Teacher-Said-Take-NotesThis made me laugh. I saw this image (source unknown) and saved it to my photos on my iPad. Later that day, I tweeted it out and since then it has had quite a response.

In one of the responses to this tweet, Maurizio Basso (@moba3030) said, so true seeing more of this. As long as they digest it and utilize technology effectively I am in support of this in my class.”

This is a great point, to which I added: if they have devices, I don’t think this is ideal for text, why not share the doc so that text is searchable/easy to use?”

And in another response to a retweet by Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), the conversation with Brian Sharland (@sharland) and Steve went like this:

Brian: “does make me wonder why the teacher didn’t share the files online …”

Dave (me): “Agreed, I am tempted to write a post about this, many responses that this is great, really it’s poor use compromise”

Brian: “I accept there may have been some work generated in class but most pupils will end up with poor quality images”

Dave: “…And text in an image isn’t searchable, isn’t clickable, and isn’t practical! Also one-way, unlike a shared doc”

Brian: “very true!”

Steve: “I see a lot of it happening during conferences.” Then, “… and I suppose it’s similar to written notes. They aren’t that searchable either, but people still like to take them.”

Brian: “which is why I listen out for info on where it is posted and sit back smugly whilst everyone else types furiously :-)”

Steve: “Yep. Me too. But I also tweet furiously now and then ;)”

A rich conversation, but still, a lot of important ideas are being glossed over in the attempt to be brief. Here are 4 ideas that come to mind:

1. It’s not the tool, but how you use it that matters. Photos are a great way to ‘take note of an idea’, (such as a quote or an image that tells a story). A photo is a lousy way to ‘take notes’. Google docs, or shared files are searchable, and can be adapted, and added to by the students. If the students had collected data from an experiment, recorded it on the board as a class, and now had to copy that data, the image above makes sense (although a projected shared document would still be better). If this was truly students ‘taking notes’, I’d say that this was actually a poor use of technology.

2. Digital data is fundamentally different! One key idea around this is how shareable the information is. Just yesterday, Heidi Hass Gable wrote a blog post, where she linked to a tweet I wrote… over 5 years ago! Another key idea is how easy it is to adjust and change information, editing digital texts is far different than what we had to do in the past!

Where-is-the-delete-key-tweet3. Take notes or create notes? There are times when copying notes might be a useful thing to do, but for the most part, that is a rather passive way to learn information (unless you use specific strategies to help you take those notes). Students creating the notes, or doing a task whereby the notes are used to help construct a learning experience, is far better than copying words onto a piece of paper, or into a digital document, or for that matter, taking a photo of the information.

4. Photos are great! All that said, we have tools in our students’ pockets that include high quality photography, with video and voice recording, full function calculators and tools and apps to share content anywhere, any time, and for any purpose. Documenting experiences and ‘grabbing a bit of information’ with a photo can be very powerful. My concerns above are about the appropriate use of such images, not that taking a photo is a bad thing. I’ll click a picture of students in action, or of a presentation and share it with parents in my school community, or with peers on Twitter. I’ll keep it to show others, and I’ll even write blog posts about images. The challenge is to recognize when this is an ideal tool to use and when it isn’t.

Instagram-PosterThinking about the original photo that inspired this post, it provided me with a good chuckle. I had another good chuckle when my daughter asked me where the delete button was on an old typewriter in an antique store. But in a way these two images are related: They both take a technology and place it in a context that doesn’t fit.

I don’t know the context that framed this photo? I don’t even know if the caption was added with knowledge of the original context? And, I don’t know how appropriate the students actions are in using the technology effectively and in a transformative way? Is this ‘technology’ being used on a level of Substitution, Augmentation, Modification or Redefinition, of a task previously done another way, or of a new task that could not have been done without the use of personal cameras? I’m guessing that other tools might have been more useful than photos of notes.

14 comments on “4 notes on taking notes

  1. Hi David. You just know I’m not going to be able to pass this by don’t you. Ha.

    While I do understand the concerns regarding students taking pictures for notes, if learning is going to be served up by direct instruction then McPics are a suitable reaction to McLessons. I’m afraid the model in use here has things backwards. It should be the teacher taking notes, summarizing what the students have researched, discovered, and learned, not the other way around.

    In our grade 8 Humanities course, students take on the persona of young explorers from the future. Their quest is to discover how various cultures across time (500-1600 AD) handled conflict. The narratives they write will arise from living amongst the people of that time and how they dealt with the critical issues they faced. What they learn about the Goths, Islam, the Crusades, etc., will be “fleshed out” in 3D virtual environments, becoming interact adventures for those who seek to follow, continuing to enrich the novel in progress they are jointly writing. The teacher is not the sole resource for information, but the note-taker, both critiquing and chronicling what the students bring back from exploring a much broader base on knowledge than the teacher could ever possess or share.

    But of course our students are not the only ones taking a trip back in time. The Instagram project shown above has the same (aptly named) “History Fair” format that rewards the use of scissors, pencil crayons, and glue sticks with 21st century students. The irony would be humorous if it were not so sad. While our 3D virtual reenactment of The Battle of Vimy Ridge will allow people to participate as avatars in every aspect of the battle, from the planning to the final moments of victory, it would not be accepted at a History Fair. It breaks the rules. While we are quick to give lip service and ProD dollars to celebrate “disrupting education” it seems we are not as ready to throw out antiquated and pedantic methodologies and traditions.

