Technobyte: The trials of digital note-taking

Going into Engineering in Fall ’08, I expected everyone to be taking notes on their computer. I felt ready for it, having gotten a new computer over the summer break, with Microsoft Word 2007 looking all shiny and bright. Sitting down in AMAT 217, I was immediately overwhelmed with Matrices, Derivatives and Limits- nothing Word allows you to create quickly! Upon a second glance around the room, I realized that, besides the two guys surfing the web, I was the only person with a laptop out- all the other students were furiously scribbling upon either notebooks or large wads of paper. This left me perplexed, as I don’t like paper: it doesn’t sort itself by date, auto-correct its spelling and, most critically, has no “undo” key. To finish that story, I caved and hand-drafted all my notes for the rest of the semester, but my quandary remained. Do laptops make sense for taking notes in class?

I continued taking my laptop to other, less formula-intensive classes, and it had varying degrees of effectiveness. Physics sucked to take notes in, with all its cutesy little graphs and diagrams. Programming was much better, with more text-heavy content. The problem, however, starts to be not in how strong your typing skills are, or being able to keep up, but rather your concentration abilities. With the internet a click away, it is very tempting “just to check” that nothing has changed. I realize how handy the internet can be as a simple way to answer the prof’s question or to follow their PowerPoint, but let’s face it, going online will likely lead to distractions. Open a browser and odds are you’ll check your email, make sure nothing changed on Facebook and accidentally start playing “Fancy Pants Adventures” (highly recommended). This leads to a larger issue of you not just zoning out of class, but also distracting all those immediately behind you. All in all, surfing the internet does not help in note taking, but rather, hinders the process immensely.

A second problem is the note-taking program itself- in my case, Microsoft Word. Word is fantastic text editing software; in fact, I used it to write this article. While it does this well, drawing big curvy arrows everywhere and annotating previous paragraphs maybe aren’t its closest friends. It was not designed for taking quick notes; it was designed for creating documents. For notes, Microsoft made another program which I highly recommend: “OneNote.” In addition to being able to write anywhere on the page, it categorizes notes by both a “Book” (Class) and “Tab” (Chapter), making review a breeze.

No amount of amazing software will take your notes for you, though, so eventually it all depends on your own style and abilities. I lean towards jotting bullet point; others like following the professor word-for-word. The decision is personal in how you respond to lectures and internalize that information. If using a laptop helps, great! Otherwise, pen and paper is a sturdy standby which never runs low on battery.

Technobyte Tip!

To disable the Windows startup sound:
1. Open Start Menu ⇒ “Control Panel”
2. Click “Hardware and Sound” ⇒ “Change System Sounds,” or “Change Sound Scheme” for XP.
3a. On Vista or Windows 7, disable the checkbox “Play Windows Startup Sound” near the bottom of the options box.
3b. On XP, scroll down the list of sounds to “Windows Startup.” Click it, and select “None” from the drop-down menu.
4. Here, you can also change the theme of your sounds to something even more interesting like “Sonata” or “Landscape,” or even disable them entirely by selecting “No Sounds.”

To disable the Mac startup sound:
You can’t, unless you download

StartupSound.prefpane for free from:

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