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Pen Still Mightier Than the Laptop For Notetaking? 569

theodp writes "While waiting to see if the iPad is a game-changer, this CS student continues to take class notes with pen and paper while her fellow students embrace netbooks and notebooks. Why? In addition to finding the act of writing helps cement the lecture material in her mind, there's also the problem of keeping up with the professor: '[While taking notes on a laptop] every five minutes I found myself cursing at not being able to copy the diagram on the board.' So, when it comes to education or business, do you take notes on a notepad/netbook, or stick with good old-fashioned handwriting? Got any tips for making the transition, or arguments for staying the course?"
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Pen Still Mightier Than the Laptop For Notetaking?

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  • Notes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <> on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:31PM (#31054462) Journal

    Taking notes on notepad/netbook is an extremely good idea, and now with WiFi's and 3G's everywhere, you can also chat, email, post insightful posts to slashdot, and go raid in World of Warcraft all at the same time. It also lets you work on your latest coding project or post updates to facebook and twitter. If you're getting hungry towards end of the class, you can just use Google Maps to search for some good pizza joint nearby.

    Oh notes.. "what notes? I was a little bit busy online..."

    But what does iPad have to do with this? Even if we ignore the fact that iPad doesn't even have a stylus, writing with such is laggy and just messes up the text. You write a lot better on paper. The technology isn't there just yet.

    And then theres the thing that with your written notes you're more likely to actually read them again. Write them on computer and you just shove them to some obscure location and never read them again.

    • Re:Notes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by clang_jangle ( 975789 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:34PM (#31054488) Journal
      I actually like my old Palm PDA for taking notes in handwriting with the stylus. Takes up almost no room at all, and quick sketches are as easy as writing.
    • Re:Notes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dark404 ( 714846 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:39PM (#31054548)
      Actually I just picked up the HP TM2 tablet. That with one note is awesome for note taking. Being a CS grad student myself, diagrams and more importantly equations drove me nuts trying to take notes before so I relied on my trusty fountain pen and a tablet of paper, but the hand writing recognition is really there _now_ for tablets, and the hp gets great battery life.
      • Re:Notes (Score:4, Funny)

        by brusk ( 135896 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:55PM (#31054700)
        I've never met a fountain pen that was trusty.
        • Re:Notes (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dark404 ( 714846 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:56PM (#31054706)
          Then you've been using shitty fountain pens.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Agreed, there are a lot of good fountain pens out there. I use some pilot disposables when I have no other choice, when I'm in my cube I have a nice sheaffer snorkel with a solid palladium nib, if you don't mind laying down some cash I would highly recommend the namiki vanishing points. But really, you should be able to pick up an amazingly reliable, beautiful old parker or sheaffer on ebay for not much. Just don't use crap and it will be way better than ball points.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cyn1c77 ( 928549 )

            Then you've been using shitty fountain pens.

            Agreed. Fountain pens require some maintenance, but they are the best for note taking. You need to make sure you get a low maintenance, sturdy pen for that task though: steel nib, large ink reservoir, and preferably a light metal body construction for durability.

            I personally use the Lamy Safari or Al Star for all my note taking. They are cheap and can be dropped or run them over with car tires and they keep on writing smoothly. And if you do lose them, they are relatively cheap.

        • Re:Notes (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BetterSense ( 1398915 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @06:14PM (#31055434)
          I find my fountain pens more reliable than ballpoint pens, but less reliable than pencils. For large amounts of writing, nothing beats a decent fountain pen and some decent premium laser paper. I figured this out in college when I was getting cramps from taking pages of notes and doing pages of math with ballpoints and pencils. Then I discovered that there was this new pen technology out there that doesn't require any down pressure at all and makes writing much easier and more efficient, called a "fountain pen". Now I realize that ballpoints are for signing checks at the bank line other sporadic tasks; real amounts of writing call for real writing tools.
          • Although I graduated some years back, I still advocate the use of pen and paper to students because of final exams. You are going to be sitting in the gymnasiums writing 15 hours of exams in the space of a few days. By hand. On paper.

            If you haven't been training up your hand all semester, your arm is going to break down after about 20 minutes because your muscles are not used to manual writing. Good luck being effective on your exams when your wrist is about to fall off.

            I experienced this a couple of years out of school when I chose to write the Professional Practice Exam []. About 45 minutes into the three hour exam in the freezing cold gym at University of Toronto, I just about gnawed my hand off.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by DeBaas ( 470886 )

              About 45 minutes into the three hour exam in the freezing cold gym at University of Toronto, I just about gnawed my hand off.

