Faculty Exchange/Matthew Lungerhausen Discusses Collaborative Student Note-Taking

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General Information

  • Audience - All WSU instructors interested in improving student student note-taking.
  • Interview Date - 12/21/2010
  • Tools Used - Google Docs

Meet the Faculty Member

Dr. Matthew Lungerhausen, WSU Associate Professor in History, received his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. from Binghamton University, SUNY, and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. His research areas include Modern Central and Eastern Europe, Photography and Visual Culture, and History of the Arctic and Antarctic. Among other courses, he teaches HIST 121: Western Civilization 1500-1815, HIST 122: Western Civilization 1815-Present, HIST 343: Modern China, and HIST 412: French Revolution and Napoleon.

Viewing the Interview Segments

The full interview is divided into eight segments. Select play to begin viewing Segment 1. To advance to another segments at any time by using the Next Next button.

Segment Descriptions

  1. Why Google Docs? Matt describes the problems he sees with student note-taking and assessing student notes. He presents his rationale for implementing a collaborative note-taking assignment.
  2. Describe the collaborative note-taking activity. Matt describes two attempts at implementation, one where individual students took their own notes and a second where students worked together, each playing the role of either the Reporter or the Editor.
  3. Did you support your students by establishing ground rules or providing training? Matt describes how he encouraged students to exercise critical judgement in taking notes and be more selective about what to include.
  4. How do you evaluate student notes? Matt describes how he used the commenting feature in Google Docs to provide feedback to student teams on their notes.
  5. Was the note-taking activity effective? Matt describes some of the observed benefits, including a new method for constructing exams, positive student feedback, and the improvements in students' understanding of terminology.
  6. What advice would you give faculty considering the use of a shared note-taking in their classes? Matt discusses the value of advance preparation, the use of templates, and orienting students.
  7. What help did you receive as you implemented this activity? Matt describes how he worked with WSU TLT to select a tool from among several choices and apply a manageable pilot test approach.
  8. What comes next for student note-taking? Matt discusses the "workable fit between technology and the disciplinary mindset" and his desire to extend this approach to his 100-level courses.

Good Practices

  • Assign students to note-taking teams in advance. In this case, pairs of students working together to take notes were more successful than individuals. If possible, establish the note-taking schedule for the entire term before the first class.
  • Assign distinct, interdependent functional roles within note-taking teams. Assign different, but functionally interdependent, note-taking tasks to students (e.g., Reporter, Editor). In this case, the Reporter selected a subset of terms and concepts to include in the notes. The Editor contextualized this content by connecting it with class readings. Students in both roles exercised critical judgement in identifying what they perceived to be the most important information. Breaking up of note-taking tasks and content responsibility allows the notes to be posted quicker and more accurately.
  • Provide support for students. Do not assume that students know how to use collaborative writing tools or know how to take good notes. Support their work by developing note templates and other helpful materials.
  • Comment on student notes. Use the Comments feature in Google Docs to provide public feedback on students' note-taking effectiveness. Did the student pick the most important terms and concepts? Was the connection with the reading clear? This feedback may lead to improvement over time.
  • Use student notes to develop course assessments. Student notes can be helpful when building quizzes, exams, and other assessments. What is included and excluded from students' notes may provide an indication of their breadth of knowledge. The nature of the notes may also provide insight into the depth and interconnectedness of their knowledge. Students may also feel more engaged in the assessment process.

Key Outcomes

  • Pairs of students, each taking a different functional role, posted finished notes more quickly than individual students.
  • Students reported high levels of satisfaction with the team-generated notes in a midterm evaluation. They reported that the two roles were helpful and that other students' notes and the instructor's comments served as a good reference for evaluating their own notes.
  • Compared with collecting individual student notebooks, the Google Docs method was less work for the instructor and less intrusive for the student. It allowed the instructor to gauge the involvement of individual students on a more consistent basis and in a way that helped students make adjustments that improved their performance.

Related Articles

Learn How to Replicate Matt's Activity in Your Own Course

Learn More About Google Docs

Learn More About Note-Taking Technology