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The Dartmouth
May 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Qu: Take Note

We should rethink the conventional wisdom about note-taking.

This past spring term, I watched someone write an article for Ivy Beat titled “How to Take Notes in College — By a Dartmouth Sophomore” in front of me, in our Government 6 course. The second tip, “do not use a computer in class,” was probably chosen because computer users more easily succumb to distractions, mindlessly scribe the lectures word-for-word and are a detriment to their fellow students. I’m certain that at least one of your professors have hit you with the statistical studies that show how supposedly impossible it is to pay attention in class while your peer is messaging their mother — which, in the grand scheme of computer activities, is far from the worst you can do online in class.

I’m not nosier than the average person, but I struggled to ignore the rapid tip-tapping of her fingers as they detailed exactly how a student should “outline their notebook,” and I am afraid that my curiosity and frustration got the best of me. I don’t regret investigating, because I assure you that I could never make up something this ironic.

I don’t know if she ever posted that piece online. I’m not sure the website even exists. But I am confident that this happened by the hand of some higher being so I could write an op-ed about it. This is my best account on how to maximize material absorption — with technology — and minimize the casualties, otherwise known as your classmates’ grades and performance.

First, you should find a suitable nest for yourself. If possible, try to stay in the back if you think you will probably stray into your free food or “meme” GroupMe or if you know you type loudly, especially if your professor has a soft voice.

Second, I’m not going to tell you to not distract yourself. College students have an unfortunate habit of sleeping far too little. Don’t be embarrassed if you feel like you have to scroll through The New York Times or check out the newest Google doodle if that’s going to keep you awake.

Third, I’m also not going to tell you to avoid writing down exactly what the professor is saying. If the material is dense, it could be difficult to follow the lecture. Wandering thoughts, even if they’re about the material, can cause you to miss an important point. This is not to say that lectures are a time to train to be a stenographer. But, just because an important folly of computer-users is the tendency to just type and not understand does not mean that typing too much is always bad.

Fourth, you’re not restrained to use only one medium of note-taking. Diagrams and other creative ways of jotting down information on paper cannot really be recreated quickly enough on a computer. I would say that the greatest danger to taking notes is not technology, but rather a monotonous, unchanging routine. When writing, you can change the style of organization, the pens you use, your handwriting, the notebook and even how you position yourself. When typing, however, I find that most people tend to slump over and fix their sad, unblinking eyes onto a Word document filled with text in a far too small and boring ­— think Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman­ — font. That is the true folly of computer users: not changing note-taking up enough. If you do, then not only will your brain thank you, but your classmates will, too.

By taking notes incorrectly, you squander your education and cause your peers to squander theirs. The technology that we Dartmouth students have is a gift. We’re one of the most technologically connected and savvy schools in America, and that is a great power — and, with great power comes great battery life.