Last week I reblogged an article about some new research into what makes us creative. This week I’m sharing a video from one of my favourite YouTube channels, which essentially covers the same work. But this one is a video!
Since this is going to be a three part series, I’ll update this post as the other videos are released.
This is an interesting short video featuring Suzy Jackson, voice artist, recording an audiobook at Audible Studios.
Joanna Penn has also interviewed a number of people on her podcast about audiobooks, which are worth listening to.
I’m quite the fan of audiobooks. Being able to read a book while I’m exercising or commuting has been a life changer for me. There is something about having headphones in that stops people interrupting you to ask what you’re reading. Sorry, not stops, but certainly lowers the number of interruptions.
Creativity is often defined as the ability to come up with new and useful ideas. Like intelligence, it can be considered a trait that everyone – not just creative “geniuses” like Picasso and Steve Jobs – possesses in some capacity.
It’s not just your ability to draw a picture or design a product. We all need to think creatively in our daily lives, whether it’s figuring out how to make dinner using leftovers or fashioning a Halloween costume out of clothes in your closet. Creative tasks range from what researchers call “little-c” creativity – making a website, crafting a birthday present or coming up with a funny joke – to “Big-C” creativity: writing a speech, composing a poem or designing a scientific experiment.
Psychology and neuroscience researchers have started to identify thinking processes and brain regions involved with creativity. Recent evidence suggests that creativity involves a complex interplay between spontaneous and controlled thinking – the ability to both spontaneously brainstorm ideas and deliberately evaluate them to determine whether they’ll actually work.
Despite this progress, the answer to one question has remained particularly elusive: What makes some people more creative than others?
In a new study, my colleagues and I examined whether a person’s creative thinking ability can be explained, in part, by a connection between three brain networks.
Mapping the brain during creative thinking
In the study, we had 163 participants complete a classic test of “divergent thinking” called the alternate uses task, which asks people to think of new and unusual uses for objects. As they completed the test, they underwent fMRI scans, which measures blood flow to parts of the brain.
The task assesses people’s ability to diverge from the common uses of an object. For example, in the study, we showed participants different objects on a screen, such as a gum wrapper or a sock, and asked to come up with creative ways to use them. Some ideas were more creative than others. For the sock, one participant suggested using it to warm your feet – the common use for a sock – while another participant suggested using it as a water filtration system.
Importantly, we found that people who did better on this task also tended to report having more creative hobbies and achievements, which is consistent with previous studies showing that the task measures general creative thinking ability.
After participants completed these creative thinking tasks in the fMRI, we measured functional connectivity between all brain regions – how much activity in one region correlated with activity in another region.
We also ranked their ideas for originality: Common uses received lower scores (using a sock to warm your feet), while uncommon uses received higher scores (using a sock as a water filtration system).
Then we correlated each person’s creativity score with all possible brain connections (approximately 35,000), and removed connections that, according to our analysis, didn’t correlate with creativity scores. The remaining connections constituted a “high-creative” network, a set of connections highly relevant to generating original ideas.
Having defined the network, we wanted to see if someone with stronger connections in this high-creative network would score well on the tasks. So we measured the strength of a person’s connections in this network, and then used predictive modelling to test whether we could estimate a person’s creativity score.
The models revealed a significant correlation between the predicted and observed creativity scores. In other words, we could estimate how creative a person’s ideas would be based on the strength of their connections in this network.
We further tested whether we could predict creative thinking ability in three new samples of participants whose brain data were not used in building the network model. Across all samples, we found that we could predict – albeit modestly – a person’s creative ability based on the strength of their connections in this same network.
Overall, people with stronger connections came up with better ideas.
What’s happening in a ‘high-creative’ network
We found that the brain regions within the “high-creative” network belonged to three specific brain systems: the default, salience and executive networks.
The default network is a set of brain regions that activate when people are engaged in spontaneous thinking, such as mind-wandering, daydreaming and imagining. This network may play a key role in idea generation or brainstorming – thinking of several possible solutions to a problem.
The executive control network is a set of regions that activate when people need to focus or control their thought processes. This network may play a key role in idea evaluation or determining whether brainstormed ideas will actually work and modifying them to fit the creative goal.
The salience network is a set of regions that act as a switching mechanism between the default and executive networks. This network may play a key role in alternating between idea generation and idea evaluation.
