Please have Millburn Middle School students take handwritten notes in class!

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Currently Millburn Township School District is test piloting a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program with wi-fi access, allowing Millburn Middle School students to use their own laptops for notetaking purposes.  Additionally the District is exploring a move to Google Chrome Books, presumably for the same purpose.  However laptops in classrooms for note taking purposes may be doing more harm than good.  Please consider the following before adopting this practice for Millburn Middle School students:

1) Long-hand Note Taking is More Effective than Note Taking on Laptops:

Note taking supports learning in two ways: “encoding” and “external-storage”.  “Encoding” describes how students process ideas and information while note taking in order to improve learning and retention. “External-storage” explains the benefit of the student’s ability to review material at a later time (even from notes taken by someone else). Students who both take and review their notes, as most do, benefit from both approaches. Note taking can be generative (e.g., summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping) or nongenerative (i.e., verbatim copying). The more deeply information is processed during note taking, the greater the encoding benefits.  Laptop use facilitates verbatim transcription of lecture content because most students can type significantly faster than they can write.  Verbatim note taking reflects shallower cognitive processing and predicts poorer performance than nonverbatim note taking, especially on integrative & conceptual items. Additionally, it is beneficial for middle school students to learn how to take handwritten notes which is an important skill set for their entire academic career as well as future professional life.

2) Laptops Present Additional Distractions, Especially with Internet Access:

Empirical research shows that laptops distract students and invites multitasking (including activities unrelated to learning such as checking email, social networking and texting).  Students on laptops are less on task during lectures, show decreased academic performance and are actually less satisfied with their education than their peers who do not use laptops in class.  Non-laptop users that are merely seated near laptop using students often become significantly distracted. Predominant current research therefore supports the conclusion that note-taking on laptops is more detrimental than beneficial to students. When the distractions of the internet, social media, emailing and messaging are factored in, this conclusion is strengthened.

3) Screen time limits, even for educational purposes, are advisable for adolescents for health reasons:

If students use laptops to take notes at school and spend an hour or two doing homework on the computer, this adds up to approximately 7-8 hours a day of screen time for educational purposes alone. This would be the first “generation” of students to engage in this amount of daily screen time. At some point the sheer amount of daily screen time may in fact be harmful to adolescent development. Additionally there continues to be new research about the potential harm of excessive screen time for children growing up in a digital age. For example, researchers are examining the exacerbation of the symptoms of the growing epidemic of ADHD, neurological changes in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain which is ongoing in young people up to age twenty-five, and compulsive adolescent technology use that may be compared to drug addiction.  The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines encourage families to actively craft a personalized media plan for their children.  Parents and educators need to consider the nature and amount of media and screen time that children engage in and its effects on a child’s health and well-being, in terms of the both the physical (sedentary habits, eye strain, sleep interference etc) as well the developmental, neurological, psychological, social and emotional.

Technology decisions in the classroom should be well considered and deliberate. Technology is a powerful tool and it is important to consider risks about the incorporation of technology in the classroom.  For example, there are significant concerns about students being distracting by social media, internet, messaging etc. while they are supposed to be doing homework; however, if a homework assignment must be accomplished on the computer instead of on paper, there are more inherent distractions and it is harder for parents to help keep children on task.

Therefore, according to the best and latest research, 1) handwriting notes is more beneficial to learning and 2) utilizing laptops for note taking purposes throughout the course of the school day may be both detrimental to learning and  harmful to adolescent development. For these reasons, we respectfully ask that MMS students take handwritten notes in class.

Thank you for your consideration.


The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop, Psychological Science, May 22, 2014, Mueller and Oppenheimer, Princeton and UCLA,