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The Kids Aren’t Taking Notes

Colleges have become too dependent on digital methods of learning and communication.

Visit a typical classroom in the United States and you’re bound to see just about every student “taking notes” behind a computer screen as the professor lectures at the helm.

This was certainly the case when I was in college, and although I always preferred to take handwritten notes, it was distracting (and sadly illuminating) when virtually every other student had their screens atop the desks. You might think most were opting for the computer for a faster method of note-taking, but alas, I saw everything from The Office to last night’s sports scores blinking all over the room, affirming that laptops in the classroom are radical distractors.

Enter COVID-19 and the domination of online courses, and students started spending copious amounts of time online, both for their schooling and for amusement. A new report from the Institute of Family Studies looks at the ramifications of what this screen time is doing to students’ ability to learn and retain information. It’s not looking so good. Elizabeth Self writes,

The average university student spends most, if not all, of his or her classroom time looking at a screen—with serious repercussions for material retention, confidence, relationships, and the classroom environment. And they certainly don’t get offline when they step out of class. Stanford students spent 50% of their waking hours online before the Covid-19 pandemic and 78% during the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 academic year, for which all classes went remote. The latter has become the norm, even though most students have returned to campus.

-Elizabeth Self, Your Kids Are Not ‘Taking Notes’—College Edition | Institute for Family Studies (ifstudies.org)

With higher education becoming only more digitized, it’s become fertile ground for AI technologies to swoop in and take root. Self continues,

University administrators are taking the same shortcuts by replacing university mental health and career counselors with AI tools. As students turn to AI to help them with their college applications, colleges may soon deploy AI to run admissions and teach. And we know better than to think AI indifferent. Lack of vision for the college experience means it is consumed by Big Tech. As Askonas saw back in 2019, “Humanism has long been overthrown by dreams of maximizing satisfaction, metrics, profits, ‘knowledge,’ and connection, a task now to be given over to the machines.”

Self laments that so much of what makes college valuable is being supplanted by these dissociative technologies. College is an interactive place where kids need to focus for long periods of time in order to learn. When both school and leisure are spent online, it can be hard to find the time to actually think.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and serves as Managing Editor of Mind Matters.

The Kids Aren’t Taking Notes