner and quality” of note taking and encouraged “shallow learning” compared to those who took notes longhand. The study showed that those who took notes by hand scored much higher on both factual and conceptual testing than those who took notes via laptop.
#3 You’re Prone to Technical Glitches
When you rely heavily on technology, you expose yourself to technological glitches. This means a dead battery, forgotten power plug, virus that crashes your laptop and a whole host of other problems can plague you if you’re totally reliant on a digital device for note taking. And that’s not to mention the terrifying specter of forgetting to save your document or the computer locking up or shutting down and losing the notes you took. Good old pen and paper can’t be erased by a computer reset. The prospect of your computer eating a class full of notes should be enough to have you rethinking your strategy.
#4 You’re Risking Your Privacy
Any time you use a public WiFi connection, you risk an invasion of your digital privacy. If you turn off your WiFi in class and don’t interact with the web, you’re likely fine, but most students don’t limit themselves to note taking only and get online while in class. Kevin Jones, Chief Information Security Architect for security firm Thycotic Software says, “The biggest risk to college networks is malware… [which could] steal passwords or credit-card data…” According to tech site Tom’s Guide, hackers often attack college campus networks because there’s so much data available to breach.
#5 You Don’t Learn to Parse Information
Many studies on digital versus handwritten note taking have concluded that taking notes via laptop produces copious notes – nearly verbatim from lectures – but this includes reams of unnecessary information. When you take notes by hand, you’re forced to weigh the value of information since you can’t record it all. This teaches you to better parse lectures, assess relevancy and process what’s being said so you can evaluate it properly. Keying it all in, by comparison, doesn’t allow the material to soak in – you’re merely a conduit from classroom speaker to screen.
Consider a dual approach instead
What may be far more effective is to hand write notes in class and transcribe them later onto your laptop. Revisiting the notes to type them up can help cement concepts and provides you with a searchable archive for later reference. Admittedly, flipping through pages of handwritten notes when you’re studying or looking for resources for a term paper can be frustrating. A hybrid method offers the best of both worlds and can improve your grades.
Eschewing your laptop while in class may also put you in a more favorable light with your professors. Many teachers see laptops as a barrier to classroom participation and some colleges have even considered putting an official kibosh on laptops in the class. Many professors who have asked students to close their laptops during class have seen an appreciable increase in grades. University of North Carolina poli sci professor Jason Roberts says of his classroom ban on laptops, “Some students have even thanked me.”
Of course, heading to college sans laptop is not wise – you absolutely need this critical piece of equipment to survive college whether you’re attending class on campus or online. And the good news is, many colleges are now providing laptops. Whether you buy your own or score one from your university, the important thing is to use your device judiciously and realize that sometimes the best method of success may be the traditional rather than technological route.
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