              But that was the test. If you manage not to gnaw your hand of, you've proven to be smarter than a rat....

              (maybe I should ease up on the Dilberts)

            • by SoTerrified ( 660807 ) on Monday February 08, 2010 @11:15AM (#31060634)

              So it's not just me... I returned to school after graduating a decade previous in order to brush up on newer technologies. (Working while taking classes part-time). Luckily, as it was a computer class, the lecturer would put up his presentations before the class so we could download them to our laptops and follow along. The need to draw diagrams was removed, and I could just edit the documents with details of in-class discussions, so the need to hand write was not an issue. Since it was a project class, there was no mid-term.

              HOWEVER, when I went to write the final, my hand quickly became the claw about 30 minutes in. I had not only avoided handwriting in class, I haven't hand written more than a sketch in 10 years. (I type 100+ wpm and actually type faster than I can write. Why would I?) I finished the exam in so much pain.

              I got 100% on the part of the exam I completed. However, I was only able to complete 80% of the exam due to severe pain in my writing hand, resulting in a mark that was not a fair representation of my knowledge. It's frustrating knowing that if I had been able to type or orally provide my answers, I would've easily been in the top percentile. (10 years of industry experience being very helpful)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I don't want to seem like a troll, but while you did mention HP twice in your post you also said that previously you used a Fountain pen for note-taking.
        If you know how to use a fountain pen, chances are your writing is far better than the majority of the (younger)population out there, many of whom have never even seen a fountain pen. Therefore your experience with hand writing recognition software will be different than most.
        But can you elaborate on what software you use?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by codegen ( 103601 )
          I suspect what he meant by a fountain pen was a cartridge based nib pen. They are still readily available, and were what I used to take notes with when I was a student. I personally find them easier to write with than ball point pens. The only problem they have is a tendency to leak if you are not careful.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by rhsanborn ( 773855 )
          My handwriting is not great, and I have found that one note is very good with handwriting recognition, and this has been with limited use, so no need to make a large time investment in adjusting your handwriting style to meet the needs of the handwriting software.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MikeFM ( 12491 )
      I can type on my iTouch as fast as most people type on a computer (which is faster than most people write) so I'll be surprised if i cant do the same on an iPad. Get a stylus for your iPad (yeah it's a little annoying it isn't included but whatever) and draw diagrams and stuff and you're probably set. If you just can't type by muscle memory without having a touch keyboard then maybe add a bluetooth keyboard. Add in the ability to record the audio and you can probably get some pretty good notes. I don't buy
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by iamhassi ( 659463 )
        "I don't buy the handwriting being better for memory. "

        You don't have to "buy" it, it's true []
        • I know it's true for me; after I commit a lecture to paper (with a fountain pen, mostly for low friction with the paper) I only have to go back to my notes for a few items. This doesn't seem to be true for things that I type (granted, I didn't formally learn to touch type although I of course do nowadays).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Shin-LaC ( 1333529 )
          The question is whether taking notes with a pen is better than taking notes with a keyboard. The article is about how taking notes is better than not taking them at all - a completely different question. Maybe if you had taken notes while reading you would have remembered that key point. ;-)

          (The author of the article does touch upon "pen vs keyboard" in the comments, but he says: "I didn’t come across anything on typing, but I would guess it would have the same effect.")
    • At Law School... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:54PM (#31054696)

      At law school, everyone uses laptops. It's a different world than the world of pen and paper. There are a very few students who still take notes the old-fashioned way, and they do remarkably well sometimes, but the simple fact is that when you have a particularly intense class you can get down a lot more information typing than you can with pen and paper.

      You still have to be disciplined--turning off your network devices can be helpful, and you also have to avoid taking notes just because everyone else is. (There are times when one person starts typing, then another, and it snowballs, even when there's nothing noteworthy being discussed.) But if you use the laptop as a tool, it's a very effective one. It also lets you learn a bit more, because you can actually do some outside research during class which enriches it for everyone.

      • by ameoba ( 173803 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:03PM (#31054762)

        I could see this working in law school; you probably don't have the sorts of complex equations and diagrams that students are likely to see in science, math & engineering.

        • by xeoron ( 639412 )
          I always found that for science, math, and engineering, those 4 color nursing pens help to keep notes in focus better than anything else.
        • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:54PM (#31055242) Homepage

          Yeah, this sort of thing is why pen & paper can still beat a laptop. If you're just jotting down some ideas or writing out a linear outline, then laptops can be good, especially considering that a lot of people under 30 write pretty slowly by hand and can type relatively quickly. However, if your notes contain a lot of mathematical symbols or technical diagrams, those things can be hard to input quickly with a keyboard and mouse.

