Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation

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Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation

Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation


Note perfect: an investigation of how students view taking notes in lectures

Richard Badgera,*, Goodith Whiteb, Peter Sutherlandc, Tamsin Haggisc

aCentre for English LanguageTeaching (C.E.L.T.), Institute of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9

4LA, Scotland, UK bSchool of Education, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

cInstitute of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, Scotland, UK

Received 27 June 2000; received in revised form 16 January 2001; accepted 5 February 2001


Taking notes in lectures is a key component of academic literacy and has been much investigated both from the point of view of the discourse structure of lectures and the ways in which native and non-native speakers of English take notes. However, most research has not

considered the role of students’ conceptualisations of the process. This paper examines whe- ther research into students’ conceptualisations can contribute to our understanding of taking notes in lectures. The paper describes an illustrative investigation into student conceptualisa- tions based on a series of structured interviews with 18 students, six first year traditional

Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation

undergraduates, six access students, and six first year international students. The interviews examined how students think about the purposes of taking notes in lectures, the content of the notes, what should happen to the notes after the lecture and the students’ previous experience

of taking notes. The paper concludes that our understanding of this aspect of academic lit- eracy would be enriched if it took account of students’ conceptualisation of the process, that this would lead to a more heterogeneous view of taking notes in lectures and that there may

be a case for more integration of EAP into mainstream courses.# 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Taking notes in lectures; Student views; Study skills; EAP

Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation

System 29 (2001) 405–417

0346-251X/01/$ – see front matter # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PI I : S0346-251X(01 )00028 -8

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44-1786-466-130; fax: +44-1786-463-398.

E-mail address: (R. Badger).

1. Introduction

Students at tertiary institutions come from a variety of academic backgrounds. This means some students are less well prepared than others for study in a university setting and raises the question of the extent to which universities should help stu- dents with study skills, such as the focus of this paper, taking notes in lectures. The students we work with range from those who might be termed traditional,

Assignment: Psych Critical Evaluation

that is those who have normally entered university direct from UK schools, access students, that is those for whom direct entry to university is not appropriate and who hope to enter university after taking an access course, and international stu- dents, that is those students who come from outside the UK. The provision of support for taking notes in lectures varies considerably for these

three groups. Traditional students receive no systematic official support, though some departments offer limited guidance through workshops and printed advice. Access programmes run by the university normally provide some help with study skills in general. However the main focus here is on writing and research skills and relatively little time is devoted to taking notes in lectures. International students whose mother tongue is not English are encouraged, and sometimes required, to take one or two semester units in English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and these units include some elements devoted to taking notes in lectures (MacDonald et al., 1999). The starting point of this research was the question of whether this diversity of provision was justified. A considerable body of research has examined various aspects of lectures (e.g.

Bligh, 1972). One strand of this research has investigated the structure of lectures and the ways in which different styles of lecture lead to different outcomes for the student. So Flowerdew and Miller (1995, 1997) have looked at the notion of cultures in lectures, Khuwaileh (1999) has examined the role of lexical chunks and body language, and Thompson (1994), amongst others, has looked at the discourse structure of lectures. An alternative strand of research focuses on the notes taken in the lecture hall or

an experimental situation designed to replicate some elements of the academic lec- ture. Both Clerehan (1995) and White et al. (2000) looked at the differences between the notes taken by non-native speakers and native speakers of English and Hartley and Davies (1978) and Kiewra (1987) summarise the research on native speaker note taking and. Such research provides useful insights into note-taking from lectures and has implications for courses in study skills and English for Academic Purposes. However, much of the research is based on a rather simplistic view of the pro-

cesses that take place when notes are taken in lectures. In broad terms, notes are seen as a record of the lecture with the student notes as a degenerate version of the lecture. Indeed Brown and Atkins (1988, p. 9) explicitly say the lecturer transmits and student receives. Firth and Wagner (1997, p. 289) describe this as the ‘tele- mentational’ concept of message exchange.

Communication is viewed as a process of transferring thoughts from one per- son’s mind to another’s (1997, p. 290).

406 R. Badger / System 29 (2001) 405–417

This view pays insufficient attention to the role of students in the process and, with some exceptions (Dunkel and Davy, 1989; Hodgson, 1997) treats students as passive participants in the process. But:

listeners in real life do not usually (or ever?) simply react neutrally as ‘‘reci- pients’’ (Lynch, 1998, p. 13).

If this view of communication is correct it means that the note-taker or listener must be credited with a distinct personality and a point of view (Brown, 1995, p. 27). The traditional view of taking notes in lectures has meant that there has been little

research into how students conceptualise what happens when they take notes in lectures. This paper examines whether research into these conceptualisations can contribute to our understanding of this component of academic literacy. We attempt to do this by describing a preliminary investigation of these conceptualisations. Our description has three parts. The first part offers a framework for describing the way students view taking note in lectures, and the second part describes an investigation of how groups of students from these three different cohorts, traditional, access, and international, interpret their roles in taking notes in lectures and possible means of supporting students when they take notes. The final section discusses some of the implications of the research for taking notes in lectures generally and more specifi- cally EAP courses.

2. A framework for describing students’ conceptualisation of taking notes in lectures

Students play a role in note-taking in lectures before, during and after the lecture. Firstly, students arrive at a lecture with a range of reasons for taking notes.

People listen for a purpose and it is this purpose that drives the understanding process (Rost, 1990, p. 7)

Secondly, students make decisions about what elements of the lectures are worth writing down, influenced by the purposes for taking notes, their interpretation of the lecture and the techniques to which they have access for taking notes. Finally, after the lecture, students decide what to do with their notes. This gave us three areas to investigate

Why do students take notes? What kinds of things get written down? What techniques are used for writing things down? What happens to the notes after the lecture?

In addition we were interested in ways in which we could support note taking in lectures and so we also wanted to investigate

What was the students’ history of taking notes? How might institutional support improve note-taking skills?

R. Badger / System 29 (2001) 405–417 407

3. An investigation of students’ conceptualisations of taking notes

3.1. Procedure

The lack of research on the role students play in taking notes in lectures led us to decide on a qualitative mode of investigation, based around semi-structured inter- views to a small group of subjects.

3.2. Sample

Our subjects were 18 self-selected students, six traditional students doing a first year unit in education, six access students, taking an access course within the uni- versity, and six international students whose mother tongue was not English and who were doing a first year unit on English for Academic Purposes.

3.3. Research instrument

We then administered a semi-structured interview, derived from the questions given above. The interview schedule is in the Appendix to this paper. The subjects were interviewed by members of the research team who were not teaching them, except for three subjects, two access and one international. The interviews, which generally lasted about 25 min, were audio-taped and transcribed. As far as possible anything which could identify students or departments was eliminated from the transcripts. Further information about the subjects is given in Tables 1–3. The next section outlines our findings organised according to the questions out-

lined at the end of the last section.

4. Findings

4.1. Before the lecture: the function of note-taking in lectures

Most commentators (Hartley and Davies, 1978; Kiewra, 1987) suggest that the aim of taking notes is to recall as much as possible of the lecture. Taking notes may help achieve this aim because the process of taking notes aids concentration in the lectures or because the product of note taking facilitates some kind of review process.

Table 1

Sex of subjects

Male Female

Traditional 0 6

Access 2 4

International 1 5

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