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Does Studying As A Team Give Better Results?

Studying together by collaborating on note-taking can help to boost student performance new research shows.
Studying together by collaborating on note-taking can help to boost student performance new research shows
  • Students who collaborate on note-taking perform better than individual note-takers
  • The quality of the note taking can greatly impact individual student performance
  • Learners can divide up the workload of writing notes and more closely concentrate on the class materials

Keeping up with, never mind digesting a professor’s knowledge-packed presentations can feel like chasing shadows. In lecture halls at universities around the world, students embark on a frantic scrambling scribble, which can be tricky to make sense of on reflection.

On the other hand, students now have the ability to record and revisit lectures at their leisure, with hour upon hour of academic archives at their fingertips. Whilst this has made the task of accessing course materials somewhat easier, there is the argument to be made that, by not actively participating in the note-taking students do not take in the information they’re presented with. Are we actually learning faster or any better?

In truth the answer to this question is multifaceted. It depends on what type of learning we are talking about; students in the library with the 10,000 word dissertation undergo a more slow burning demonstration of knowledge in contrast to the instant recollections the flash card cramming student is training themselves to perform for a pop quiz.

The reason for this is because exams are universal, everyone on the course gets the same questions, and, if the scope for a good mark is narrow, students need to give near identical answers. An essay on the other hand is a more personal endeavour with students required to show thought process, reasoning and a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

Of course it’s also important to factor in that different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. But one similarity is that, when students are struggling individually they don’t always know where or who to turn to for help. Especially as sharing notes outside of team learning projects is seen as something of a taboo. But, if TEAM really means Together Everyone Achieves More, perhaps, ironically, a more University Challenge style approach is needed if students are to get the best from their education.

New research from Professor Matthew Courtney and his team of researchers at Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education found that students who collaborated on note-taking performed better than individual note-takers when recalling course content from online lectures. In contrast, individual note-takers performed better on tasks focused on academic writing.

To assess performance, Professor Courtney and his team compared individual and collaborative note-taking and how the completeness of students’ notes was associated with performance on quizzes and academic writing tasks. Their study focused on 186 students enrolled on a course dedicated to learning how to compose a manuscript for an academic journal.

Far from a frantic scramble to avert Jeremy Paxman’s incessant glare and mounting pressure, video lectures for the 10-week course were uploaded online, providing the students with all the content they needed to prepare for quizzes beforehand.

Students were separated into two groups; individual note-takers and collaborative note-takers, and used Google Docs to make notes on the video content. Those in the collaborative groups were asked to do so in small groups of three to five whilst those in the individual group studied alone.

Towards the end of each week, students were required to take an online quiz, testing their knowledge of the video content. Students were also required to submit five individual writing assignments.

As well as noticing the difference between individual and collaborative note takers, the findings also showed that “note completeness” – the extent to which notes accurately reflected meaningful information from the videos – had no effect on collaborative note-takers’ recall of course content, but had a negative impact on their skill application. In comparison, note completeness had a positive impact for individual note-takers on both their recall and skill application.

The study, Professor Courtney explains, highlights the need for different study and learning styles to be explored. and encouraged, in order to enable students to get the best from their education. “This presents an opportunity for future research if such data could be gleaned from other note-taking platforms, or if students self-reported their reviewing habits in interviews or surveys,” Professor Courtney explains.

“Finally, similar studies in the future should also look to ensure equivalence between groups in terms of personality (i.e., introversion)as more introverted members may take more from learning individually considering the transactional costs associated with group work,” he continues.

“Prior research has noted that students are often very poor note-takers. Findings from our study suggests that collaborative note-taking provides an antidote, as students working together create higher quality notes to improve recall. However, despite benefits to recall, collaborative note-taking may not be the most effective way to learn to apply knowledge as a skill as applying knowledge to a real-world problem requires more than just recall,” Professor Courtney concludes.

When it comes to considering new approaches in education and academia for the benefit of all, existing research is not in short supply. Universities can prevent dropouts by paying better attention to how students perform best and can retain them through the medium of an online environment.  

The key takeaway for these findings however is that, sometimes, those of us feeling left behind in the note-taking department could use a helping hand.

Why can’t this be your classmate rather than your professor?

By, James Dugdale

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