Make Unique Lecture Notes With Pen & Paper – TUB-Thump 019



Happy New Year to you!

Now it’s around the time of return to the academic side of life, it’s time for another TUB-Thump.

And what better way to celebrate than to look at how to engage with your lecture notes?

Okay, there may be better ways…But hey, this’ll come in useful. Don’t sass me. 😉

Today’s episode tells you to forget the laptop and the tablet. Pen and paper notes rule.

Why? Because unique notes and personal viewpoints are better than getting it down verbatim.

Get the lowdown below.

Here are the show notes for the 5-min episode:

  • 00:40 – Why pen and paper rules compared to typing notes on a laptop/tablet/phone.
  • 01:30 – Why it’s better NOT to have every word of a lecture written down.
  • 02:30 – Episode 002 of TUB-Thump: Take Lecture Notes Using These Two Rules
  • 03:15 – Why is it so difficult to engage with the lecture content in your notes when you’ve not put your own take on things?

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!


Why Mindful Lecture Notes Beat Writing Everything Down

A recent study found that a pen and pad is better for taking lecture notes than typing them on a laptop.

This may say more about the way we use tools for making notes. Fast typing can cause you to take notes word for word, even when you’ve been told not to. Change could be minimal, since the ability to take near-verbatim notes is there.

How do you take notes in a lecture?

Fear of missing out is one possible issue. As with social networks and instant message notifications, the fight to keep up can drive us mad. With a laptop and touch-typing skills, you can transcribe all the words. You know, just in case…

This ‘just in case’ method of writing everything down stops you from engaging with the content, even though you’re recording it all. While some students can revisit the content and engage with it effectively afterwards, many others don’t work this way. Either way, you set yourself up to spend more time on the lecture content than you need.

I see notes differently. I don’t bother with notes at all sometimes, although I begin with the expectation that I’ll write something down. Some of my lecture notes are two or three lines of writing and nothing else. I take down what I feel I need and nothing more.

At times, the notes have flowed and I’ve had a lot to get through. Unfamiliar topics can do that. But it’s still not the same as typing up as many words as I can, with the possibility that I’ll need it all. No matter how many notes I end up writing, the process is mindful. I engage with the content and act accordingly. Don’t just hear the words, hear concepts and ideas and questions and arguments.

After a lecture, a lot of information can be missing from the page, but not from my thoughts. Alternatively, I know that the rest of the information is elsewhere and in a format that I will fully engage with anyway.

In a lecture, the idea is to mindfully consider your notes and carefully listen to the speaker. By typing almost everything out, you’re noting down but not engaging with the information. When you come to the notes later, you read them almost as if they’re in book form…a book you’re coming to for the first time.

You need to work more deeply with the content. Repetition doesn’t help. It’s the same reason why advice to keep reading your notes until you know them back to front is not that helpful in boosting your understanding.

When your lecturer talks about something you aren’t clear about, write down key points and any questions you have. Treat the lecture as an information source that you’re selecting from, rather than a wall of noise that you need to grab as much as possible from.

That one difference in attitude should give you the ability to record your notes in whatever way you like. Even if you keep typing instead of handwriting, the secret is to extract what’s useful to you. You can only do that when you are mindful of the content.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your notes. Write a brief summary outlining what you found out and explored in the lecture. No more than a few sentences. With a summary and your original notes, return to them in a week and then in a month.

  • Find out more about the things you’re still unsure about;
  • shorten notes and simplify where possible into key points as you become more familiar with them;
  • add context and additional findings where necessary;
  • remind yourself that the purpose of your notes is to strengthen your ability ongoing, with the ultimate aim to use them as a springboard to jump from when considering coursework and revising for exams.

When you no longer need the notes or when they have taken on a new identity, congratulations. You don’t need notes forever. You outgrow them. They get replaced by new notes. Eventually, they get replaced by the essays and exams that you’re proud of.

Accept What You Don’t Know As Quickly As Possible

James Moos, a Computer Forensics student at the University of Glamorgan, has a simple and effective tip for when you’re making notes in lectures:

“If there’s a word or phrase you don’t understand in the lecture, write it down and look it up when you get home, and add it to your notes. It reduces that panicky feeling of not understanding anything!”

Yup. It’s that simple.

Not everything is obvious straight away (photo by Doug88888)

Not everything is obvious straight away (photo by Doug88888)

When you hear a word or a concept that makes no sense, you can do one of two things:

  1. You stop what you’re doing and feel confused. In the end, you miss more of the lecture;
  2. You happily note down what you don’t understand to look up later at your own convenience.

Eliminate the panic and stay focused. Do number 2!

The next time you don’t get something, acknowledge it and deal with it later. It’s the best way to stop your mind from wandering and to keep your confidence intact.

How to pay attention in lectures

Lectures can get the better of you, no matter how much you want to pay attention. Actually, wait…No matter how much you need to pay attention.