          And even if your notes don't need symbols, typing notes can get wonky, depending on the subject and what kind of note-taker you are. In my notes, you always see things scrawled all over the page, laid out in a web with some things circled and big arrows drawn all over the place. Sometimes it also helps me concentrate if I can doodle (I don't know why). Back in college I learned that if I really wanted to learn something, I had to take notes by hand, and then go back and organize my notes in a more linear way and type them up. That's my general recommendation on how to handle things, but different people are different and YMMV.

          Some of it may be helped by something with a touchscreen and stylus, but I'm not sure pen and paper aren't still superior.

          • Missed market (Score:3, Insightful)

            by xtal ( 49134 )

            For all of the hype and drama surrounding the ipad and Kindle, there's been a pretty big missed market.

            I would pay a _lot_ of money for a 8.5x11" screen that had enough resolution to behave like my old gridded engineering paper. I can't back up engineering paper, and I can't take it around with me easily. I go through about ~1000 sheets/year, and have several boxes of notes I'd love to have with me. In university, a decade ago, I'd take notes and scan them after - that worked, ok. Enough of a pain I don't

      • by IICV ( 652597 )

        I would imagine that in law school, there are very few diagrams. Most things are conveyed in text, right?

        Just try taking notes on a free body diagram or a server/client state flowchart with your laptop. Unless you've got a Wacom or something, it just can't be done.

      • "when you have a particularly intense class you can get down a lot more information typing than you can with pen and paper."

        Unless you learn the ancient versatile art of shorthand, that is.

      • by dancingmad ( 128588 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:45PM (#31055144)

        Also, you may get more "information," typing down, but I feel like in actuality most students typing notes are acting more like stenographers than note takers. They don't process anything they hear, they just copy it down verbatim. Writing by hand, I have to measure what is being said, digest it to some degree, and then write down the important part. Occasionally I miss something, when the professor is going a mile a minute, but I have never had a problem going up to the professor after the class and asking about what I missed.

        This would be more difficult if I didn't do the homework (another reason why so many students take notes on their laptop, I think), but since I usually do, I have an idea of what the cases are about and usually have highlighted important parts of the case. More often than not, my pre-class notes in the case are what the professor touches on anyway, so I just have to underline (I use a red pen in class, black or blue for pre-class notes, and various color highlighting for parts of the case before class) things I have already read, noted, and highlighted.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hedwards ( 940851 )
        No, you can't. I type far faster than most of the populace when I want to, but part of the point of pen and paper is that you have to think about what it is that you're writing. In order for me to crank out text at the highest rate, I have to pretty much skip the step of analyzing the material I'm trying to get down on paper. Sure I might get more information down, but it's less likely to be useful and more likely to include errors.

        End result, you may very well have gotten more information total, but it'
    • by Weezul ( 52464 )

      I'd agree that any device without a stylus seems pretty silly for note taking, or any business like applications. In particular, the iPad has clearly been designed for consuming visual media like movies or books, not creating documents, not creating media, not note taking, etc.

      An ebook reader with a stylus for markup like the iLiad might provide a reasonable note taking system however. In fact, I feel that students are often too busy writing when I'd rather they were listening and/or thinking. It might h

    • Typing?
      Copying diagrams by hand?

      Don't your mobile phones take videos? Record the lecture. Take photos of the diagrams. Narrate your own thoughts and comments.


      • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:36PM (#31055030) Homepage Journal

        Don't your mobile phones take videos? Record the lecture. Take photos of the diagrams. Narrate your own thoughts and comments.

        I want notes to provide a condensed version of the lecture that I can study from. If the only way to revisit material from the lecture is to sit through the whole damn thing again on video then I've achieved little. Yes, yes, you can jump to a portion, but you're still left wading through a mass of material to find what you want. I want brief concise notes that hit the high points that are relevant to my understanding of the material (skip over bits I find easy, provide elaboration on parts I foubnd more challenging). That's the whole damn point of taking notes; and those notes are the whole damn point of going through the lecture.

        • Re:Are you guys mad? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by maccodemonkey ( 1438585 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @07:23PM (#31056008)

          I hate to say this on Slashdot... but have you tried.. : gulp : Microsoft Word? At least on the Mac version, it has this great feature... It records audio while you're taking notes, and next to every line of notes is a little speaker icon. If you click the speaker icon, it starts playing starting at the point you added that line of notes. It's great for just writing down the basic concepts, and then jumping through the audio to get the detailed lecture.

