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Why would note taking skills be such an important part of today's online classes? How does note taking benefit the student and how has note taking changed over the years? How has the electronic age changed the way we interact with our teachers and how does it affect our note taking ability? Note taking has been around as long as people have been lecturing. Taking notes comes in many forms. People take notes at meetings, in court rooms, when talking on the phone, reading books and of course when in a classroom. But the landscape of today's classroom is not just sitting at a desk listening to a teacher, it is also online in a new realm of the virtual classroom. So how do you take notes in this kind of environment? To find the answer to the question always start from the beginning.
Note taking has been around for some time. Many techniques have been developed. There are two styles to note taking, linear and non-linear. Linear is basically recording of all information. Non-linear however has many different techniques but there are thirteen basic techniques. The thirteen are Clustering, Concept mapping, Cornell system, Idea mapping, Instant replays, Ishikawa diagram, Knowledge maps, Learning maps, Mind mapping, Model maps, Pyramid principle, Semantic networks and SmartWisdom. The most recognized and widely used technique is the Cornell system. The Cornell system was developed by Walter Pauk, of Cornell University, which is a systematic way of note taking. The system involves dividing an ordinary piece of paper into three sections. The first section (A) is on the right side of the paper and is extended 6 inches to the left. The second section (B) is the bottom and is the entire length of the paper and is two inches up from the bottom. Finally the last section (C), is what is left and should be 2 and half inches in width. Section A is for the taking of the main notes during class. Section B is for the summarizing of the notes after class and section C is for taking cues from the main points of section A. Tony Buzan, author of The Mind Map Book (1990) says that "traditional approaches to note taking obscure the key words, make information difficult to remember, waste time, and fail to stimulate the brain". Which is basically stating that most of the time when taking notes people are writing more and not paying attention to pick up on the key aspects of the discussion. His suggestions are not so much on the structure of taking notes but to take notes of the main points. "Effectively taking notes (instead of just writing down every word) helps you look for meaning, patterns, connections, and relations among concepts"(O'hara 2005) in note taking to get the best notes. The British Journal did a study of NL and linear note taking to see which group performed better on tests and other note taking related tasks. They "found that NL note takers performed on average 20% better than the linear control group in tasks measuring comprehension and met cognitive skills."( Makany, Kemp, & Dror 2009)
With the addition of the online classroom, the techniques for note taking have not changed but the medium that is used has. Note taking has always been with an ordinary pen and paper up until recently with the changes in technology which allows us to take notes with computers. There are many electronic items you can use for digital note taking including, laptops, tablet pcs, Ipads and even your phone can help you take notes. One big advantage of digital is that most people today can type faster and keep up with the lecturer. Also it makes it easier to search and to categorize your information. You can use specialized software like agilix go binder, Microsoft word or there is even free software like Open office. There are many tools for use online as well. Annette Lamb wrote in the Teacher Librarian and she "identified four note taking activities for use with web pages. Students highlight key terms and statements, write a summary, recite what they've learned, and cite their source." Many school related sites now provide these tools for students to use. There are some disadvantages however. The biggest of them is if you want to do any visual you would need more expensive equipment. Also as Joel Falconer states in his online article, note taking "often requires non-linear thought and thus non-linear expression" so it is harder to work out of the lines when a computer only lets you do linear notes.
Of course you always have the good old pen/pencil and paper. The advantages of pen and paper are that you can add non linear information at anytime and include visuals instantly. Disadvantages of paper and pen, is that it is not as easy to transfer between different mediums. Such as digital, you can put it into word and the transfer it to OneNote or vice versa.
The biggest thing of all, when it comes to note taking, is actually taking good notes. Remember, "These notes are for you and as such you can use any method you like, so long as it enables you to reproduce the ideas contained in the notes and show how these ideas connect to each other later."(Maw 2008) But where do you start? Actively listen in a lecture, don't just listen. Pay attention to what is being said and make sure to take notes on what the primary objective of the class is. Sometimes professors' will have handouts or notes, a PowerPoint slide show, or they will write on the chalkboard or even an overhead. Take advantage of these. They point these things out for a reason. Another good idea is to have proper technique which means putting everything in an organized manner. It is imperative and makes it easier to use for studying or writing.
The best way to start writing notes is obviously to put the date, time and topic down. Then, write down definitions, important points and remember you can never have too much information. If the instructor does use PowerPoint or a board, do not copy the information word for word because you will not be paying attention to what is being said and may miss important points. Instead just write down main points of what is displayed. Also, if the instructor is talking to soft or to fast say something. It is best to speak up than miss an import point. After class remember the three "R"s, review, read and rewrite. Make sure everything that is in the notes makes sense, because if it is confused at this point it won't become clear when needed at test taking time. If it doesn't make sense ask a fellow student or even the professor to help you clarify the notes. If the notes have been handwritten up to this point now is a good time to make them digital if that is desired.
A study showed that "the features that are well supported in an electronic medium (i.e. modification, reorganizing, multiple pen colors/styles, handwriting recognition, sharing) were not commonly used or wanted"(Kim, 2009), by college students. So digital or pen and paper is really a matter of personal choice rather than one being better than the other. Both have their respective advantages and disadvantages. There is no one right way and as the price of computer and other equipment drops it is clear that the decision is up to the student and what they prefer. The fact is though, that note taking is an important and integral part of studying for college. " You simply cannot expect your teachers to learn for you: the degree of your involvement in a lecture or discussion is the only measure of what you have gained from it."(Walsh, 2008)