An interesting feature of these three networks is that they typically don’t get activated at the same time. For example, when the executive network is activated, the default network is usually deactivated. Our results suggest that creative people are better able to co-activate brain networks that usually work separately.
Future research is needed to determine whether these networks are malleable or relatively fixed. For example, does taking drawing classes lead to greater connectivity within these brain networks? Is it possible to boost general creative thinking ability by modifying network connections?
For now, these questions remain unanswered. As researchers, we just need to engage our own creative networks to figure out how to answer them.
This will be a wonderful opportunity to have time and space to write. Here’s the blurb for the story:
Here at Evil Corp we have been successfully carving a path toward world domination for 15 years. With our dedicated staff we want to have you serve our every whim.
Your family deserves the security and friendly authoritarian rule that you could expect from an organisation like Evil Corp, but with the personal touches that only a caring and understanding community minded team can offer.
Have you bowed down to Evil Corp?
Update: The list of residencies and dates with author profiles are now available. I’m afraid it appears I’m the only one who didn’t take their profile seriously.
Of late I have noticed a disturbing trend occurring on writing blogs and groups: Write Shaming.
Write Shaming is when writers post images of their favourite place to write. Usually they attach some little story – because they’re writers, they can’t resist – about how inspiring the location is. The story about how awesome the local cafe is compared to their purpose-built study. Or how the desk was secretly trying to kill the author. The goal is that people become envious and to have them start thinking “I could write well/heaps/both if only I had a setup like that.”
This all got me thinking about an article from Patricia Briggs’ site and a recent discussion we had at my local writers’ group: What are all the cool kids writing with? Whether it be the latest liquid-cooled PC with a display that makes the term UltraHD seem quaint, or your chisel set and pile of clay tablets, every writer has their own setup for crafting masterpieces. Well, everything from Twilight fan-fic through to masterpieces.
So what better way to procrastinate during prime writing time than to discuss all the writing toys you could be buying.
Portable writing tools
This list includes:
Pen and notebook
In Australia Pilot Press created a Diary for Writers. It has writing prompts, weekly ideas pages, writing tips, contact details for writers’ centres, and dates for competitions, events and festivals. Of course, there are plenty of other notebooks made specifically for writers… they just kinda seem feeble in comparison now, don’t they.
The big advantage of a notebook and pen is that it gives you a consistent place to record ideas. Many famous novelists are known to have a notebook on their bedside table for that inevitable just-before-sleep brilliant idea that you’ll totally remember in the morning… More’s the pity that some of those ideas weren’t lost.
Phones and tablets are taking over the role of notebooks in this modern age. With synching programs like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, etc, able to run on all your devices, your ideas are safe to embarrass you when you rediscover them ten months from now. Phones and tablets are more than powerful enough to be your primary writing tool as well. Phones have defied the pre-smart phone trend of getting smaller, and are now sporting screens big enough to be seen by some stranger two rows back on your commute. Let’s hope the police believe you’re a writer when that stranger reports you for that twisted thing you wrote. You know the one.
Tablets and small laptops are starting to become interchangeable now. No longer are these highly portable devices in possession of processors that run at the speed of two tortoises passing notes to each other across a football field. Writing isn’t exactly a hardware draining or intensive software activity, so the choice really comes down to how much you like typing on a tablet versus a laptop. And which one has the coolest games and other procrastination tools. Even Scrivener has launched an iOS friendly app for iPhone and iPad.
One caveat to tablets and laptops is the keyboard. Some keyboards are not full-sized and can be challenging or plain infuriating to use, especially if you touch type. Although they also act as a great excuse for your pathetic typing skills. Another issue is that some keyboards aren’t real keyboards, and much like typing on a tablet or phone screen, they don’t have any tactile feedback and can lead to some hilarious typos. Turn predictive text on for sentences that make even less sense than your drunken uncle discussing politics and the economy.
The writing desk and computer
Yes, yes, I know, there are some people who prefer to write things out longhand. They spend countless hours with pen/pencil in hand writing on thinly sliced dead trees only to have to spend even more hours transcribing it into an electronic format that is of any use. So excuse me if I acknowledge that this is 2017 and talk about computers for writing.
