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Uncategorized   |   Oct 10, 2013

Why using a camera to take notes is smart, not lazy

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Why using a camera to take notes is smart, not lazy

By Angela Watson


What’s your first impression of this image?

When I shared it on Facebook recently, some pretty passionate responses were sparked. A number of teachers thought that students taking notes with phone and tablet cameras was a useful strategy, but they were far outnumbered by dissenters. Some commenters viewed it as evidence of bad teaching, kids’ laziness, and/or the dumbing down of the next generation. Most people who objected pointed out that writing things down helps students to memorize and creates new neural pathways: they view note taking as an integral part of the lesson, not busywork.

Here’s my take it.

The image is meant to be humorous. I’m not making the assumption that any teacher actually allows students to sit around passively and listen to a lecture, snap a photo of a slide at the end, and then walk out the door. Who’s to say students hadn’t taken detailed notes throughout the lesson and then used their phones to capture the assignment so they could be sure they had the details correct? What if the teacher’s lesson required students’ total focus and note taking would have interfered not only with their comprehension, but with the pacing of the lesson? After all, writing things down takes some kids a looong time and causes them to fall so far behind the teacher that they miss the whole lesson.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we need to teach kids note taking skills, but it’s my perspective that taking photos can actually enhance that process. Our intent is to prepare students to be successful outside of school  as well as in it. We need to teach real world skills. And in the real world, people use their phones to make life easier. I’ve been in plenty of staff meetings and business meetings in which people took pictures of slides and even handouts. I use my phone camera to take pictures of product info when shopping instead of writing down model numbers and prices, to capture recipes I see in magazines, and to have access to maps and directions that I would have otherwise had to hand-copy or print out. Camera phones are one of the best and simplest tools we have today, and each year, more and more of our students have access to them. Why not harness that available technology and use it to their advantage?

The real question I think we should be answering is this: how do we teach students to take notes in the 21st century? It might be instinctual for kids to whip out a device and take a snapshot, but I’m willing to bet that most of them don’t have a system for finding and using those images for studying later on. Similarly, most of them aren’t savvy with writing things down and using their notes to help them study.

So, part of our job is to help our students think critically about the pros of and cons of written note taking and pictures/video, choose when to each each method, and learn how to reference and organize all of their notes so they can be of use later on. Yes, that will take some additional time out of our instructional day. But think about how many hours we’ll be gaining by teaching kids to make the note taking process more efficient and meaningful.

What’s your perspective? How do you teach students to take notes in the 21st century?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. I love the idea of students taking pictures. I teach 6th grade, and my classes are less lecture than discussion. I would rather have the students engaged in the lesson than busy taking notes. Of course I want them to learn how to identify important information, but I don’t think taking notes is necessarily the most effective way to learn.

    I have a classroom blog, and I have recently been snapping pictures of class notes to load to my blog. The students and parents LOVE it! I like it because absent students can keep up with class through the blog. The picture definitely illustrates how note taking has changed since the time I was in school, but everyone keeps saying that the times have changed. We can’t have it both ways. Either education is changing and we need to accept that, or we want to stick with the traditional route.

  2. Interesting that you should post this. When I went to the International Reading Association Conference in San Antonia this year, all the teacher’s were taking pics of the slides just like this.

    1. It is exactly the same way in my education classes. Our professor puts up the assignments on a power point and we all take out our phones and take a picture

    2. I agree. I take my camera to all CPD events now – after all, a picture is worth a thousand words, especially to visual learners!

  3. Ironically, before I erased my whiteboards at the end of the day, I snapped a photo of the student generated argumentative notes we created in my grade four class. I’m typing them up for student reference for tomorrow’s class. Posting notes electronically to a class website is great too. Sometimes it is hard for students to focus on both thinking and notetaking for fear they can’t keep up.

  4. I co-teach 11th grade US History at a school where all the kid are issued iPads. We do have students take photo copies of notes, we also have students who type their notes, and we still have the tried and true, die-hard paper fans. My co-teacher and I don’t care which method they use as long as they use them to reference later. And we are actively teaching them how to take notes from a lecture; trying to prepare them for the next chapter. We found out with our first test this year that as juniors they didn’t know how to take notes and effectively use them, so we’ve been taking our time and re teaching that skill.

  5. I’m a Teacher Candidate with York University in Toronto and in my placement right now I’m in a new school that is tech savvy and not all my students write down their notes. Some will use their phone but they don’t take photos of it, they open up “Notes” on their iPhones and actually type it out. I feel that they are still retaining some of the added information they would gain from writing the notes out. One of my Mentor Teachers doesn’t encourage note taking because he has an online teacher website and has all the power points, assignments, etc. posted online for the students. If they wish to take notes they can do that but many are auditory learners and prefer to just listen to him talk. I am not accustomed to that style (not taking any notes) so it’s a bit of an adjustment for me learning my best teaching style but I’m encouraged with where technology is going to take classrooms over the next few years but a bit cautious.

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