Increase Learning Comprehension By Taking Pen and Paper Notes in Class

Classroom studies indicate that taking notes with pen and paper helps students to reform lectures in their own words, allowing them to learn and comprehend the material.

Increase Learning Comprehension By Taking Pen and Paper Notes in Class

For one semester, Carol E. Holstead banned laptops from her classroom, telling students she would only allow note-taking via old-fashioned pen and paper. The idea of the exercise was to cut out distractions (we all know laptop users browse Facebook during class) and enhance learning.


She writes that she had a theory based on earlier research:

“When students took notes on laptops, they barely looked up from their computers, so intent were they on transcribing every word I said. Back in my day, if a professor’s lectures were reasonably well-organized, I could take notes in outline format. I had to listen for the key points and subpoints.”

A study we reported on a few months ago, published in Psychological Science, lines up with her reasoning. The pen is, indeed, mightier than the keyboard.

The paper reported:

"Because the speed of longhand is lower than the speed of presentation, the student also must condense and summarize, thereby initiating a process of comprehension in the very act of taking notes."

The ability to transcribe lectures and information into your own words helps assist in the learning process. What's more, the temptation of checking a Facebook status or refreshing a news feed isn't ever-present.

Holstead readily admits that her method is rather unscientific. But she was still happy to report a positive outcome from the exercise at the end of the semester. About 86 percent of the 95 students in her class said they “paid the same or better attention” without their laptops and 52 percent said they “paid more attention.”

What's more, she reported higher test scores since she banned laptops from her classroom. But there was some frustration from a portion of the class who said they couldn't transcribe every word of her lecture by writing longhand. So, Holstead has taken to teaching students how to take better notes:

“Now I coach students on how to take notes longhand to help those who have not used that muscle much, because I am convinced that while laptops have a lot of good uses in the classroom, note-taking is not one of them.”

In this world where we're bombarded with information, it's important to have a healthy way to intake and learn information. Sometimes in order to do that, we may have to ditch the laptop and kick it old-school. Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, has some of his own ideas about how we can limit our intake to lead a better life. In his Big Think interview, he shares a few tools he uses to limit his intake of ads and useless information that distracts us from the important things and costs us money. 

A brief history of human dignity

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Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

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