Note Taking – The Dos and Dont’s

When I began college I had very little experience in taking notes. I can only remember one time in a high school class where we were taught how to take notes in college, however, this form of note taking was rather extensive and focused more on getting the information down rather than getting the main ideas and pertinent information written. Note taking was a skill that was developed by the individual student. When I took my first college course, I was quickly discouraged by the dense lectures where information spun at a million miles an hour.

I wanted to retain the information from the lecture and believed that to make sense of the lecture later, I could copy notes down by TRANSCRIBING.

Yes, the dreaded word. This form of note taking is disorganized, messy, stressful, and relies on copying down most of what a lecturer says – not just the main ideas, and not just important information – rather most everything in an unstructured, not hierarchical manner. This form of note taking, while it may seem beneficial, may actually be doing more harm than good.


Some tips for note taking:

Stick away from transcribing: 

  • I already mentioned my discontent with transcribing, but to add, transcribing takes a lot of work, captures unnecessary details, quickly becomes a smudged page of illegible graphite, and sifting through pages of lecture doesn’t help you capture the important ideas.

Finding your style – never taken notes? It’s okay to not know – you’ll learn:

  • It takes practice and exploring your style, but it also might require questions! There are resources available and everybody comes into school with vastly different skill sets. Taking notes is not yours or reading academic papers seems like a forever long process? These things can get better with practice and finding out what works for you. Question your friends, ask an instructor, or access a campus learning center. They can work with you to develop strategies.


  • As described in our class reading,”When you make an outline, you’re showing a hierarchy. You’re deciding what idea is the main idea, what are the details, and which details belong together. A traditional outline uses numbers and letters for the various levels. You can also use bullets if the information does not fit together in a strict hierarchical manner.” This form of note taking can be incredibly organized. By starting with the main idea, you can add small details underneath, separated by bullet points, indents, or by whichever means of formatting works best for you.

Paper or print – online applications: 

  • I have found that outlining on paper can become messy if I am trying to write too quickly. With online classes, where you may have the option of pausing the lecture, I often write my notes in Microsoft Word. Other online applications are available such as Google Docs and OneNote, however, I prefer to split the computer screen into two halves: one with the lecture, and one with Microsoft Word. With Word, you have the option to format using tools within the application, such as underlining, font sizes and colors, highlighting, etc. The formatting options are vast, and typing may be a quicker and cleaner option than writing.

Reflection on Group Assignments and What Worked This Time

Group assignments often come with challenges. In the past many of us have handled most or close to none of a group project. Students may have different goals, different deadlines, and even different understandings of the assignment. However, there are ways to mitigate challenges when, and even before, they arise.

ESLTECH provided our class the opportunity to engage in a group project. Unlike past assignments in other classes, where the work is distributed among the group early, only for communication to arise toward the deadline, and finding out that little of the project is completed and some students have done nothing, this project was intended for us to use different strategies within group projects.

Our project focused on analyzing a case study where a student, Sarah, was having difficulty with her group project. We were to analyze and identify her problems, provide solutions and recommendations, and include an intro and conclusion, add audio, and create a PowerPoint presentation. This project required a fair and early distribution of work, but was also an online project, where as face to face interaction was limited. However, we worked through the project quickly, communicatively, and with little stress by mitigating problems before they arose and mitigating them when they did.


Here’s what worked for us:

Finding an early means of communication:

  • Early in the project our group emailed each other and discussed the most effective means of communication. We found that our group would work best by using text messaging. This is the primary form of communication that we used throughout the project. Identifying this allowed for the group to communicate with ease, individually, and within a group message.

Responding quickly:

  • Our group typically responded promptly to messages from other group members. Questions and group conversations were answered and scheduled quickly, usually within the day, but sometimes within the hour. I feel this was one of the largest contributors to our group’s success. It showed that every member of the group was willing to work effectively and to contribute to the project. It also allowed for ease of setting up an online discussion.

Can’t communicate face to face? Communicate in an online forum:

  • We decided to set up an online discussion for our group on the OSU Carmen Canvas page. From such, we were able to all come together to discuss important aspects of the project in one place. While we did not meet face to face, we were able to tell who was present within the meeting. Each member attended the discussion.

Identifying purpose, goals, expectations, internal deadlines:

  • In our online Carmen discussion, we identified important aspects of the project, including the distribution of work, expectations of the work, and our own deadlines. We agreed to finish the work at least a day ahead so each member could finish their part and so we could have an extra day in case anything would arise. The distribution of work was fairly equated and discussed. Each member picked what they wanted to work on.

Problems arise, finding a means of compromise:

  • Toward the last day of the project our group was finding little time to record audio due to outside circumstances. As such, the member who was unable to record audio compromised by writing a script for their audio. The script was recorded by another group member. In past projects I have worked on, if there are outside circumstances limiting the time for work, the member of the group would often not due the work at all and would expect another group member to finish their part. However, in this case, the compromise allowed for the project to be completed fairly, with no hard feelings.

Personal – working on my slide throughout the project:

  • One aspect that eased stress during the project was working on the project throughout several days. One day I set out the layout for my slide. The next, I specifically found what I wanted to talk about. Following, on the last day, recorded the audio. Breaking my part into smaller parts meant that I wouldn’t have to work on the entire slide on the last day.

Main Takeaways from Class

This class has provided a learning opportunity to better understand the learning process in the online format. Many problems that students face have been discussed and elaborated on with strategies. We have learned to become better and more effective communicators in the online setting, and have explored and experienced the validity of the online class format. Many of these skills are transferable in different class settings.

If there is a problem, there may be a solution:

  • Many common problems were discussed in ESLTECH 2011, including the commonly identified attribute of procrastination. For example, one strategy for procrastination may be setting internal deadlines. If someone feels they work better under pressure, then they can set several deadlines for segments of their assignment. If they follow these deadlines then they will have several deadlines to work toward. The pressure may still be there, but the assignment is getting completed little by little and not all at once. I feel the biggest and most interactive assignment was the group project, where common problems were explained and avoided and tackled throughout the project. I will take these skills in future group assignments.

Communicate, communicate, communicate:

  • Communication is extremely beneficial. Utilizing online forums, discussions, messaging your instructor, or even classmates with questions or concerns, or to communicate about a project, is beneficial to your class success. While I haven’t met face to face, I have interacted with several classmates and the instructor. There was more interaction in this class then in some in-person classes. Though, it might take effort in either format, it may be worth it! Communicating effectively in the group project equated to a successful and stress free project.

The online format is a valid learning tool / skills can also translate to in-person classes:

  • For many, the online learning format may come with skepticism. Some may find it difficult to navigate, or may deem it less worthy than an in-person class due to the perceived lack of interaction or the necessity to self regulate one’s own learning. However, the online format may provide interaction if you are willing to take the extra step, and self regulation can even be beneficial. You have the option to manage your time on a busy schedule, and though problems may arise, there are strategies to mitigate them. I have found that this class has offered just as much if not more that many of the in person classes that I have been enrolled in, and the skills learned can translate to different class formats.