A Note about taking Notes (and using ICT)

Twitter is such a useful feed of information about research. I usually search on the #legaled hashtag each morning to see what has popped up from overseas during the night. This morning it was this tweet from @vivmb:

vivmbThe tweet linked to this blog post by Danya Perez-Hernandez at The Chronicle of Higher Education. The post reports how researchers (Daniel M. Oppenheimer and Pam Mueller) found those using laptops to take verbatim notes:

“took almost twice the amount of notes as those writing longhand, [however] they scored significantly lower in the conceptual part of the test”

The take home message was:

“Verbatim note-taking, as opposed to more selective strategies, signals less encoding of content”

I agree that selective note-taking strategies are good for recall and higher levels of cognitive processing, such as symbolisation and abstraction. Personally, I switch between two note-taking strategies: concept mapping, and the Cornell note-taking system. Sometimes I make a map from my Cornell notes, or vice versa. I like to switch between and combine graphics and text. I’ve also used Prezi to map notes, you can see a video of it here.

One lovely thing about the Cornell system is the summary section forces you synthesise information, and provides matter for writing up in your thesis or journal article etc. With concept-mapping, I often adapt maps and use these as figures in the writing up.

I have appalling hand-writing – a consequence of missing some formative parts of my primary education.  So I use devices, a lot.  I adopted and adapted mapping and Cornell methods for note-taking on my devices.

On my phone, tablet or Macbook, I use the IOS and OS X versions of “Notes”. My notes are synced across all devices (no more lost notes!) and they are searchable. Instead of ruling up the page as per the Cornell template, I simply divide the page into horizontal sections and use them as the “cues”, “note-taking” and “summary” areas. I can export these notes as PDF files, and drag them into my citation manager or Scrivener or Evernote (or just leave them where they are). Here’s one I prepared earlier (click on the image for full sized version):


On my tablet, I use Mindjet Maps, Idea Sketch, Doodle Pad, Notability and Penultimate. The nice thing about Penultimate is that it syncs to Evernote. Each of these apps offer something a little different, and I switch between them, depending on how “free form” or structured I want the maps to be. All of them are capable of exporting the image in a format that can be used in writing up. On my Macbook I use Xmind – here’s a concept map note from a book I’ve read (click on the link for a full-sized version):

Symbolic Violence

Writing verbatim notes has limitations, but it is not the use of ICT that is the problem. Devices are just a tool, we need to exercise our intellectual abilities in using them, but they can expedite our learning and understanding strategies. Devices also have the potential to improve equity and parity of access to cognitive processes.