    Yes, students taking pictures of the notes on the board are simply responding appropriately to an educational culture where they are simply consumers raised in a culture of McFast learning. It’s not their actions that need to be questioned. JMHO.

  2. These images may be more searchable than you think. Apps like Evernote will use OCR to pick up text in photos. Even in photos of handwritten notes. Additionally, with GPS info on the photo you can put them on a map or use date information. Photos for note taking can be very useful.

  3. Have to watch this as brain research is clear on the importance of writing notes to help material get to the brain. That being said, I love the idea of students discovering the learning points on a topic within a lesson and them helping the teacher create summary notes on the back end. The active discovery of important points, I think, far outweighs personally writing the important points.

  4. I love Gord’s point that if the delivery construct is old, the use of the tool may be that much more justified. His whole comment could easily be part of the original post!

    And yes, Mitchell and Stan, Evernote and other tools are making text in photos searchable and there are very appropriate uses for photos at times. I do see value in photos and tried to share that with point #4. Your points expanded on the possibilities. (I approved Mitchell and Stan’s comments at the same time, so Stan did not see Mitchell’s in advance.)

    Brian, brain research on writing notes is interesting and Heidi Hass Gable shared this interesting article in the comments on my Facebook update of this post: http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2014/08/25/why-im-asking-you-not-to-use-laptops/
    These combine to further my first point that there are times to use tools and times not to, and the purpose rather than the tool itself is important to focus on, (and thus choose the appropriate tool for at the appropriate time).

    Thanks to all of you for your comments and for continuing the conversation and contributing to my learning!

  5. My students sometimes photo diagrams, assignments etc, from an IWB, even when I’ve sent them a copy. When I ask why, I’m told, back up, look at photo see everything and reminds them of context, easier to look at on phone.
    My response is to encourage any method they find personally useful!

  6. Great point about creating vs. copying notes, David. One thing I really dislike about the whole “send us the PowerPoint” approach is that it takes away the need to process visual and auditory information into your own notes, which surely is a valuable learning process.

  7. Hi David,
    Being the type of student that I am, I do not necessarily like to rely on technology for my studies. In my opinion it depends on what type of learner you are to decide whether this is the right approach for you. For me personally I am a reading and writing learner, I prefer to read something from the board and write it myself. I tend to get a better understanding of the information that way.
    Although I do realize that not everyone is like me in this aspect. This day in age students are more in touch with technology than I ever will be. So, therefore I think that with students now, google docs and photos may be a better idea for them. Technology is growing more and more everyday and with is advanced technology most students may find that method much easier. Just sharing my thoughts!

  8. I have to admit this is the first time in a while I have gotten so engaged in a blog post and the comments. Notetaking as a practice can be a way of processing information and to the extent that it is then I heartily support it. When I lectured in my classes (and yes I did lecture, because storytelling works to help people understand things but that is a whole other thread) I would explicitly tell my students, if I wanted you to have every word in my PowerPoint then I would print the PowerPoint. I told them the whole purpose of taking notes was to create language and information around the topic that helped them understand what they learned. Ideally, I would love to see a combination of the LiveScribe pen system and Evernote, Which would allow me (and students) to take handwritten notes, supplemented with Audio and to add images.

    A key to this is that honestly, I think it requires a shift in teaching, especially the lecture, pausing and allowing students to reflect, process and catch up on their notes could productively be included in direct teaching.

  9. Wendy,
    I love that you encourage students to do what works for them. That said, I think sometimes students do things certain ways not because it works for them, but because it is easier (we all can tend to do that at times).

    Justin & Lindsay,
    Please see the link and quotes I share below.

    Lectures can be a great way to learn, my attraction to TED Talks is an example of this. That said, giving students time to process and work with the content and the ideas shared is so important.


    Alastair Creelman, (@alacre), wrote a post in response to this one: Take note

    In it he says,
    “The learning is not in the notes it’s in the process.”
    “I have always believed that it’s not the device or the medium that matters, it’s how you work with them”.

    The devices and the mediums will change. Lectures will still be one of the delivery systems. Students will choose to take notes, and photos, in both useful and less than ideal ways. It is our job as educators to provide learning opportunities through effective mediums, and to help guide our students towards processes that work.

  10. Hello my name is Kaitlyn McLarty I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I was assigned to comment on your blog.
    I take a class named EDM310 and every week we comment on different blogs.
    I enjoyed reading this in the sense of the humor you added in it. I love that your daughter asked where the delete button was.
    I am not one of those students who will take a photo of something because A. I know I won’t go back and look at it. B.Because I remember things better when I write things down and look at them.
    I have heard a lot of people say that.
    I know that the world and technology is moving forward and always finding easier ways to do things and I wish there was a more effective way to take notes.
    Soon every student will have a laptop and maybe we can use a google doc or something to take notes. I am sure that something will come up soon.
    I liked your post it was amusing.
    Thanks so much
    Kaitlyn McLarty

    1. Excellent points Kaitlyn, and thanks for commenting.
      Are you given a choice of blogs or is mine specifically assigned? I hope you were given choice and not just stuck with me! 🙂
      Google docs are still frustrating to use on mobile, and I still have a laptop bias, for now, but things are changing quickly and soon these tools will be ubiquitous and platform agnostic. Still, there are tools to use now rather than just photos of text.
      Ps. My apologies for the delay approving/responding to this. I’m not sure why it went into spam comments?

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