A mole man action figure holding a pen

Collaborative Notetaking

Activity aim:  To share notetaking strategies; to report back on group work in a more efficient way; to keep track of what happened during a learning activity for students’ later reference; to share questions and confusion in real time

Materials: Computer, tablet, phone, or other notetaking device (one per group, or one per notetaker)

Time: ongoing

In many cases, there’s no particular reason that students can’t collaborate on the task of notetaking.

Students can arrive to different conclusions. They can hear different things, or understand different things, or interpret things differently from one another. Students have additional knowledge and context that they can add to a discussion. Collaborative notetaking can bring all of this to the surface while also helping everyone to generate and ask better questions.

While a lecture might be the most obvious place to use collaborative notetaking, it can also be helpful in a lot of other contexts. Take group activities, for instance. Rather than asking students to repeat something to the whole group that they just finished saying to their small group, asking one notetaker to add the group’s observations to a collaborative space that everyone can access online allows everyone to interact with collective observations. It also allows the instructor a window into the group’s conversation while not putting one person on the spot in front of the rest of the group to succinctly explain what just happened while the other members of that group tune out.

Here are several ideas for how to incorporate collaborative notetaking into your class.

    • Correcting mistakes in the notes: After a lecture, the instructor gives students a copy of pre-recorded notes. She informs students that there are mistakes in them. As a group, or in small groups, students correct the notes using the notes that they’ve taken. This gives them an opportunity to review what they’ve just learned by checking the corrected version and looking for additional mistakes, places where the notes should be expanded, or places to add questions.
    • Guided notetaking: Kasey Bell’s exercise helps students to help each other generate useful notes. The teacher gives a small group of students (4-5) a link to a Google doc. Inside the Google doc is a table with several columns. Each student is responsible for taking notes on one of the columns. In a class with multiple docs, students could review the notes by checking and adding to the notes that other groups took.
    • Collaborative Cornell notetaking: Don’t have tech resources in your classroom? Do your students prefer taking notes by hand? You might try showing students this video on taking notes using Cornell Notes: a method for notetaking that can be further enhanced by allowing students to bring in visual elements.

Once students have taken notes, the might check with a partner on which key ideas are the same or different, how closely their summaries align, or which pieces one person wrote down that another person omitted. Allowing for this pause can give students valuable reflection time so that they can encounter and formulate the questions that they might not even know that they have.

    • “Official” Notetaker: In small group activities, consider assigning an “official” notetaker who can relay the group’s findings to the rest of the class via a collaborative document that all notetakers share. After the activity is over, the notetaker can review the other group’s notes and look for connections or questions that they want to ask during the feedback while the rest of the group reviews the notes that the notetaker took for accuracy. This can make whole-class feedback more meaningful and communicative.

Image credit: Zen Sutherland, Flickr Creative Commons

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