While portability can be awesome, having a dedicated space with a full-sized – possibly “ergonomic” – keyboard, a screen that doesn’t induce eyestrain from having to read documents in 4 point text size, and an internet connection that doesn’t drop out every time a car drives past and blocks the Wi-Fi signal has advantages. As above, computers are more than capable of handling the pressures of word processing, which makes the choice more about budget and what graphics package you need to run Netflix* in UltraHD. Laptops can fill the role of desktop computer here with a base station connecting a decent sized monitor, etc.
Writing software is still oddly dominated by the “my computer came with it” word processors. Needless to say, MS Word is highly popular because people don’t know any better. Word is a highly versatile program that can do just about anything, integrates with all the plugins and add-ons you can imagine, and does a perfunctory job of being useful. In its favour it is the most supported program, which means updates actually happen, integration with programs like referencing software is a thing (hey, us science nerds care about that stuff!), and editing with tracking and commenting is excellent. MS Word is the jack-of-all-trades, and thus master of none, and has so many features there are entire lists to point out the stuff you didn’t know it had.
Of course Mac OS have their own less popular versions of the MS Office programs. But Apple admitted people liked Microsoft and let MS Office come play on their OS.
Linux users and anyone liking freeware have long utilised the MS Office knockoffs of OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Since the demise of OpenOffice and the limping of ApacheOpenOffice toward the same fate, LibreOffice is as close to MS Office you’ll get without feeling too dirty.
There are plenty of online options that all have limitations and benefits. Google Keep, Evernote, Onenote, etc, fill differing roles. These aren’t just writing and note tools, but can also save documents and webpages. Since they are cloud based, anything you have saved there is accessible anywhere, anytime. Well, unless you have third world internet like us Aussies.
The online options also extend to apps that are made for writing and not just note taking. Google Docs is the most obvious, especially with its sharing capability. Novlr is an online/offline subscription based app made by writers for writers. ApolloPad is an online writing app with features like cork-boarding and timelines – pity it is still in beta. Novel Factory is another online subscription based writing app made by writers for writers. Apparently writers don’t get paid unless they can also code software.
Dedicated writing apps aren’t always best served in the cloud or online. Feature rich programs tend to play better when they can hog your RAM directly rather than through your browser. Novel Factory has a Windows version that isn’t subscription based. Bibisco is an open source (yay, free!) dedicated writing app with some cool but standard features. WriteItNow has a lot of features, including an events chart to help with planning. And what blog on writing tools would be complete without flagellation over how awesome Scrivener is? Personally I’ve used Scrivener for years and love it. I didn’t even get paid to say that – hint to any of the app developers out there, I will cash for comment.
Like any good procrastination effort, there is a lot to compare, contrast, analyse, and digest here. I’ve barely scratched the surface. There is an entire list of add-ons and plug-ins that are great tools for writers (e.g. Hemmingway) that I may cover in another blog if people are interested. I may cover it even if people aren’t interested. That’s just how I roll.
*Netflix being the PG friendly term for any of those streaming sites you’ll be accessing.
** Thanks to Gary from my Spec-Fic writing group for his list of writing apps.
I haven’t done NaNoWriMo since 2011. It can be a great experience and can teach you how to set and achieve writing goals. But mainly it is worth doing so you can fully appreciate Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s cartoons.
Ever thought that Harry Potter’s adventures shared a lot in common with Luke Skywalker’s? Ever thought that Simba and Neo were soul mates? Can you believe I just used the term soul mates?
The reason so many of the stories we know and love feel familiar is because of one of the most popular narrative structures writers like to use. The Hero’s Journey is explained below using Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, Spiderman, The Lion King, and The Lord of the Rings. Worth also seeing how this structure fits into the 6 Story Arcs.
I don’t often post news here. Nothing worse than being seen as someone blowing their own trumpet – and is that now officially called a Steve Bannon?
This morning I received an email congratulating me on being shortlisted for a short story award.
The KSP Foundation is delighted to advise that your story ‘Flicker’ has been short listed in the Open category of this year’s Ghost Story competition.
The winners will be announced on Saturday 26th August 2017 at the KSP Writers’ Centre. We would also like to invite you to read your story on the night, to share with our audience.
With our best wishes and warmest congratulations,
NB: I’ve edited the email. Unless you wanted the details and directions to the event.
