Computers in Chicago classrooms: Yes or no?

Q

My daughter says all of her middle school friends get better grades because they take notes on their laptops and she wants one. Could this be true?

A

Walk into many middle schools, and chances are, you’ll find students are taking notes on a computer. While the students may be better able to efficiently capture the lecture word-for-word due to stealthy typing skills, there is no guarantee they are grasping the content.

Several recent studies, in fact, show that students who took traditional handwritten notes scored equally as well on tests as those who took notes on their computers when exam questions were fact-based. On other, more conceptual questions, computer note takers actually scored lower.

Researchers suspect that while students are able to capture more of a classroom lecture verbatim by recording the content–double the notes in some cases–they are more engaged in the transcription process than the classroom content.

Most parents will do anything they can to encourage their child to take notes at all–even if it means investing in gadgets and software. Before you buy a laptop to improve your child’s grades, consider these alternatives first.

Ask the teacher. Find out how your child’s teacher delivers the subject matter in the classroom. Many teachers incorporate hands-on learning opportunities and interactive computer games, leaving almost no time for notes to be taken. Ask the teacher if a computer would be helpful and if she notices a difference in the performance of students who use a computer in class.

Record and transcribe. Several apps can turn your child’s mobile phone into a digital recorder. Recording a classroom lecture and typing it at home allows your child to reinforce material triple fold–by hearing it once in class, again at home, and then typing it on the computer. Try a recording app like Easy Voice Recorder Pro for Android ($3.99, Google Play,) or iTalk Recorder Premium for the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad ($1.99, iTunes).

Giving computer notes a try? If you decide to get her a computer for school notes, make sure to encourage your student to print notes out later for review, use them as a study guide and even read them out loud to reinforce the content.

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