  • So do I (Score:4, Informative)

    by Xamusk ( 702162 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:36PM (#31054522)
    I've tried to do it on the laptop, but graphs, tables, annotations, colors, mathematical formalae (sometimes many of those together) are all too difficult to handle in a timely fashion when using a laptop.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:37PM (#31054528)

    I teach math at a university. In the last 10 years, I've only had one student who tried to take all her notes with a computer. This is her third time taking the course. Coincidence?

  • Pencil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ThrowAwaySociety ( 1351793 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:39PM (#31054546)

    Because it's erasable. Use a hard (light) pencil to avoid smearing, or recopy later.

    Also, not having a laptop discourages you from checking email, facebook, or playing games.

    • Re:Pencil. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcelrath ( 8027 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:53PM (#31055232) Homepage

      But with a real tablet computer and a stylus (e.g. Lenovo x-series tablets), in addition to erasing you also get a pencil that can cut & paste, resize, move, add space in the middle of the page, highlight, color, change the color of already written text, and annotate pdfs (in case the lecturer hands out slides in pdf format), and undo.

      It's called Xournal []. I frakking love it. Completely changed the way I work. Now I don't have to carry a backpack full of printed articles.

      I also use Zotero []. It's a bibliographic database add-on for firefox, and it will store full-text pdf's. If you set up xournal as your default pdf viewer, you can annotate and store the annotations for papers. So I no longer carry any printed paper or notes anymore.

      If you're in science or engineering and deal in diagrams, equations, and journal articles, this beats the crap out of paper & pencil.

      I hope to see more real tablet computers this year. Everyone has decided to stop manufacturing tablets with high-resolution screens, and use wide screens too, which means in portrait mode your tablet is blocky (can't read subscripts of equations) and too tall (because it's 16:10 rather than 4:3). So while the iPad sucks on all the above points, I hope it spurs some new & interesting tablets this year. Pen input (wacom) also needs improvement, especially near the edges of the screens where precision is lost.

  • I've found some teachers provide the slides(Powerpoint), so taking notes on those documents is much easier with the majority of the content already on the page

    In courses that are more graphic oriented, I do tend to have a pen and paper handy, but still take the majority of the notes on the laptop.

    Then there are those teachers who feel that they should be the only one in the room using any sort of electronics, so you don't really have a choice. And yes, these professors still exist.

    I'm slightly biased towar

  • Mix them (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mysidia ( 191772 )

    Pen and paper for diagrams.

    Notebook/netbook for plain text.

    Convert your hand-drawn diagrams later, using a scanner or re-draw using a graphics tablet after class.

  • by frying_fish ( 804277 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:40PM (#31054556)
    During my undergraduate physics degree I started by taking notes on paper, however I started to notice I was struggling to read my handwriting. I soon moved onto typing notes, in openoffice, using its built in equation editor, and attempting to draw diagrams with a stylus on a graphics tablet. After a year of doing this I realised it was a bit of a struggle to keep up, but in the mean time had learnt LaTeX. Then I stumbled upon an even better solution, type the notes (and equations - managing to keep up with the lecturer), and leave a space in the notes for the diagrams (i.e. setup the environment and name them in ascending order fig1, fig2 etc), but draw the diagrams manually on paper. Then I could copy the diagram at a later point into the LaTeX document using the graphics package of my choice (and for the particle physics module, feynmf for LaTeX proved particularly helpful). It is actually possible to keep up with the lecturer, so long as you reach the point that when typing you don't have to think about what your typing for things such as \alpha and so on. You also have to be fairly accurate with your typing, and be able to visualise how the notes are going to look without compiling them. Overall, if you don't think yourself capable of that, stick to pen and paper, if you do and you have troubles reading your own handwriting when trying to scribble quickly (I can type much faster than I can write legibly), then it is worth looking into.
  • Notes? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hatta ( 162192 )

    Professors should post their slides on the web, and students should spend their time listening, thinking, and asking questions instead of writing. Anything less and students become mere stenographers, only retaining long enough to commit to paper.

    • Re:Notes? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <> on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:52PM (#31054672) Homepage Journal

      Professors should post their slides on the web, and students should spend their time listening, thinking, and asking questions instead of writing. Anything less and students become mere stenographers, only retaining long enough to commit to paper.

      In my case, my understanding and retention of the material was always aided in taking notes during the lectures. And what if he's covering stuff not in the book? Without notes, you'd better have a photographic memory.

    • Eh? No.

      There's nothing wrong with taking notes or not taking notes on any particular piece of information. The problem is that teachers have apparently spent the last several decades trying to instruct their students that they must *always* take notes and that "taking notes" amounts to writing down everything the teacher said.

