Note-Taking as a Strategy

I can always count on Winkler to drive me towards expressing a current view I have on teaching and learning.  Today, it’s her piece, Notes and Learning Resources: Why we Cannot (and Should not) Stop Student Sharing (May 25, 2012) that caused this expression.  There are three (interrelated) themes I’d like to unpack: a) students as “digital natives”, b) note-taking policies, and c) the note-taking business.

“Digital Natives”

Students are oftentimes described as being “digital natives” who seem to be inherently “wired” for managing educational contexts that involve educational technology.  The term digital native is not one I tend to use as it typically stereotypes younger learners as being more prepared compared to those more mature learners who are typically labelled as being less technologically savvy (you know, those older folks.)  It’s been my experience that learners who are more technologically savvy are seldom inherently at an advantage when it comes to using educational technology for some learning outcome or objective.  When it comes to note-taking, students usually need to learn it as a distinct strategy which many times is not linked to competencies with technology.

Since note-taking is a strategy, personal approaches to the act of taking notes will vary.  Regardless of which objects are used (technology, pencil, paper, etc.), the process is likely to vary as well: writing key words, mindmaps, outline, summarizing, etc.  Based on the educational context, this process will depend on how much will occur synchronously (while in class as the teacher is speaking) and asynchronously (outside of class). So, regardless as to whether a learner is a “digital native” or not, the strategy is what matters most.  And more often than not, students need assistance when learning which approach to their own strategy of note-taking works best for them – the technology (if) used is one of many aspects to an overall strategy.

This meta-awareness – knowing how to approach note-taking – will also intrinsically intertwine with where note-taking takes place.  Winkler alludes to this when she states, “students mostly love [taking notes], as this form of curation–possible thanks to the Internet–makes their life easier” (para. 2), insinuating that note-taking that is shared publicly online is synonymous with curation.  But taking notes, deciding how to share those notes, and topic-curating each require different (metacognitive) thought processes.  Again, the educator, an expert learner, becomes the facilitator in terms of not only what is to be learned, but more importantly how the learning could occur given each of these three distinct ways students might recall information.

A Note-Taking Policy

Winkler mentions that she has not found any school policies that address student note-taking. Based on the above, I wonder if schools should even implement such a policy, unless it is only to address licensing.  Choosing the type of Creative Commons license, for instance, will dictate much in the way of how and where sharing of notes will take place.  An understanding of commercial vs. non-commercial rights, derivative vs. non-derivative versions, etc. requires administrators to not only understand legal provisions but more importantly understand the school culture in terms of how students currently take notes and how students should be sharing notes in the future.  Any decent policy will set out to close this gap by tying it to student outcomes. 

The Note-Taking Business

I would be hard-pressed to find any business that allows for personalization of any note-taking strategy that goes beyond what is already being offered by EverNote, OneNote, or any public wiki for that matter (Wikispaces, Wikieducator, PBworks, etc.). 

Since note-taking is initially an individual pursuit, sharing them requires cooperation, collaboration, creativity, and consensus.  When working within a community, members of the community may need to conform (i.e., conform to ideas, social connections, and/or materials/technologies).  Thus, one needs to embrace the benefits of taking notes as an individual endeavor and/or appreciate the value of group note-taking as long as conforming does not hinder the learning process.  Indeed, the educator’s role is to coach students through this realization and not assume that technological competency equates to having gained a set of metacognitive strategies.

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