Yes, at times it can feel like so much hangs on the lecture, but you still can’t manage to keep focus on the words.

photo by Tadeeej

photo by Tadeeej

Okay, so lectures aren’t quite that important (I’ll come back to that in my last point). Still, it’s useful to pay attention to them, whether or not you think they’re the best way to learn about a topic.

Here are my tips to stay switched on and in tune with your lecturer for an hour or two:

Get rid of disruptions

It’s easy to be distracted when something more enjoyable is there to entertain you. Commit to a move away from temptations. Switch off those moreish phone apps, ignore your social networks, and even move away from your mates if they take up too much of your attention in lectures. Whenever temptation is still within your grasp, you’re more likely to reach out and grab it.

Prepare beforehand

Ten minutes is all it takes to have a quick look online for a basic rundown of what you’ll probably encounter in the lecture. The lecture may end up being different, but your preparation will get you thinking about the subject in advance and help you focus on the content when you get in there.

Hopefully you’ll have a list of prior reading, handouts, and other information for you to prepare from. Once you start working with the subject matter, you’ll be less likely to switch off in the lecture.

Eat and drink wisely

If you attend a lecture too full or too hungry, you’ll suffer for it. No matter how busy you feel, find time to get the nutrients you need. Listen to your body and you’ll have a better job listening to your lecture.

Engage in your head

When you don’t get it, your brain can start to switch off. Don’t let it! Note what confuses you, write down questions you have, think whether this part of the lecture is crucial to understanding everything else.

If you’re just bored at a certain point, make sure you note the basic idea/concept down for later so you don’t miss out completely.

Get comfy!

Dress so you’re not too hot or cold in the lecture theatre. If you need to wear more/less outside, prepare for that instead of suffering in the lecture!

What if the seating arrangements are uncomfortable? Bring something to sit on, or find a different seat, or take less stuff with you, and so on. Your surroundings may not be the first thing you consider when it comes to lectures, but it can make a big difference to your attention.

Record the audio on your phone/music player/dictaphone

This should be done for your own personal use only and, even then, you should probably ask the lecturer in advance if they are happy for you to record their lectures (if they aren’t already recorded for you!). I don’t recommend this method as a regular thing, because you can get caught up in listening to the lectures more than doing your own work. Use as a failsafe only.

If you do, you can listen again at higher speeds on an iPhone or software like Windows Media Player and VLC Media Player. I used to listen at 1.4-1.7 times the speed and now frequently listen to podcasts and lecture recordings at 2 times the speed. An hour long lecture in half the time? Yes please!

Focus on your own thoughts rather than the monotonous voice

No matter how interesting the topic, a monotone can send you to sleep. I found the best way to stay awake was to think about my own reactions to what was being said in the lecture. I reframed each sentence or idea in my head so it felt like I was doing a lot of the talking.

That way, I felt more in control of my own focus. If the subject was boring that was one thing, but some topics suffered more from the voice than the content. At these times, focus as if you’re in control, like when you’re reading a book or doing private research.

This took a bit of practice and it did mean I might miss a bit as I went along, but it’s better than missing the whole lecture!

photo by arctanx.tk

photo by arctanx.tk

Relax or take a nap before the lecture

We all need time to relax, to wind down, and to find calm. I love powernaps and it’s worth finding out how much time works for you. We’re all different, meaning I like about 18 minutes and you may prefer 15 or 20. It’s worth finding your personal sweet spot. Many of the people I’ve spoken to who didn’t think powernaps worked for them found that they worked a lot better when they found the right length of nap for them.

If you don’t want to nap, it’s still worth taking time out to relax. As a recent Mind/Shift article on mindfulness states:

“Recent brain imaging studies reveal that sections of our brains are highly active during down time. This has led scientists to imply that moments of not-doing are critical for connecting and synthesizing new information, ideas and experiences. Dr. Michael Rich, a professor at Harvard Medical School put it this way in a 2010 New York Times article: ‘Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.'”

The lecture isn’t *that* important

If you’re worried that you need to hang on every last word of a lecture, your stress levels are bound to shoot up and your concentration levels drop to the floor. Lectures help to frame a topic, make you aware of debates, and give you some of the academic nuts and bolts on your learning journey. Lectures are not for rote learning, even if there is a necessary element of it in some sessions. You are unlikely to fail miserably for missing a single, crucial point in a lecture. If it’s so important, the information will be elsewhere and will likely be repeated again.

Some lectures are a slog, no matter what you try. Don’t beat yourself up about that. If it’s all too much, try to understand why. If it’s down to something you can change, try to make that change for next time. If it’s out of your control, either let it go or speak to someone who can help deal with the issue.

How do you cope with difficult lectures? What is the worst you’ve had to endure as you tried desperately to stay focused?