      The notes that you take should be for yourself. The instructor mentions a term that you don't recognize? Write it down so you can look it up later. The instructor describes some

    • by gedhrel ( 241953 )

      That depends on the student. Chalk and talk works well for particular learning styles. There's also plenty of evidence that transcription assists recall for lots of people. You mention "listening, thinking, and asking questions" - what you really want is for students to be in a high state of alertness rather than switched off. Different people achieve that different ways, so don't pooh-pooh the idea out-of-hand.

  • "But what does iPad have to do with this? "

    I agree: Why was the iPad even mentioned? It's not a tablet PC, there is no stylus to write on the screen with. The closest equivalent to the iPad is the iPod Touch and I can't imagine anyone taking notes with an iPod touch.

    Why were Tablet PCs left out? Here's a great video review of how to take notes with graphs on a tablet PC. [hhttp] Here's another example []

    Tablets are not expensive either, you can get a nice Pentium M 1.6ghz for under $300 [], some even sell f []
  • I was in engineering school so I always took notes with pen and paper. With the few arts courses I did take, I found huge advantages to taking notes with a computer. The engineering lectures were mostly linear and had a lot equations and diagrams to copy. The arts lectures were more non-linear. I cursed every time I had to write another point in a section we covered 10 minutes ago.

    Then there are the courses which are covered following power point slides. Some students had tablet PCs and were easily able to

  • by hadesan ( 664029 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:41PM (#31054572)
    I take notes all the time with my laptop. You can use your camera phone or webcam to snap a photo of the diagrams. If you have permission, record the lecture as well if you have a built-in microphone (use Dragon Naturally Speaking or something similar to write the notes automatically.)

    Offer to share the information with your prof or student teacher and they will usually give you the green light or become the note taker for the class (some schools have them for hard of hearing/deaf students - R.I.T. [])...

    If you use something like MS OneNote [] you can drop all these separate pieces onto the note pages and keep them better organized. Text, your notes, the sound clips, and the diagrams...

  • At My University (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dawilcox ( 1409483 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:42PM (#31054576)
    At my university, most CS students do not take notes at all. It's kind of foreign to see someone taking notes in a CS course. I assume it is because CS courses are about understanding the concept instead of memorizing information. Because it's not as much memorization, note taking is not as needed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pydev ( 1683904 )

      Whereas math and physics, where people take copious notes, are all about rote memorization? I don't think so.

      If you don't need to take notes, you aren't being challenged enough.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Eudial ( 590661 )

        Whereas math and physics, where people take copious notes, are all about rote memorization? I don't think so.

        If you don't need to take notes, you aren't being challenged enough.

        For physics and mathematics at a reasonably high level (late undergraduate to graduate level courses), assuming you have decent course literature, it makes no sense at all to take notes. The equations and derivations are generally so complicated that both copying them and really listening to what the lecturer is saying is not really an option.

        At least for me, I feel I learn faster from devoting my attention towards trying to follow the arguments of the lecturer instead of taking down notes.

  • In my entirely anecdotal experience, kids^Wpeople tend to goof off or multi-task instead of focusing on the material/teacher when there's a laptop in front of them.
    Even Senators and Congressmen have been caught on camera playing solitare or checking sports instead of following along with debates.

    And that behavior doesn't begin to compare to the endless amount of texting at inappropriate times/places.

    • Back when I was finishing up college in the 90's, laptops were becoming very affordable for average folk to use, and we started getting students that brought them to class to take notes. With the exception of one gal that did it for the whole quarter, all of the others stopped bringing their laptops and reverted to paper and pen notes. It was loud, they couldn't keep up on the keyboard, and they had to sit near an electrical outlet, as their batteries inevitably would get low before the end of a two hour cl

  • Pulse Pen (Score:2, Interesting)

    I have used pulse pen [] for a few years it records audio and text to be transfered to PC
  • Turn netbook around, click space bar. How hard is that?
    • I'd probably use my cell to get the photo, but either way...

      From TFA:

      I could never type fast enough to keep up with the professor...

      WTF? You write faster than you type?

      That's bizarre. Learn to touch-type, it'll serve you well.

  • While no-one cares in college, there are still people in the business world who become annoyed if you take notes on a PC during business meetings. For whatever reasons, pen-and-paper skills are still important at higher levels. (Something about body language, eye contact, and putting others at ease.)

    I'm hoping the Apple iPad or the coming HP Slate will not incur this stupid prejudice, but need to be prepared in any environment.

