University of Nevada Students Navigate a More Successful Note Taking Strategy
The need for more support and time to record and absorb lecture and study information was initially observed in my work with the limited number of students attached to our disability resource center. However, since the introduction of our initiative, there has been an increasing appreciation of the value this support offers to all students.
Getting lost in note-taking
We recognized that, for various reasons, a number of students who struggled to retain learned information were limited in their ability to take concise notes in lectures and were therefore missing out and at risk of dropping out. It was clear that if they had the right tools to learn independently they could thrive. However, they needed more time to preview, manage, assimilate and retain the information.
Let’s start by looking at a traditional classroom structure. Students sit in the classroom or lecture hall, as the teacher talks to them; sharing with them the learning content. The teacher’s panoramic view of the class is a landscape of heads, as the students take notes as fast as they can. At the end of the class the students return home with pages of notes: some paragraphs are important, others less so; some parts they understand, others not so much. It takes them a lot of time to decipher the information into relevant, well-structured reference material, and even then key facts are often missing because that section was illegible or just didn’t make sense.
More importantly, while they are focusing on converting the teacher’s spoken information into written notes, they are often not really taking in or understanding the content of the lecture.
So, how did we take this common problem and give our students more time to gather and retain the information presented in class?
The main source of information provided in lecturers is spoken, but a number of students attached to our disability resource center struggle to transcribe this information into written notes to reference later. If they don’t have good quality notes how are they going to study the information at a later date? Problem number one!
Traditionally we have used voluntary note takers to write the lecture notes for these students. Aside from this taking away their independence and pride, it also still leaves them with pages and pages of notes; some parts important, other parts less so.
When this amount of lecture content is provided to students, (whether written themselves or by a note taker) regardless of their preferred learning style, it is hard for anyone to ‘assimilate the content into new knowledge’ (Brame, 2013).
The second challenge is that, commonly, the teachers will give out a lot of supporting information such as presentation slides or follow up study material such as digital research papers. In theory this should be of great benefit for students, but trying to organize the learning material together so they can easily reference and retrieve it in the future is something that few manage effectively.
Making sense of it all
So after much research at the University of Nevada, we implemented a software application, Sonocent Audio Notetaker, which allows our teachers and students to save all learning content in one place, structure and prioritize their notes through a simple color-coding system, and store it for future reference. For those students who struggle to make good quality notes, the system creates audio file recordings of the lecturer and can convert this into written copy.
Listen, organize, retain
It is understood that students retain something after they’ve been exposed to it three times.
With this repetition approach in mind, we decided that, in the first instance, students would attend the lectures and be able to listen to the spoken information, while the software recorded and transcribed notes. They would then go home, tag the information to structure and categorize it using the color-coding system in the software; red for important or most relevant to their assignment, orange for useful reference information and so on.
Finally, they could then take all the time they needed to read all the information they received (including presentations and research papers) and save it to one easily referenced file in the software. By providing them with this structure to their learning, they are getting more time to really understand the information that is being shared.
Active and social learning
It has worked brilliantly. The students are no longer under pressure to scribble down notes during a lecture, they have their own time to study the information, and can consider their own view on the subject as well as any questions they want to ask. They are able to engage in an ‘active, social process’ (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, as cited in Shimamoto, 2012) through which they can use their existing knowledge, and build an individual understanding of new material.
The result: a rise in the grades of 80 percent of students who used the software over a single semester, with the average student improving their GPA by two grade levels!
Learn more about Sonocent here.