A little background, at the writers’ group I’ve joined we have a monthly challenge. We take a random excerpt from an award-winning novel in the KSP (Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre) library and use it as inspiration for a short story. Knowing that the Ghost Story Competition was coming up, several of us used the monthly challenge as the basis for entries.
I haven’t heard from my writers’ group friends as to whether they were shortlisted as well. But I do know that the judges had huge piles of entries to read, so it will be interesting to see how many there were in total. I’m betting the judges appreciated the word limit.
When I think of literature I think of an older guy sporting a greying moustache, sipping a sherry, wearing a smoking jacket, seated in a library of leather-bound books in front of a simmering log fire. The guy speaks with an aristocratic English accent and expounds on the greatness of some book that other older men dressed like him, sitting in similar log-fire warmed libraries, also like to read when not shagging the maid.
Now clearly not everyone who reads literature fits this image. Some probably can’t even afford a maid to shag. But it does appear to be an image that people aspire toward, an image that informs what they deem literature, and thus what they deem worthy of reading. Rather than judging any written work based upon its lasting artistic merit – although that definition is so subjective as to be useless and ideal for starting pointless arguments…. (cough) – people seem intent on creating boundaries before a work is allowed to be judged. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works.
Normally I’d launch into a whinge about how speculative fiction is unfairly maligned, or how I’ve read crime fiction that has more artistic merit than most literary works. But instead, I’m going to talk about graphic novels. In an article on The Conversation, Catherine Beavis explained how the graphic novel Maus came to be part of the literature curriculum.
Despite this explanation, there was always going to be someone in the comments telling us how a graphic novel can’t be literature. I assume they wrote their comments whilst wearing a smoking jacket and taking a break from shagging the maid.
Well well……..so it’s art as literature.
Why not a more well-known comic (sorry graphic novel).
Not saying this isn’t a worthy addition to any curriculum, but more as social comment rather than literature.
Surely the novels of great Australian writers should be preferable – Winton, Malouf, Carey etc.
Let’s break these points apart one by one. As will be seen from further comments, the argument primarily revolves around the feelpinion that because graphic novels contain pictures they are art and thus not literature. A similar argument could be made for movies being TV shows and thus we could abolish the Oscars… actually, that isn’t a bad idea. Anyway, I guess we’d better break the news to the literature professors that Shakespeare’s plays need to be taken off of the curriculum.
The argument then moves to the “I haven’t heard of it, so it can’t be good” assertion. Maybe because they realise this isn’t a great argument, they immediately distance themselves from it. But we start to see the “worthy“ argument being formed. I’ve argued many times that “worthy“ is a great subjective argument put forward by people who think they are worthy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a literary argument if someone didn’t cite some authors they deem worthy. For those unfamiliar with Winton, Malouf, and Carey, they are award-winning Aussie authors who write “interior histories” and about “people rebuilding their lives after catastrophe” and “people who experience death and will never be the same again”. None of those statements could be applied to a graphic novel about someone who survived the Holocaust… No sir.
Their list of worthy authors is as subjective as their comments about graphic novels and Maus. I could similarly ask why the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy isn’t on the curriculum. It has a lot to say about society and has entered the lexicon, which is more than can be said for any of the other authors mentioned nor the graphic novels being shunned. I could say the same again about Superman or Spiderman, which have implanted ideals and phrases of morality into society, regardless of whether people have read those graphic novels or not.
*Steps on soapbox*
I personally welcome any work into the class that will encourage kids to read, think and learn. And to anyone who derides graphic novels, they are clearly saying they don’t or haven’t read any.
*Steps down from soapbox*
The commenter responded to criticism of their subjective opinion:
That may be so, but my bigger point was that literature = words.
This is art with captions.
Not disputing that it may be hugely popular or good (even great)…
but literature it ain’t.
I think the appropriate response to this is a head shake. The problem is the black and white definition of what literature is, whilst ignoring the fact that the graphic novels fit the definition of literature. Pointing out the flaws in these opinions is as easy as saying that graphic novels, with very few exceptions, are composed of words. They also use graphics, but that is often a collaboration between the writer and the artists they work with. Thus, by the definition of “literature = words”, graphic novels are eligible to be classified as literature.
But anything to keep only the “worthy” books in contention as literature. Can’t have that kids stuff being called literary!
So I named three contemporary Australian writers – call me subjective.
I am not knocking the (art) form…just that it (to ME) is not literature.
