Despite the ubiquity of tech gadgets in the modern university classroom, the old pencil and notebook are still superior, at least when it comes to taking notes. A study looked at students’ ability to answer both simple fact questions (dates, names, that sort of thing) and more complicated conceptual or application questions (Why…? type queries, for instance). While laptop note-takers and longhanders did equally well with the basic factual questions, the tech-users performed significantly worse on conceptual ones.
It’s thought that the slower speed of pen-and-paper note-taking may be the key, according to the ‘encoding hypothesis‘. Writing longhand is much slower than typing, and because of that, students must process the information more while summarizing, finding only the key points, and so forth as they are writing. Laptop or tablet users, on the other hand, tend to type much more of what they hear, and in doing these verbatim transcriptions, use their brains less. Even when told explicitly not to take notes verbatim, the laptop-users still performed worse on the tests.
Of course, sometimes the challenge is to just get students to take notes at all…*sigh*
You can read more about this topic, and learn more about the science involved, at NPR.