    Analogous to your professors' white board diagrams, business white boards also

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:47PM (#31054626) Homepage

    Why, I wrote up this very comment with a quill pen on foolscap before having my secretary type it in to this new-fangled "analytical engine" thing.

  • I was part of a pilot program using tablet pc's in the classroom back in 2002 or so. Really I have to say that it was a great experience, especially once you were using the right software. For any type of class involving mathematical formulas, diagrams, etc., it was a very useful tool. I could simply draw the image or formula into my notes on the tablet just as if I was using a notebook, with the added benefit of the organizational abilities you have when dealing with a digital document (searching, etc.,) w
  • Pen and paper (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hazelfield ( 1557317 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:49PM (#31054644)
    I use good old pen and paper. It's versatile, it's cheap, it's lightweight and it never suffers from hangups, startup times etc.

    Instead of thinking "how could I use a digital device to take notes?" you should ask yourself "why do I want my notes to be digital?". Myself, I rarely feel that need as I mostly take notes to study from (less important) and stay awake at lectures (more important). Neither of these reasons require notes in the form of computer files.

    On the other hand, you could easily think of several other uses for digital notes. You can share them with friends. You can upload them to somewhere, letting the whole class benefit from them. You can copy them easily. You can store and arrange them easily. You can send them to people on the other side of the Earth, should you want to. But do you want to? That's the question you should answer before making the switch.
  • Nothing like a large class and hearing all the people typing.

    But I always use pen and paper for notes, you can write down everything easier and you has less to carry with a computer and power cords and hoping you are near an outlet.

    Then I copy my notes (or scan diagrams) onto the computer.. easier to find and read and organize. I find using something like Mind Map [] or Free mind [] also help to get all the notes in a better flow.

  • by codeonezero ( 540302 ) * on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:52PM (#31054668)

    I've been out of a college class for a few years, but I simply would and still prefer paper/pen. It's not about being old school, but I am extremely picky about what I want technology doing for me. I tend to be uncompromising and really think out what some input device will do for me. I want technology that works the way I do, not me having to compromise heavily in order to use it. I have yet to see something that fits the flexibility of pen/paper while giving me the advantage of a digital device thought those electronic note taking pens are probably close.

    I can tell you me typing for an hour on a netbook would lead to uncomfortable typing, as netbooks have too small a size. I could probably swing a regular sized laptop like my 15" Macbook Pro, or other similar full size key laptop.

    I also have my own short hand method of note taking, coupled with identifying things that I don't need to memorize and things that have to be written down. Also I tend to circle important bits of information and tie them together with arrows pointing to what they relate to creating a type of cluster diagram meshed in with regular note taking. I don't see how any laptop software out there can compare there.

    I am hopeful that a well thought out, well implemented tablet PC comes along that gives me good flexibility.

    That said I can imagine taking my ipod touch or other such small form tablet device and scribble or look up some info on it while I take notes with pen/paper. As I was thinking about this I considered an iPhone or other similar device being indispensable, since you can take a photo of the board if there is a complex diagram, and simply drop a note on paper (see iPhone pict for blah diagram). ;-)

  • by CoolGuySteve ( 264277 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:53PM (#31054676)

    I graduated 3 years ago, but it bothered me immensely when professors would write things on the board that weren't duplicated in the course notes. It was just a lazy way to enforce attendance. I always learned better out of books than by listening to someone, so sitting around in class just to transcribe felt like a waste of time.

    So this whole issue of not having diagrams or about which device to use seems like a manufactured problem. Putting a PDF on the course website with all the diagrams and text would render it moot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 )

      it bothered me immensely when professors would write things on the board that weren't duplicated in the course notes ... Putting a PDF on the course website with all the diagrams and text would render it moot.

      For shame that professor not taking all the notes for you. Christ you're spoiled. Books are the just basis, instruction fills in - unless you went to a crappy school, with crappy instructors. Three years out of school. So sad. So much more to learn.

      This whole discussion is pointless. People lea

    • by dsci ( 658278 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @09:22PM (#31056726) Homepage
      I would defy you to pass one of my chemistry classes without attending class.

      I have never had a student pass without regular attendance. I've taught at three public universities, two private colleges and physics at one public community college (so I think my student demographic has been quite diverse).

      I did not REQUIRE attendance to pass, nor link grades/points to attendance in any, way shape or form. Scores/final grades were 100% performance based.

      I only rarely lectured on material not in the text book, though I often presented the material differently than the text presentation.

      As I told my students on the first day, "I don't care if you learn it from me, the book, your room mate or who ever, if you can do the work, you'll pass."

