At CeLC 2010, there was a session on various bits of technologies, and how McLuhan’s 4 laws of media apply to them - what does the technology enhance, retrieve, obsolesce, and reverse? One of the presenters ended up talking about how the ability of profs to post their lectures online - whether through the .ppt files, podcasting, or some other format - made the act of note taking by students obsolete.

This struck me at the time as a gross oversimplification. Note taking is not primarily about manual duplication of a set of resources produced by a teacher. It’s an active process of sensemaking and internalization. Of visualizing the processes of thinking. There is no part of the valuable process of note taking that can be obsolesced by mere content being posted online.

my notes from the session

I’d bet it’s likely that there’s a version of the conference presentation online somewhere. But I took notes to record my own version, annotated as I thought about it. In an analog paper notebook.

Note taking is a personal thing - one part process (the act of writing/drawing/sketching/diagramming as visual thinking) - and one part product (the notes and notebook as an artifact that can be carried, scanned, referred to, reviewed, annotated, carried around, lost, etc…). Note taking is not something that can be replaced by hitting ⌘P and killing a few trees. The printed teachers-resource is no more a set of active students notes than a book is a classroom.

I’ve got a stack of old notebooks at home - sketch pads, hardbound blank notebooks, lab notebooks (with graph and lined paper), moleskines, and this blog. The kinds of notes I take differs based on what I’m doing - the notebook I used when working Downtown building a corporate LMS was full of detailed sketches of interfaces and database schema, while my current one is mostly loosely structured text.

The point being, the notes are inherently personal. If they were produced by anyone else, even with MUCH higher quality and detail, they would be essentially meaningless to me. As my notes are likely meaningless to anyone else.