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Why Electronic Notes Should Be Allowed In Every Class

The spring 2023 semester has officially started, and with the end of Sylly Week approaching, many students are finding that professors are requiring an old-fashioned pen and paper and prohibiting all electronic devices in the classroom.

Frowning upon the use of your smartphone during class is basically a given when attending upper education, but banning laptops and tablets? Now that’s new.

Three of my six professors this semester announced in the syllabus and in class that laptops and tablets are prohibited, even to take notes. I’m an avid user of my tablet to take notes, and I find that my best studying and note-taking occurs when I handwrite my notes on my tablet. Many other students rely on their tablets and laptops to take effective notes.

The common argument for using pen and paper over an electronic is that you “retain more information” and “take more effective notes.” However, note-taking is subjective. There’s no single way that aligns with every student. Everyone learns and studies differently. How a student decides to write their notes during a class depends on the student, not the professor.

This doesn’t apply to every subject and class available at Penn State. Some science classes at Penn State prohibit electronics for a good reason — to not destroy that brand-new iPhone you got for your birthday while in a lab handling chemicals. Every class at Penn State is different, but there should be a dialogue between the professor and students at the beginning of the semester on preferred note-taking formats.

“How students digest the notes they take is what is more important,” said professor Imed Bouchrika, chief data scientist and head of content at Research.com, in an article about the big debate. “To support this, a study of 21 subjects with comparable academic abilities showed that both computer and handwritten note-takers performed equally well on tests given to them (Beck, 2014).”

Taking notes with pen and pencil is time-consuming and stressful for many students. Slow writers could miss vital information from the professor or the class slides. Students may start to worry about how much they are missing while taking notes, and they may entirely block out the professor because of this stress.

Many professors argue that electronics distract other students from learning, which may be true for some students but not all. The experience of one student should not dictate the learning experience for every other student in the classroom. That’s just bad practice.

Note-taking and learning doesn’t just occur in the classroom. Arguably, most of the learning process occurs outside of the classroom when a student decides to read over their notes and complete assignments and readings. Repetition is vital in the learning process.

How a student decides to take their notes doesn’t matter if they never return to their notes before an exam. Students can perform equally well or worse regardless of their note-taking format. Studying is what is important.

Instead of banning all electronics in the classroom, professors should embrace this new learning format. There are many things a pen and paper can’t do that a laptop can. Professors should encourage the use of educational online resources to make the learning process more dynamic and enjoyable for students. Learning should be an exciting process that has the power to encourage students to actively engage in classroom discussion and return to their notes before an exam.

Available class space is also an important consideration when deciding your preferred note-taking format. Some classrooms don’t provide students ample room for note-taking with a pen and notebook (the “desks” in Forum are the bane of my existence). Sometimes, there just isn’t enough room for handwriting notes, which is why many students decide to use an electronic option.

Electronics can make learning more fun and engaging for students, and they shouldn’t be prohibited solely because their usage distracts other students. Electronics can be a good resource for studying and returning to portable notes on any device at any time. Professors should aim to have a discussion with their students on what they prefer and how they decide to pursue their education. At the end of the day, repeatedly returning to lecture notes has a greater positive effect than any format a student chooses to write their notes.

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About the Author

Gracie Mullan

Gracie is a junior from Delaware County, Pa, studying telecommunications with a minor in English. In her free time, Gracie likes to play with her cat, Luna, and video games on her PS5. She loves to read and write, of course, and enjoys the ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joe's a little too much. Get in touch with Gracie on her Instagram @gracemullan_ and for more formal inquiries [email protected]

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