      Generally, the people who did not attend regularly scored in the teens on the tests, or even single digits, on the tests.
  • At least in my case, taking notes implies that probably noone will be able to read them, maybe not even me. But is too little technology to carry.

    But if you dont mind to carry technology, some ideas:
    - a notebook/netbook with comfortable enough keyboard and long enough battery is an option, you can use the (builtin?) webcam to copy diagrams.
    - Speaking of cameras, you can film the entire class, and write down it later, at your own rythm, same for just the audio. Both alternatives will mean to spend maybe more
  • I was really hoping that the iPad would have come with a stylus and bult-in handwriting/sketching software a-la the Newton. Multi-touch is cool, and the keyboard thing is fine, but really what I'm looking for in that type of device is basically something I can hold in my hand and write directly on rather than with say, a wacom tablet, in an application like Microsoft Journal. If it were powerful enough to run Illustrator on, that'd be a bonus but not really a necessity.

    Maybe iPad can work with a third-par
  • It's 2010 and people still have lectures? That's quaint.

  • by cetialphav ( 246516 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:59PM (#31054734)

    Within the computer science realm, I found there were two major lecture methods being used. The first and most common was a lecture based off of powerpoint slides and the slides are almost always available in advance. Those classes are easy because you can just print the slides (or view them on your notebook) and just take some small notes on the few things not covered in the slides.

    The other major method was usually for the more mathematically oriented classes and involved seeing hand-written proofs, equations and diagrams. I think the best method was to use pen and paper to write things down. Then, the next day I transcribe those notes into a LaTeX document. Transcribing makes you go back and follow through all the math and you can take your time to make sure it looks nice. I then study off of the electronic version (which I call my cheatsheet).

    As a side note, I always recommend making cheatsheets for every class. It isn't that you actually cheat, but you say if I were going to cheat, what would I want to have with me. It forces you to concisely summarize the class in a small space and is very useful and forces you to go beyond just tryng to memorize things.

  • by ThousandStars ( 556222 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:03PM (#31054776) Homepage
    I wrote a post on Laptops, students, and distraction [] that explains why I forbid laptops in my classes (and the post grew out of a Slashdot comment like this one). From what I've seen, students are better off doing what can be done outside of class outside of class (like reading--which includes PowerPoint) and doing inside class what can't be done outside of class: spontaneous discussion, group questioning/answering/review, and the like.

    This seems like the optimal division of time and one that keeps classroom discussions relevant. It also means that not having laptops and cell phones can actually make for a better overall experience.

    • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @06:13PM (#31055410) Journal

      For pity sake, let the student be responsible for their own learning. If they want to use a tool to do it they should be permitted to. At university level, and I'd argue earlier, the student is responsible for learning. If they don't want to learn and are so easily distracted, let them be. That is their choice. Banning an item that might help a student who is there and wants to learn so that a lazy student that doesn't care is not distracted is completely irresponsible. If a student is intent on being distracted they can always do something that doesn't require a computer, like doodle, or even something that you can't prevent like daydream. There are only a couple of exceptions. If the student's distraction becomes disruptive or distracts others (for example a noisy keyboard that prevents concentration) that the lecturer should step in. If the tool interferes with assessment. (eg. Internet in a closed book exam) it should not be permitted (but then I consider closed book exams archaic).

      When I lectured part time a lot of lecturers were having trouble with students talking through the lecture. I had a simple approach. I stopped talking if I was being talked over. It worked really well. I treated the students as adults and I gave them respect. I expected the same in return. If they didn't want to be there they were free to leave.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nlawalker ( 804108 )

        Amen. Cater to the students who are there to learn and let them use their tools as long as they're not distracting others. Ignore the rest.

  • For me, the laptop was a lifesaver in class, the reasons are below:

    I type many times faster than I can write with a wooden stick... And correcting errors is much easier than the ink filled version of the stick... :)
    I can always record audio and edit it later.
    As to diagrams/drawings, I either reproduced it using a separate drawing program, or the one in the word processor, or took a picture of it with my phone (later transfered to document)

    I do agree that sometimes a notepad is better than a computer, especi
  • If I write fast enough to be able to keep up, then it's almost impossible to decipher, if I write so it is legible, I end up writing every second word or so. I type a bit faster than I write (when I try to write legibly) but still not fast enough. So I found a solution: a tape recorder. A reel of tape is good for 3-6 hours (at 2.4cm/s speed) and then I need to turn it over (lectures last only 1.5 hours so I don't have to do it during a lecture, but I cannot use cassettes, since they are 1 hour per side at t

  • My cell phone is probably the single most important tool I use every day, for such occasions as:
    - Using the camera to take a pic of the whiteboard, and sending it to everyone.
    - Using the audio recorder to record a conversation or lecture in detail.
    - Sending tweets as a to-do list.
    - Shared calender functions let me set up meetings with people.
    - Video recorder is available if I want to grab a clip off a multi-media presentation or demo.
    - Using IM features to quickly touch others for information.
    - Using google

  • I was one of those students who used pen and paper in lectures, and I have to agree that it's a more effective way of learning. I did take the time to add additional notes later to "decode" what wasn't legible.