Your opinion is obviously as valid as mine……don’t get huffy.
The last point here is one that irks me more than irksome irkers on an international irking junket. Opinions are not equally valid. That sort of subjectivism nonsense eats away at reality and suggests we “just don’t know, man”.
The commenter made a subjective list, so I put together some examples that were superior in quantifiable ways (impact on society, entering the lexicon, referenced by society) to show that the subjective claims were more worthless than a $9 note because clearly not much knowledge or thought was put into the claims.
There is also the idea of literary critique and argument, rather than stating feelpinions. I’ve stated an opinion and argued it, offering reasoning. The examples I countered with aren’t necessarily the best choices, but I have justified and quantified my argument, something you learn in high school literature class. Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer, so clearly, someone in the literati agrees. And surely a Pulitzer prize winner is worthy of being on the curriculum. But of course all opinions are equally valid and “I’m entitled to my opinion”, dammit!
Surely the whole point of literature is that the reader has to imagine the scene described, the way words are spoken, the implications of what is said and much more. It’s all in the mind, which develops through reading.
A graphic novel presents the words and pictures with almost no imagining required. The number of words is hugely reduced to give way to often wasted space. In the example above there are 21 words, which if in normal lowercase type could be written in 10% of the space.
Sorry I’m not convinced graphic novels have any merit for senior students.
Shakespeare’s plays give stage directions and poetry is often deliberately obscure. So how do those examples fit this exclusionary definition of literature? I’m sure some artists would object to the idea that they aren’t conjuring a scene that develops in people’s minds. And is the idea to only allow readers to imagine a scene? Isn’t it about conveying ideas and emotions too? Isn’t this some great mental gymnastics to try to maintain Fort Literature from invasion by the Lesser Works?
The second paragraph is also exemplary of someone who hasn’t read many, if any, graphic novels. So, of course, this commenter wouldn’t be convinced that graphic novels are of any merit. First, they’d have to know something. But that doesn’t hold them back from commenting.
While I’m in the mood for alienating folks, let me also say that this is a good example of dumbing down literature.
Give the kids a picture with limited words and maybe they’ll get the idea.
Don’t kids these days have the attention span to read a novel?
The last graphic novel I read was 480 pages long and took many hours to read. It covered sexual identity, morality, the greater good argument, do evil deeds make us evil, etc, as issues. The last “literature” novel I read was about a woman who manipulated people to get what she wanted. It was ~300 pages long and took many hours to read.*
This argument is typical of people who have a snobbish attitude to something based upon pure ignorance of the topic. Similar statements have been made throughout time, decrying the dumbing down or declining standards of today’s youth. Oddly enough it has been proven false again and again only to be spouted once more.
There is a similar article on The Spectator – a home for uninformed opinion – which argues that if we let graphic novels into literature we have to let in everything. They must defend Fort Literature from the invading Lesser Works. Maybe I’ll address that one at some stage when I’m feeling masochistic, but I’m going to leave it there. The maid has arrived.
*This comparison was true at the time of my original comments on The Conversation. I’ve read many graphic novels since, but no further literature novels.
Update: Nerdwriter made a particularly good video discussing Maus and how it is constructed as a story and piece of art. Every frame, every image, the whole page, has meaning. Kid’s stuff indeed.
Update: A great video essay about how you can’t judge art objectively.
Have you ever written something sarcastic only to have someone take you seriously?
Have you tried to be ironic but people are confused as to whether you are being serious, ironic, or satirical?
Well, how about we try to bring back the Percontation Point.
The Percontation Point, or the Irony Mark, used to be a punctuation mark that indicated that the sentence had another layer of meaning to it. With spoken words we get to use tone of voice or facial expressions to make sure people are hearing the other layers. In writing we have to make our layers so obvious that we bash people over the head to make it clear. Even then people will inevitably ask:
So it is clear that writers need to revive the use of the Percontation Point to indicate sarcasm, satire, and irony. It is an essential tool for smart people to use to make stupid people feel even stupider. Which makes it the best punctuation mark of all.
Writers are very special people. We are so special that we have to have our own special terms instead of using the ones everyone else uses. For example, what everyone else calls procrastination is what a writer would term Writer’s Block. And because writers are so special, their procrastination isn’t just a time suck, it is THE WORST THING EVA!!!
