Notes On A New (Pandemic) School Year

Written by Theertha, Teen Volunteer
Halifax Public Libraries' Teen Blog is written by and for teens. Discover more posts here., opens a new window


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we've all had to change or create new habits to better suit the “new normal.” Teachers and students especially have had to change their lifestyles to promote a safer learning environment. Zoom lessons, online assignments... you get the gist. And with the rising market of aesthetically-pleasing note-taking apps and fancy iPads, it made perfect sense for me to switch to digital note-taking.

But is it really worth it? I’m going to walk you through all the pros and cons of digital note-taking (with an iPad or tablet) and handwriting your notes, so you can weigh what option is right for you this school year!

Digital note-taking

Pro: Minimalism

All you have to carry is your iPad or tablet, along with the stylus. You don’t have to worry about carrying heavy books and remembering to bring your pencil case. Digital note-taking allows for light bags and clean desks—the complete opposite of traditional note-taking. No more pencil shavings all over your workspace!

Pro: Organization

A lot of us have trouble being organized. Switching to digital note-taking means that most of your notebooks are in one place. You can even upload online PDFs of your textbooks, so everything is in one spot. You can’t lose your homework!

Pro: Eco-conscious

Tons of waste is polluting our planet and it’s getting worse by the minute. By switching to digital note-taking, you can do your part by promoting eco-friendly behaviour. By switching to digital note-taking, you could save a tree... really!

Pro: Creativity

Oh, the customization! So many "paper" choices, cover pages, grid sizes, line width and a mind blowing amount of pen and highlighter colours! You could spend hours trying to decide what colour you want to use. You can let your imagination and creativity run wild.

Con: Cost

You wouldn’t believe how much iPads cost! They range from $400 all the way up to $2,000. That's a lot of money for a tablet! If you want to use the iPad for digital note taking, you also probably need a stylus like the Apple Pencil or the Logitech Crayon, which can range from $80 to $200. These prices are mind blowing!

Con: Distractions

When taking digital notes, you might get distracted from class. You might get an important email, you might want to watch cute kitten videos, or you could scroll through Pinterest for bedroom inspiration. Who knows? There is a time to pay attention in class, and there’s a time to scroll through Pinterest. If you can’t stay focused with an iPad in front of you, then digital note-taking isn’t for you.

Con: Apps

To take notes on an iPad, you'll need a second-party note-taking app. There are so many now, but very few of them actually work well. A lot of them on the App Store, like GoodNotes 5 and Notability, come with a high price, whereas some reviews for other apps claim that they're just scams. So choosing a good note-taking app can be a challenge (and can also be expensive).

Handwritten notes

Pro: No distractions

You can put your phone and laptop away and just study. You can’t get distracted by unwanted notifications. But if you have to write a 2000 word essay (yes, that’s a thing), you probably have to type it up afterwards, whether you like it or not. So learning to focus is still important.

Pro: Memory

We know that practice makes perfect. Practicing and repeating concepts by hand is proven to help you remember it better. For example, when I play the piano, I do it physically (getting my books out, warming up with scales, etc). I’m not going to get that same practice by watching a video of someone playing the piano for 40 minutes. This is kind of like handwriting vs. digital note-taking. Humans are still new to the idea of digital note-taking, but the concept of note-taking on paper has been around for a long time... a really long time.

Pro: Comprehension

A lot of sources that I’ve looked at say that handwriting your notes can force your brain to engage with the information and process it better. This means that by handwriting notes, you improve your literacy and reading comprehension. Most people wouldn’t engage the same with their notes if they type their notes. So if you want to increase your comprehension, handwriting your notes is probably best.

Con: Messy handwriting

When I used pen and paper, I noticed that things can get extremely cluttered and messy quickly. My hand used to cramp when I took a lot of notes making the messiest notes ever. This can be a downer, because when you go look at those notes to study, all you see is my illegible handwriting. I'm unmotivated to study when I see my unappealing notes! And with handwritten notes, you don't have the option of rearranging or condensing information like you can with an iPad.

Con: No audio recording

We've all had the time where we forget to write down something (that we believe isn’t important), but then that same piece of information comes on the test. Yeah, fun times. When handwriting your notes, you can’t record what the instructor is saying, like you would be able to do if you digitally took your notes. You might lose important information because of how focused you are when writing your notes.

Con: Disorganization

For people who are disorganized, using pen and paper might not be the best option. Messy and disorganized binders (worst case scenario: the binder explosion). It's extremely easy to lose and misplace your notes... yeah. Losing those notes that you lost might be crucial for your next test. Those notes that you lost might be crucial for your next test.


A final note on notes

To sum it up, digital note-taking and handwriting your notes both have both major pros and cons. Everyone will have a different way of taking down notes, whether it be fully digital, fully handwritten or a mixture of both. Regardless of what you choose to do, it should support your learning style and set you up for success with your studies this school year.

Learn more

Interested in learning more? Check out the websites I used to source information:

Medium.com, opens a new window

Theertha Madhi is a high school student with future goals of becoming a paediatrician. She enjoys spending her time with family and friends and has been playing piano for more than 8 years.

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