    My approach was to get down everything on the board and as much as possible that was said - including student questions and interjections.

    This certainly worked for me - I had a GPA of 7, won scholarships, University Medals and Distinguished Scholar awards.

    My son (who is in a special school for gifted

  • the best way, IMHO (Score:3, Interesting)

    by porky_pig_jr ( 129948 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:27PM (#31054974)

    I take the notes with a pen and paper and also record everything with a voice recorder. Since I'm taking mostly math courses, it works out quite well. I focus on writing the formula with annotations, and then when the lecture is over, I reconstruct the whole thing. The annotations help to connect the voice recording and my scribbles. That takes some extra time, of course, but the end result is detailed lecture, with everything on a blackboard carefully reconstructed. As a last shot, I typeset the whole thing in LaTeX (if I have time).

    I think, if you start using computer (tablet or whatever), you won't have the ``instant connection to the recording media" that pen and paper provide.

    As a side note, my favorite professor normally creates some handwritten outline of the lecture, but all the proofs and staff he does on the fly. By accident, while talking to him, I've mentioned I have recorded and typeset his lectures. He looked at them and liked them so much he asked me if he can use them as a supplementary material for his course(s). I didn't mind at all, of course.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @05:29PM (#31054978)

    Notes should not be taken during lectures. Take notes while you do the readings. All you have to do is note any interesting anecdotes, and record examples, as they often appear on the tests with little change.

    Decades later, I still remember watching my classmates furiously scribbling stuff in calc class as though they'd never heard of this stuff until moments ago, while I sat back, relaxed, yet confused... And then suddenly realizing, they probably had never heard of this stuff, because they did not read their textbook...

    Even in those fluffy politically correct liberal arts classes, you can pretty much guess what the lecturer is going to talk about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bloobloo ( 957543 )

      Why were you taking courses that you already understood?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by barzok ( 26681 )

        The OP didn't say he "already understood" the class. Rather, he read the material in the textbook before the lecture, and took notes only to fill in what he didn't pick up from the book (or to reinforce things he was sketchy on).

  • The best bet for notetaking is a smartpen, and pay the money for a handwriting recognition program so you can index them properly. A good one will let you record the lecture and keep in sync with what you were writing. Your mileage may vary on the legal issues around recording a lecture.

    This way you get a paper book, an electronic version of the notes as backup, but then the paper is also the backup if your computer gets blown up or stolen etc.

  • Penmanship... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by coupdetat ( 1130823 )
    My thermodynamics professor last semester had amazing penmanship, and he inspired me to work on my horrible chicken scratches. I almost never took notes in class because my notes were simply too awful-looking, so I didn't enjoy the process of writing. I worked at my penmanship with some online guides, and bought a slightly weightier pen (Parker IM gel). After practicing my cursive over the winter break and writing at every possible moment, I've seen some definite improvement. More importantly, I now enj
  • by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @06:45PM (#31055684)

    The best datum I can offer is a course I took a few years ago on error control coding.

    Each week the prof got somebody to volunteer to take very good notes, type them up in LaTeX, then he would distribute them to the rest of the class for reference. The "scribe", as he called the role, got extra credit. The week I volunteered to be scribe it took 8 hours to turn 2 hours of lectures in to something presentable and machine-readable. This included 28 diagrams in Xfig, plus numerous equations.

    I started a night school course last week (private pilot ground school, if you're curious). My notes are by hand, plus some highlighter work in the textbooks. I haven't the slightest interest in transcribing them. Why would I? They're my notes, written by me.

    Old-tech really is the best tech some times.


  • I'm a big fan re-writing notes, it forces you to re-examine the stuff that didn't totally sink in
    during lecture. Rewriting them in digital form makes it that much more portable, cleaner, and
    you can bring your friends up to speed faster. Engineering notebooks (wire bound) plus a good
    mechanical pencil was what I settled while I was an engineering student. Couple re-writing
    the notes in digital form with a audio recording of the lecture and you're golden. Alternatively,
    you can scan your notes in and then annotate them.

    Tablet computers were always good for homework.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"