Note Taking in 2012
I ran across this pic via twitter the other day, originally posted somewhere on Pinterest. The general tenor of the comments on this pic were of the chuckling variety, as in “Ha. Those kids today and their technology. They think taking photos of something on the overhead is taking notes. What a crazy world we live in!” I think, however, this pic is provocative and useful in facilitating a discussion about technology in the classroom. I’ve organized the observations and questions it provoked below in an attempt to spark further discussion.
Look at all those kids with camera phones!
I see seven, maybe eight high-school aged children here with phones that allow them to take pictures. The camera phone is nigh-ubiquitous, with the smart phone rapidly becoming so. Many teachers see the presence of these devices in classrooms as a distraction, but what I see here is a teacher letting her students utilize technology they already have in a creative way that (may) facilitate learning. I am not arguing here about the pedagogical potential of smart phones (that comes later), but making an observation about their presence. When do we reaching the tipping point when we assume every student is going to have one of these and plan our classrooms, lessons, and assignments accordingly? Granted, there may be students who do not have smartphones due to economic issues (thought that number is likely smaller than you think). Yet, at some point, we’ve simply taken student access to technology for granted, planned on it, and done our best to help those who cannot access the technology (see email, internet access, word processing, etc). Are we there with the smartphone yet? I think we should be.
What’s on the screen?
This may actually be the most important question. What are they taking a picture of? The answer to that then says a lot about what’s going on in the classroom and whether or not the “note taking” has much pedagogical value. Is it simply some sort of bulleted list of notes on a Word document or PowerPoint slide? If so, why are they taking a picture? Wouldn’t it be better for the students to write it down and/or the instructor to simply provide them an electronic copy of the list? One (might) have cognitive benefits and the other would simply save a lot of time. But what if it’s a list of examples created by the class and recorded by the teacher, or a mind map, or some other graphic representation of class activity? That’s fairly spontaneous and may be hard to capture and keep any other way but a photo. The same is true with a complicated equation or drawing. Maybe all the students did write the equation down and follow along as it was worked out in front of them, but they want a photo to make sure they’ve got it all down correctly. There’s the additional issue that most of the photos taken won’t be very good; even good camera phones taking a pic of a screen in that sort of light are going to be fairly fuzzy. So are they really after tiny factual details by taking the photos?
What do they do with the pics once they take them?
How do the students use the photo? The caption suggests the photos have become a substitute for “old-fashioned” hand-written notes. Sure. Maybe these are all really lazy students who didn’t want to write anything down at simply just snap a photo of whatever is on the screen so they can they go back to playing Angry Birds and tweeting about how lame their school is. And maybe this teacher is equally lazy and just throws notes on screen and abets the intellectual decline of today’s youth by letting them use distracting technology as a substitute for real work. When it’s time for the test, the students will just flip through all their photos and study. Or maybe they all already have the notes, but are taking a picture to make sure they’ve gotten all the stuff down correctly. And when they study, they can compare their own notes with their pictures to fill in any gaps. What I am suggesting here is that the photo above is only some sort of problematic scenario if we assume that the students are taking the photos to use as their only source of classroom content. Depending on what they are taking a picture of, it could be used as a valuable supplement, as a part of a portfolio, or as a way to show the world what cool stuff they did in class that day — or all three.
Why are so many of them taking photos?
To me, this may be the most problematic thing about the above photo. At least eight students are taking the same picture. Why not have one or two of them responsible for taking the pic and sharing with the others? This gives some students an important role, builds classroom community, and draws upon the social nature of the Web. It shows students that technology and Web 2.0 social technology can be used for productive, useful things over and above mere status updates.I know someone likely made this photo in jest, as a way to elicit wry smiles about how schools and children have changed. I found it provocative (Obviously! I just wrote 1000 words about it), but not in an angry old man way. Rather, I think it allows us to take a moment and consider the sorts of questions we ought to ask about using technology in the classroom before shaking our fists and telling it to get off our lawn.