Dear Professors Who Cite Research Saying Handwritten Notes are Better for Memory

I know it’s probably better for me. There’s always at least one professor in the semester that begins the first day of class with that pitchline. However, five minutes ago, you announced an interest in students demonstrating what they’re going to learn…not taking tests that reproduce your lectures verbatim. I know you hate standing at the front of the classroom into a sea of Macs with lit-up logos, the light reflecting onto our face. The super-awkward smirks that dude in the back is making because no one’s crotch is that funny at 9am. Seeing our heads looking down as we diligently synthesize and transcribe “knowledge” is note-taking excellence…or is it?

An incredible TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson argues our current educational paradigm — developed in the era of the Industrial Revolution — kills creativity. Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968), coins the “banking concept of education,” where oppressive learning environments operate on spoon-feeding students content.

I’m among the students gifted with handwriting that takes a while if I want to read them tomorrow. Most of the time, if I’m zoning out in class, it’s because I got lost while writing something down. Pair that a lack of visuals and you’re expecting me to memorize a stream-of-consciousness type conversation? Spoiler alert: when it comes time to take that test that’s worth 50% of my grade, I’m probably not going to do well. I could make friends with my classmates, but they and I are probably busy with campus involvement, employment, internships, and everything else the typical college student must take on to look “well-rounded.”

An article on Scientific American argues, “taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy ‘mental lifting,’ and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.” That’s great to read! That’s also not how I learn. As an educator, we’re trained in making our lessons engaging and accommodating to all different learners. However, I’m curious why some of that is abandoned when we get to college. We’re different learners today than we were in the 80s and 90s. The technology we have available to us today didn’t exist even when I started school — however, now that Google Apps exist and have made productivity software incredibly accessible, tomorrow’s students are not only versed in it: they will expect this to be used as they further their education.

I’m not writing this because I believe having an expensive screen is how I learn, or that I want to zone out in class to focus on emails and social media instead. I don’t — it’s why I’ve chosen I’m going to come to class and make best use of all that money I spend on tuition. Instead, this is a not-so-kind request for you to engage me and make this so-called “knowledge” relevant. Why should I be able to regurgitate everything Plato wrote in ancient Greece? Sure, the quadratic formula might be useful to know, but I haven’t touched that formula since my sophomore year of high school. The most memorable classes I’ve attended in my schooling were ones that asked me to do more, to fuel my own desire to learn.

It’s time for us to wake up and get to work.