We have been told that buying a laptop or a tablet for every student is a civil rights issue. Vendors of new technology might find it awkward to make such a claim for their products, but “reformers” do not.

Lest the inevitable technology boosters complain that I am spreading doubt, let me iterate and reiterate that I love technology. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge its drawbacks.

An article in Scientific American warns, “Don’t Take Notes with a laptop.”

Why? Students using a laptop tend to transcribe the teacher or professor’s remarks verbatim.

“Obviously it is advantageous to draft more complete notes that precisely capture the course content and allow for a verbatim review of the material at a later date. Only it isn’t. New research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more. Across three experiments, Mueller and Oppenheimer had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. Half of the students were instructed to take notes with a laptop, and the other half were instructed to write the notes out by hand. As in other studies, students who used laptops took more notes. In each study, however, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.”

Why the difference?

“Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content.”