Most states also have writers’ centres that run events and courses. Writers’ Centres
Several universities run creative writing courses. My friend and author, David Whish-Wilson (read his books, they are great), teaches creative writing at Curtin University in Western Australia. There are plenty of courses available via Open Universities online.
I love creative writing and I’m good at university dissertations, but when I try to write a story, I struggle and the writing is often awkward. Yet I love doing it. What pratical guides or reading list would you recommend for people who wish to masted the art of writing and creative writing?
Creative writing is as much about practice as it is about any advice you can read in a book. Part of that practice is writing, part of it is editing your own work, and part of it is reading to see how others construct their prose.
Essentially, if you already know the mechanics of how to write, then the part that is missing is the hours and hours of practice and analysis of that practice.
That said, there are plenty of manuals on style and grammar that would be helpful. E.g. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is regarded as a classic of writing.
I personally think Stephen King’s On Writing is a must read for any author.
For some reason the world of writers is filled with technophobic troglodytes intent on proving that their old-fashioned way of doing things is better. I’ve written previously about how older people’s favourite hobby since the dawn of time has been complaining about kids these days. This is also true of changes in technology, with people intent on justifying not learning to use a computer or e-reader. Because cutting down trees is the future of communication!
Once again I’ve stumbled across another article that misrepresents scientific studies to try and convince people that we need to clear forests, pulp them, flatten them into paper, cover them in ink, and act as snooty as possible. This time they – the nebulous they: my nemesis!! – are trying to pretend that taking notes with a pen is better than using a keyboard.
When will people learn that paper isn’t the medium we should be promoting? We need to be going back to scratching on rocks and cave walls. When was the last time a paper book lasted more than a hundred years out in the rain, snow, and blazing sun? That doesn’t even begin to compete with the longevity of the 50,000 year old cave paintings. Data retention for rock far surpasses the much inferior paper.
This isn’t the first article I’ve seen on The Literacy Site misrepresenting science. Hopefully they will acquire come scientific literacy soon and overcome their biases. If I turn blue and pass-out, try to act concerned. Let’s dive in.
New Research Explains How The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard
It’s great when articles improve on the titles of science papers. I mean, who wants to read the science paper The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking? Pity that both titles misrepresent the actual findings. Also, is 2014 still regarded as new?
In her graduate assistant days, psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University used to take notes just like everyone else in the modern age: with a computer. One day, Mueller forgot her laptop and had to take notes the old-fashioned way. Rather than being held back by pen and paper, Mueller left class feeling as if she’d retained far more information than usual on that day. She decided to create a case study that could prove her hunch that writing longhand was actually better for comprehension than typing.
This is actually a good little story and illustrates how a lot of hypotheses are formed in science. This is the anecdote or observation that scientists want to turn into a hypothesis to create actual knowledge. But remember, this is an anecdote, which has as much value as used Easter egg wrappers that have been stuffed between the couch cushions. Putting anecdotal stories at the start of an article can set the audience up to not think too hard about the rest of the article, as you have given them the conclusion in a nice little story.
The study she created, published in Psychological Science, indicated that taking notes by hand is a more effective method than typing them on a laptop when it comes to processing information conceptually.
And here we jump straight off the rails, over the side of the bridge, and careen into the waiting river below. Sure, The Literacy Site is just quoting the press release, but that is lazy. The study itself has this line in the abstract that show how this claim is a misrepresentation of the findings:
We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.
In other words, the findings were that people spend all their time typing and no time actually listening and comprehending the lectures. Because the pen is an archaic device that is unwieldy and slow compared to the keyboard, students using a pen only write down notes after they have listened, picked out the key points, and conceptualised that information into a note. But don’t take my word for it, the press release on the University of Michigan website has a few recommendations including:
To interrupt verbatim note-taking on laptops, break up your lectures with short activities that encourage deeper processing of information.
Have students use laptops or other technologies to process–not just record–information.
Now it is time to discuss the study details a little bit, because someone might be interested in the methods section. I’m sure those people exist. Somewhere. Interested is probably the wrong word.
In the first of a series of studies led by Mueller, 65 college students watched various TED Talks in small groups, and were provided with either pens and paper or laptops for taking notes. When the students were tested afterward, the results were overwhelming. While the groups performed equally on questions that involved recalling facts, those who had taken longhand notes did significantly better when it came to answering conceptual questions.
