School Notebooks

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

I tried taking class notes digitally when I got my first laptop in high school. It seemed like the obvious solution; after all, I type much faster than I write by hand. Not only would my computer allow me to capture more information in a class, it would also make it easier to search through the notes I’d taken.

It was nowhere near the success I’d hoped. Being able to capture anything led me to try to capture everything without ever parsing its importance. What I was doing wasn’t notetaking, it was recording. Furthermore, the rigidity of the digital page was another hurdle; in my word processor, I couldn’t easily draw arrows or include quick figures like I would on paper. And, of course, typing did not engage my brain nearly in the same way as writing by hand. All of this combined meant that the information slipped from my brain like water off a duck’s back.

This was, let me remind you, in the pre-tablet era. The first iPad wouldn’t be released for another year. But I stuck to my pen-and-paper guns all through college, even after I was given the gift of a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. I have a boxes and folders filled with my class notes from years past–I’m not entirely sure why, but I have them nonetheless.

Notetaking strategies have been on my mind recently because, come this fall, I’ll be returning once more to the student life. I haven’t yet decided at which institution, but I’ll be diving into graduate school in pursuit of a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling, which means I’ll be back to taking notes, and I’m considering how I want to do that. Taking notes on a laptop is, of course, out of the question. But do I want to use physical notebooks, or would the additional capabilities of a tablet+stylus combination be worth the digital foray?

I’m still leaning toward physical, not virtual, paper, but it’s not a no-brainer. Taking notes on a tablet–that is, writing them with a stylus in an infinite digital canvas–has its draws. A tablet has the potential to replicate many of the aspects of analog writing, not the least of which is the physical act of writing, but without the constraints of the analog world like page dimensions. Of all the digital tools out there for productivity, notetaking, or organization, I’m most partial to a tablet with a stylus, because it truly feels like an evolution of pen and paper.

Anyway. All of this is to say that since high school and before, I’ve taken notes on paper, making my school notebooks yet another part of my ink-and-paper brain.

For another take on the role of digital and analog tools in learning, I strongly recommend Michael Oman-Reagan’s recent piece on Medium, “Your Nostalgia Isn’t Helping Me Learn“.