Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Designing Note-taking Interfaces for Learning

Aaron Bauer

June 2008

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Note-taking, highlighting, annotation, empirical studies, interaction design, education, distance learning, reading, copy-pasting

Note-taking is a common behavior for students both while reading and while attending lecture. An extensive history of research dating back to the early 20th century has shown that both the process of note-taking and having notes to review promote learning. As technology changes the ways learning materials are delivered, note-taking applications are being built for digital environments. While these applications have been shown to change how students take notes, few studies exist regarding the impact these changes in behavior have on the positive learning gains achieved through traditional note-taking. The research in this thesis addresses this problem by comparing both behavioral and learning outcomes of different selection-based note-taking applications, such as copy-paste and highlighting. It is also designed to offer insight into the relationship between note-taking and learning, with particular attention being paid to theories of focusing and elaboration.

The results of this work indicate that not only does the functionality included in a note-taking interface affect the quality of students' notes, but it also can have an impact on learning. The research provides evidence that one of the potential benefits of technology is increasing the efficiency with which students can take notes. It also finds that students given more efficient interfaces, that allow them to learn the same amount in less time, want features that increase time without benefiting learning. Finally, it points out the issue of lack of adoption of optional interfaces designed to encourage student behavior's associated with learning gains, and describes a design process that addresses this problem.

186 pages

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