Why some students and teachers are putting the “no” in technology

In your 5 major courses, in how many of them are you
allowed you take notes on a computer?

In your 5 major courses, in how many of them are you allowed you take notes on a computer?

Jude Herwitz and Amelia Feiner

Science teacher Dr. Megan Reesbeck developed her no-technology policy for note-taking long before she got her first high school teaching job. As a teaching assistant at a university, she sat in on lecture classes and stared at the backs of 300 students glued to their screens. Most of the students were not taking notes.
“These are college students who are deciding to take this class; it’s their choice, and they are actively disengaging through looking on Facebook or reading some article or doing something completely different,” Reesbeck said. “I don’t feel confident in allowing high school students to make that decision for themselves,” she said.
Reesbeck is one of many teachers reevaluating how technology should be used in classrooms as devices become faster, sleeker, and more addictive. Despite its ease and efficiency, many Upper Division teachers and students remain wary about the use of technology in classrooms. Studies have shown that students who take notes by hand conceptualize information more efficiently, and teachers are not always sure what their students are doing online because they can’t see the screen of the students’ devices during class. However, many students depend on technology for organization and speed during the school day.
When asked if they preferred to take notes by hand or by typing, more than 61 percent out of 315 students polled said that they choose handwriting over typing.
Technology is used differently in various academic departments in the school. Though Spanish teacher Pilar Valencia uses technology for audio and video in class, she only allows her students to take notes by hand.
“There have been a number of studies that point out the benefits of taking notes manually. Among them, the slow speed of taking notes by hand allows for more processing time and requires some quick reorganization of the information,” Valencia said. “Typing, on the other hand, allows you to copy almost verbatim, with minimum processing of the information,” she said.
A study published in Psychological Science by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California Los Angeles supported the benefits of Valencia’s policies.
Mueller and Oppenheimer showed the same presentation to two groups of college students. One group was forced to take notes with pencils and paper, while the other group took notes electronically. When tested on the information they absorbed, the study showed that the students from both groups performed equally when asked fact based questions, but when asked questions that had to do with conceptual application, the students who hand wrote outperformed the typists.
Economics teacher Gregory Donadio does not allow technology for note taking during his class, except in special circumstances, he said.
“Inside a class, where you have interaction… people looking endlessly at a screen and not talking, because they’re taking notes on the screen, means discussions are less effective,” Donadio said.
Class of 2020 Dean Dr. Susan Groppi, who teaches History, while discouraging her students to use technology, does not completely disallow it most of the time, she said.
“I don’t outright ban it, because I think especially for older students, you guys are learning for yourselves what is most effective,” she said, “and maybe for some students that actually is the answer.”
However, from time to time, Groppi does put a classroom moratorium on computers for a week, or sometimes a month, she said, “if I have a situation where either a lot of people are using them inappropriately in the classroom, or if I think the wall of laptops is impeding discussion.”
Owen Karpf (10) has a special accommodation that allows him to use a computer to take notes due to his dysgraphia, a fine motor skills disability, he said.
Karpf said that he sometimes has trouble copying what is written on the board and thinking about it at the same time.
“Sometimes I just quickly type down what was on the board and I don’t really read it or recognize what it says, but I can always just read my notes,” he said.
Billy Lehrman (12) began handwriting all of his notes after reading a study in his freshman year that detailed the benefits of taking notes by hand. However, he believes that technology is useful in class when sharing ideas and collaborating with classmates.
Despite sometimes strict technology policies, students feel that teachers want their students to do as well as they can, and policies are malleable when students have accommodations or struggle with handwriting. “Most teachers are very willing to let you do what helps you needs,” Lehrman said.
“Usually [my teachers] are fine with it,” Karpf said of his accommodation. “I’ve actually requested on the course assignment sheet teachers who are more accommodating so I don’t really have to deal with blow-back.”
Akash Nayar (10), who has a special accommodation, uses his computer to take notes in almost every class. He also encountered no resistance from teachers at the school even if the teacher’s class policy discourages the usage of technology, he said.
The Middle Division technology policy breaks sharply from that of the Upper Division, which is to allow teachers to determine the rules for their classrooms. Instead, the Middle Division requires all students to have either a school-issued or personal iPad at the beginning of the school year and expects them to utilize the device for most schoolwork.
Adam Frommer (9) said that the iPad was heavily used in most of his classes other than math in Middle School, a sharp contrast to this year, when “all my teachers, except a few, don’t allow computers at all,” he said.
The transition from the two differing policies “could have been done in a better way,” Frommer said. “We used all this technology in preparing us for high school, where we don’t actually use it.”