December 28, 2016

Student collaborative note taking during lecture – encourage or discourage?

Posted by Laura Guertin

This topic appeared in Twitter recently and has had such a large number of people posting their thoughts and opinions about collaborative note taking in lecture. The vast majority of responses were positive, which is exactly the opposite of how I feel (especially if you just read my previous post on Take 5… articles on college lectures).

But let’s start at the beginning with the initial series of tweets….


I think what surprised me is that students had a “massive document” by the end of the semester (and it was not posted which discipline/course this took place). In order for students to collect that many notes, does this mean that their lecture periods are truly “lectures” the entire time? Granted, there could be think-pair-share or one-minute paper exercises during these class periods that are not captured in these tweets. I do very little lecturing during any of my lecture periods, turning those face-to-face meeting times into activities where students are getting hands-on, working with authentic data, are driven by inquiry, etc. My time with students is filled with questions and discussions and collaboration – not on compiling all that I say.

Would having collaborative group notes available make students more likely to not attend class? Should the faculty member be added to the Google Doc to confirm the accuracy of the material – and to see who participates? Could there be academic integrity issues/violations of students using the words of other students for essays/projects?

Being a “sage on the stage” only turns students into collaborative transcript writers, focusing them on documenting each and every word we say, instead of processing and applying what we’ve just gone over. Unless there is an introductory activity that reviews with students how to be effective note takers, I fear this activity only reinforces their poor note taking skills. Or, are students learning valuable skills through this activity that will help them in the future? And then if group note taking is required….


This post opens an entire series of questions… what about the students that are more comfortable taking notes with pen/paper? What about the literature that shows taking notes with pen/paper does more to help student learning? (although, there are questions about collaborative note taking vs. pen/paper) What about ELL/international students that may not be comfortable with spelling/grammatical errors appearing to the entire class right away? Will students remain civil to each other in the document? This tweet has a screenshot of how things could fall apart with students. And could this document then be forwarded to the students that enroll the following semester? (and what motivation would they have to participate during class, instead of just copying/pasting from the previous semester?)

Anyone can access the Twitter conversation in this thread (you don’t need a Twitter account), starting at this link. Thank you, Stephanie McKellop, for starting this discussion. Maybe I’m being too narrow in my thinking, but I just can’t embrace this idea of a semester’s worth of notes in one document generated by students the class. I think – no, I know – faculty in Earth and space science courses can do better in the little time we have face-to-face with students to build their content knowledge, skill sets, and overall scientific and information literacy.