“Now Jot This Down” — Taking notes at University in the 21st Century

This morning I met with my 1st year undergraduate MA Primary Education students for our Child Development course. As part of this course, students are given a lecture (by moi) and then, in groups of 4, they discuss the professional research they have been doing for the week and also their SBL (Scenario-Based Learning) which links their learning in Child Development to education/learning.

I noticed that quite a number of students had downloaded the PDF version of my keynote presentation in advance and were following it on their tablets. (It’s a bit of a pity they do this, in a way, because it means they can sneak ahead and find out some of the responses to my questions and, in my opinion, it takes away a bit of the fun of the lecture.)

What interested me was the way they were taking notes. Some were using software which allowed them to annotate the PDF. Others were typing away. Some were tweeting. Some were using paper … and this got me thinking. How am I, as their tutor, best supporting their learning? Should I be providing my materials in a variety (or maybe just a different) format in order for them to engage with the lecture and their learning more effectively?

The 2nd half of the 2-hour input involved the students sharing their professional research with 3 other students. Sitting in groups of 4, I asked each of them to share their research with the others but without using their notes. My students are used to this and they’ve all heard my argument that if they have done professional reading which has engaged them, they should be able to talk about without looking at their notes for 2 or 3 minutes. Besides, if they have their notes, there’s a tendency for them to merely read a script out loud and this bores everyone to tears. So, before the students start sharing their research, I ask them to put their notes on a table at the front of the class.

What hit me today, though, was that perhaps only a quarter of the students walked up and placed paper on the front table. Most of the students came up with tablets or phones. So this got me thinking. If the students are note-taking or completing research on a mobile device, how can I use this more effectively in teaching?

I’m not sure I have clear-cut answers yet but I’ve decided to start by incorporating the use of AirServer more. I’ve already talked about AirServer before — you can read my post here — so I won’t bore you with the details again.

I’ll keep musing on this. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments, let me know. I’d be happy to hear from you!


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