Teaching Effective Digital Note-Taking

I read this article in The Atlantic recently that discussed a new finding that handwritten notes are more effective in student learning than are typed notes. The article focused on laptops and specifically noted that there may be differences with tablets. Still, as a teacher in a school that is moving toward a one-on-one iPad program, I’m interested in thinking about and sharing best practices for helping students take effective digital notes. Below are my top five tips. I’d love to hear any questions, comments, or suggestions in the comment section below!

  1. Actively teach the dangers of distracted learning: it isn’t just a problem with driving! We have to do more than ban social media and get angry when we catch them texting during class. We have to talk about the importance of focus and critical thinking. We have to create learning experiences that engage students, and then we have to speak openly about reasons and strategies for avoiding digital distraction.
  2. Teach structures for organizing digital notes. It is easy to take notes using Word or Pages, but it is hard to keep all of those documents organized along with images, PowerPoint presentations, and video/audio files that go along with the notes. I highly suggest using Evernote or OneNote.
  3. Keep a calendar/planner. Students may think that they can type their homework assignments or due dates in their notes, and they will remember it all, but even with digital notes, it is important to keep a centralized planner. This planner may be incorporated into google drive, Evernote, Schoology, or wherever convenient. I also keep a class calendar and encourage students to keep a personal planner.
  4. Find ways to help students process the information. The Atlantic article points to an issue of students transcribing verbatim notes when they type instead of processing notes as they handwrite them. If this is the case with tablets or whatever technology we use in the classroom, we need to adjust our formative assessments to encourage more processing through discussion, writing, and other means.
  5. Continue to require solid writing skills. As language evolves to reflect our digital culture and students start writing more often in informal digital contexts, we have to hold on to formal process writing and continue to teach the structures of solid academic writing.


I’d love to hear from you! Do you think digital note-taking will impact student information retention? What will you do to ensure that your students continue to excel in the digital classroom?


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