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Students recall online course content better when taking notes as a team, research finds

Students who collaborate on note-taking perform better than individual note-takers when recalling course content from online lectures, while individual note-takers perform better on tasks focused on academic writing, finds new research from Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education (NU GSE).

Matthew Courtney, Assistant Professor from NU GSE, and colleagues compared individual and collaborative note-taking and how the completeness of students’ notes is associated with performance on quizzes and academic writing tasks. They focused on 186 students on a course learning how to compose a manuscript for an academic journal. Video lectures for the 10-week course were uploaded online.

Students were separated into two conditions—individual note-taking or collaborative note-taking—and used Google Docs to make notes on video content. Those in the collaborative group were asked to do so in small groups of three to five. Towards the end of each week, students took an online quiz testing their knowledge of the video content. Students enrolled in the scientific writing course also submitted five individual writing assignments.

The researchers found that collaborative note-takers performed better in the weekly quizzes, indicating better recall of content, whereas individual note-takers performed better on the writing assignments, indicating better skill application.

The findings also show that note completeness, the extent to which notes accurately reflect meaningful information from the videos, has no effect on collaborative note-takers’ recall of course content and a negative impact on their skill application. However, note completeness has a positive impact for individual note-takers on both recall and skill application.

Prof Courtney says,

“Prior research has noted that students are often very poor note-takers. Findings from our study suggests that collaborative note-taking provides an antidote, as students working together create higher quality notes to improve recall. However, despite benefits to recall, collaborative note-taking may not be the most effective way to learn to apply knowledge as a skill as applying knowledge to a real-world problem requires more than just recall.”

These findings were first published in the journal The Internet and Higher Education.

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