Sorry, I need to catch my breath. I’m so shocked at the massive sample size. This is definitely enough people to represent the rest of society. Conclude away I say!
Anyway, these overwhelming results are just a tad whelming.
As you can see the performance on retaining facts was the same, with error bars that suggest 65 people is probably not enough to draw conclusions from. Not that anyone would be trying to claim this study is proof of anything, right? The next thing you see is the benefits of using a pen…. as long as you ignore those error bars and just accept the p-value tells us something of value. Given that those error bars overlap for the two groups, I wouldn’t be drawing conclusions from a p-value. Also, I’m not exactly sure why an ANOVA was used when there were only two groups to compare. KISS principle applies to statistics as well.
Now the study realised that 65 people wasn’t enough, so they repeated the study with a few variations twice more. In the second and third tests they had 151 and 109 people take notes. Each test had the typists writing between 250 and 550 words, whilst the pen wielders wrote roughly 150 to 400 words. Interestingly the note takers were writing verbatim 12-14% with their laptop but the pen users only managed 4-9% verbatim. This shows why the conclusions I’ve quoted above were drawn.
Out of interest, here are the results from the other two tests that were more convincing for that conceptual finding.
The second test with 151 people were tested with pen, laptop, and laptop with a lecture from the tester about how they really should pay attention. With 50 people per group you’d hardly jump up and down about the significance of this test, but clearly telling people to pay attention doesn’t… hey look a squirrel.
The third test with 109 people again tested for pen vs keyboard, but this time they allowed revision of notes before being questioned. This makes the groups even smaller, and again I’d question the significance of such a small sample. But the researchers summed up the results with this erudite paragraph:
However, a more nuanced story can be told; the indirect effects differ for conceptual and factual questions. For conceptual questions, there were significant indirect effects on performance via both word count and verbatim overlap. The indirect effect of word count for factual questions was similar, but there was no significant indirect effect of verbatim overlap. Indeed, for factual questions, there was no significant direct effect of overlap on performance. As in Studies 1 and 2, the detriments caused by verbatim overlap occurred primarily for conceptual rather than for factual information, which aligns with previous literature showing that verbatim note taking is more problematic for conceptual items.
In other words, doing lots of writing, particularly just copying what was said verbatim, makes you suck at understanding what the hell is going on. Oh, and study before the test. Apparently it helps too. Made that mistake at university.
So back at The Literacy Site they are skipping the other tests and just heading to the conclusions:
Mueller found that this was the result of laptop users trying too hard to transcribe the lecture rather than listening for the most important information and writing it down by hand. It may be an era where computers have made handwriting seem useless, but Mueller isn’t the only believer in the importance of longhand.
Notice the nuanced difference that seeing all three tests provides? We could be led to believe that there was overwhelming evidence for the pen, but what we see is that note takers need to readdress their methods of taking notes. Or they could just wing it.
An article in TIME discusses Karin James, an Indiana University psychologist, who published a 2012 study indicating writing is particularly important in the cognitive development of pre-literate children five and under. While using a computer for note-taking in some situations makes sense, it’s important not to overlook the longhand method.
It’s great that the article tries to incorporate some extra research. Citing one study with a small sample size is hardly compelling, certainly not worth writing an article about. But again the research is being misrepresented:
…the benefits of writing: increased creativity, better critical thinking, boosted self confidence, and a correlated improvement in reading capability with writing prowess.
But are these benefits real? The short answer: Mostly not. “There’s lot of caveats in handwriting research,” says Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University
Curse those damn caveats! Why can’t we have a control group of kids we don’t teach to read and write?!
Which brings me to a final point about these old technologies vs new technologies articles: stop jumping the gun! We’re in a transition phase. This isn’t 1970s velvet suits with platforms versus 2010s hipster atrocities. This is typewriter hipster texting on his phone. Technology is changing and we’re still learning how to use it properly. The studies that are cited in many of these articles have very limited scope, test very few people, and are comparing new and established things. Has anyone taught laptop users to take notes effectively for the new medium? Do you actually need to take written notes at all in this modern age? We need to see more science done on the changes taking place, and we need the articles discussing the science to do more than discuss (one study from) one paper, and highlight the limitations. Well, unless you have already made up your mind about a topic and just want some links to throw at people in an argument. Screw being right!
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