Saturday, March 19, 2005

Laptops In The Classroom

Ann Althouse has some interestine blog posts about laptops in the classroom here and here. Ms. Althouse is a law professor here at the UW in Madison. She has a much better blog than mine and is a nice person to boot. She actually answers e-mail!

I was a history major in college - I graduated in 1990. Back then laptops were basically a non-entity and the only computers in dorm rooms were Apple 2e's or other such anchors. All of my papers were typed on an actual typewriter. I remember playing a football game on the computer with my dorm buddies where the X's and O's would run around on a field after plays were chosen by each side and we of course turned this into a drinking game - but I digress.

If I had access to the laptops of today I am not sure I would even use one in class. Some background first.

In the lower level classes (always very large) it usually worked like this:
Once a week the whole class would attend a "super lecture" given by the professor. Attendance was never taken as the class was so large. You took notes. Then twice a week you would meet in a small "section" of maybe 20 or so people with a grad student. Here attendance was taken and the grad student would expand on the super lecture and add some things, give quizzes and take care of other administrative things.

In the 300 and 400 level classes, usually history majors were the only ones involved so the class sizes were much smaller. The "super lecture" was maybe 50 and the sections were 15 or so.

The way I took (and still take) notes would not work very well on a computer. I usually would put a main header and then place bullets under it. I also used lots of arrows and stars to highlight certain points. The arrow is very useful if you are taking fast notes. For instance if you are discussing Nazi Germany and you bullet Hitler, then later talk about Eva Braun, you can simply use a large arrow from the words "Eva Braun" back up to "Hitler" in the margin and write "dating" on the arrow. Then when reviewing your notes you can instantly know what that means. Quick short cuts like this are very important with certain lecturers. Some are very fast and don't care how fast you are in taking your notes. This would be very hard to do on a laptop. Another thing about taking notes in a college setting is that you have to understand that many of the professors wrote the texts you have to read for the class. On exam answers they expect and want you to repeat their theories on the tests. Like it or not, that is the truth. If you see something in the text AND hear it in lecture you BETTER have some mention of it in your exam answer (all history exams are all essay). If you take manual notes it is very easy to use a large star or double underline something if you catch it in a lecture. If using a laptop it would be difficult to do this in a quick way, in my humble opinion.

This isn't to say I would not have used a laptop if I had one. I certainly would have. I just think if (when) I go back to school for my masters and PhD that for note taking I just like a good ol' pad of paper and a pen.

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