Computer Non Grata

In 2014 Mueller and Oppenheimer published a paper finding that longhand was better for learning than typing. This year a paper replicated the research, arriving at different findings.

The good news is that keyboards enable students to take a large volume of notes. These function as external storage beyond what students could simply remember, and when students are selective about the notes they make, the act of note-making can be generative, leading to deep, elaborative processing. Which brings us to the bad news. In 2014 Mueller and Oppenheimer found that today’s fast-typing students are more inclined to transcribe verbatim rather than selecting and summarising the most important points. They concluded that longhand note taking was better for learning. Their work was important and influential because it studied higher order thinking beyond recall and comprehension.

But a few years later Morehead and colleagues replicated their study and reached a different conclusion. This is our first reading – if you only read one thing, make it this.

Morehead, K., Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., 2019. How Much Mightier Is the Pen than the Keyboard for Note-Taking? A Replication and Extension of Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). Educational Psychology Review.

How do you think these more equivocal findings would go down with academic colleagues?

Part of the reason the Mueller and Oppenheimer findings had such wide reach is that they swelled an existing tide of opinion against networked devices in the classroom. There has been mounting evidence that networked devices actually impair learning, partly because of the seemingly irresistible pull they exert on students’ attention. Clay Shirky compared them to passive smoking and, citing research evidence about the effects of multitasking, asked his students not to use them in his class any more.

If you have time for a closer look at this evidence and some approaches in response, see James Lang’s series of blogposts for the Chronicle.

The Distracted Classroom’ – n.b. these show in reverse chronological order for some reason, so read from the bottom post up.

Optionally, if you want to know more about the relationship between off-topic multitasking, note-taking and learning:

Waite, B.M., Lindberg, R., Ernst, B., Bowman, L.L., Levine, L.E., 2018. Off-task multitasking, note-taking and lower- and higher-order classroom learning. Computers & Education 120, 98-111.

As usual we will then consider the implications of this knowledge – how should we respond?

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