Students get colorful, artistic in note-taking

Kelly Cernetich, Editor-in-Chief

Armed with a Ziploc baggie of Crayolas, senior secondary education and history major Lisa Slippy sets herself to the task of filling in her notebook’s margins bright orange.

She adds curly symbols and shapes in green, and some blocks of text are outlined in blue. Annotated passages are carefully enclosed by a red cloud bubble.

While Slippy said most of her notes consist of “regular pen and paper,” classes that have a notebook grade component inspire her to add a little color to the pages.

“I do it to be creative, and have it be unique,” she said. “In other classes (without notebook grades) I still sometimes highlight . . . key parts to study from.”

Slippy and others like her seem to have found unique ways of interpreting professors’ lectures and on-screen graphs, and turned their notes into more than lines on a page.

Senior education social studies major Amanda Witters said she relies solely on her tablet laptop and Microsoft’s OneNote program, along with a built-in stylus that allows her to copy professors’ diagrams and graphs for note-taking.

Witters said she can search her notes for important words or phrases in seconds, allowing her to access every note she has ever taken in her four years at Pitt-Johnstown.

“It’s really useful in higher-level courses that rely on intro class terms.”

“My tablet PC is the best investment I’ve ever made, besides my education.”

Before students try their hand at personalizing the way they take notes, a mandatory freshman course University Scholarship has a note-taking lecture built into it, showcasing the Cornell note-taking method.

Cornell note-taking requires students to divide their page in two, using a 6-inch space on the right for in-class notes, and the remaining left side for later revisions like writing cue questions or expanding on key terms.

Academic Success Center Director Kate Stahl Kinsinger said the Cornell method was chosen based on best practices studies and research that showed it to be useful for students, particularly those new to the more academically rigorous college environment.

But Kinsinger said she didn’t want students to be under the impression that University Scholarship instructors mandate how students take notes.

“I think it’s a mistake to tell any individual to prescribe a method,” she said. Kinsinger added that she preferred students took from the class that they should be taking notes attentively and with purpose.

“The goal . . . is to figure out how (a student best) learns,” she said.

Professors, too, seem to keep an open mind when it comes to the way students record what they hear.

Associate fine arts professor Valerie Grash said most students perform better on tests when they use notes already available to them on PowerPoint slides from her CourseWeb site.

“(They) seem to have an advantage over those using a traditional notebook,” she said, “specifically in being able to draw arrows or circle specific images.”

Grash said other students use tape recorders or, if they are more artistically inclined, draw their own renderings of the artwork.

Grash added that she doesn’t mind the method students choose, so long as they can connect the images on the screen to their notes and then commit the information to memory for exams.

Associate music professor Jeff Webb said that his class doesn’t require extra creativity from his students, and that most of their notebooks probably look the same as in their other classes — except in the case of performance courses.

“(Those students) have to put notes into their music in a different way,” he said.

Webb also said that students in classes such as choir benefit from the use of a manuscript notebook that has music staves, the five horizontal lines on which the musical notes can be written.

“Whatever instructions they might be given have to be abbreviated, since there is no room for them to write all over the music.

“So if I tell the students to slow down over the next five measures, they. . . will write a term like ‘rallentando,’ which means to gradually slow down.”

Freshman communication major Luis Torres has developed a unique and elaborate note-taking system involving black, blue and red pens.

Torres said he usually sits in class with all three pens uncapped, resting the two unused colors between the fingers of his left hand so he can easily access them.

“Black is basic notes,” he said. “Halfway important is blue. Red is extremely important. You can’t miss it.

“For very, very important things I sometimes make drawings.”

One such illustration can be found in Torres’ history notebook in chapter notes on American Pilgrims. A half-page ship drawing uses the vessel’s hull as a place in which he has organized relevant statistics and information.

A large triangular sail rests atop the notes with chapter three’s title “Colonization” written inside.

On another page the sentence, “300,000,000 people lived in America before Columbus arrived,” stands out inside a speech bubble coming from the mouth of a cartoon Native American.

“It’s the little things that help me remember,” he said.