SIP 4.2  Class Notetaker Redux

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

A while back, the SIPsquad took a stab at offering some thoughts on strong notetaking practices for your class. You can guzzle up this SIP (and all others) at The Well, and, for your convenience, you can read it below: 

originally published January 22, 2015

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

We want students to take notes during class, but they often don’t know how to (or can’t) take effective notes.

Take a SIP of this:  The Class Notetaker

One way to demonstrate the value of taking quality notes and to help students improve their note-taking skills is to build note-taking into class participation. Students could be asked to post their notes to Blackboard within 24 hours of class; either one student could be designated as the official class notetaker, or the entire class could be asked to contribute. During the first several class meetings, a few minutes could be spent at the beginning of class reviewing the notes that have been posted and talking about what makes them effective or how they could be improved. Bonus: This practice makes it unnecessary to find an official note-taker for students with a note-taker accommodation.

This SIP was very well received—but the SIPsquad has been getting questions about how to effectively address potential problems with this practice.  So…

Take a SIP of this: Troubleshooting Strong Notetaking Practices

Female student taking notesNot every strong instructional practice will be a great fit for every class, but this one is pretty easy to tweak in order to meet students’ needs while maintaining (or even raising) class standards for attendance, notetaking, and even participation. In response to concerns received by the Access Center regarding their new suggested notetaker accommodation (inspired in part by the above-mentioned SIP), we offer the following responses:

CONCERN:  Posting notes on Blackboard, or having students share notes on Blackboard, discourages student attendance.  

RESPONSE: This is true only if there are no in-class activities or other attendance incentives in place. For example, if students get credit for doing in-class group work, they can still share the notes and positively impact those who were absent, but the absent students don’t get credit for the missed in-class activity. The more engaging in-class activities are, and the more multi-faceted the approach to assessment, the less one sole thing like class attendance stands out. 

CONCERN:  I do not use Blackboard in my course. 

RESPONSE: Many professors use other technological platforms to share course info. Some faculty never use Blackboard or other course management systems, preferring to use other accessible freeware like Wiki. Even if Blackboard itself is not an integral part of the class, a site for note sharing can be set up. Ask the students what kind of sharing platform they prefer—they are the experts, and if you defer to them they will use it more and better!  **NOTE: when choosing an outside site for posting, please make sure that it is accessible. You can check with the Educational Technology Center on campus or the Access Center if you are unsure. 

CONCERN:  What if students do this for a while and stop? I cannot force them to post these notes. 

RESPONSE: See the first concern above—not all students are going to do all things all the time, and it is true that you can’t force them. BUT: if there are multiple assessment formats, and many ways for students to contribute to the class as a whole while at the same time earning their own grade, it won’t matter, neither individually nor collectively. Some students might really thrive as notetakers—so let them, and let others benefit from that. Other students might have different ways of contributing to the class—so let them do their thing. The trick is to design a class so that there are multiple means and modes by which students can contribute, so that and benefits from everyone else’s strengths.

CONCERN:  What if students post incorrect information? 

RESPONSE: It is fun to incorporate note editing into a course assignment or use it as part of a grade. If the students see that they get some kind of credit for expanding/correcting notes, they tend to like doing it. If it is used as a formative assignment instead of summative, it becomes enjoyable and collaborative.  One example of collaborative note taking is to assign a two-part assignment:  after each class, all students must contribute to the online notes. Before the next class, they must either expand, comment upon, or edit notes that are already posted. That way it becomes a positive, inclusive cycle.

Still thirsty?  Take another SIP of the Class Notetaker!

There are some invaluable links at The Well (read:  SIP 1.1, The Class Notetaker) that can point you to improved notetaking practice in your classroom. The SIPsquad also encourages you to dialog with colleagues about how you can turn general suggestions into strong instructional practice that best supports the teaching and learning needs in your classroom. Teaching, like learning, does NOT tend to be “one size fits all.” Look for multiple means of engaging with suggestions for strong instructional practice and rock your classes this fall! 

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