Learning to Take Notes about Material Presented in Videos: An Activity Using Smarthistory

Note taking. We all have our own individual ways that we like to take notes. Whatever our system might be, our notes need to help us retrieve information, to organize it, to make it accessible.

I often find that my students struggle with note-taking. Not all of them, but many of them. They just haven’t found their system yet. Or they’ve been told there is one way to take notes. Or they feel that taking notes means writing every single thing down. To help them, I usually spend some time talking about note-taking, or modeling some different ways that could work for them. I try not to presume that my way will work for them.

And I also find that taking notes on readings is far easier for students than taking notes on videos. When I realized this, I thought, “Huh, I need to help them think about a different way to take notes. What does that look like?”

I’ve found that one of the most effective ways to help them retain information they watch in a video (say from Smarthistory, like this one on the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou) is to give them a series of statements about the main points of the video that are arranged in the order in which they are discussed in the video. Each statement is true/false, yes/no, or some other binary structure. Or it could be something like, “The Garden was intended for leisure/contemplative activities/agriculture.” They can circle all that apply. I also include sentences with missing words so they can fill-in-the blanks (like guided note taking).

Once the video ends, they are asked to answer a series of 1-2 short written responses so that they can synthesize what they learned.

While the first time I do this, students usually find it stressful–“you mean we don’t just get to watch the video for fun?”–they are often surprised by how well it helps them retain the material. They also have the notes to return to after watching the video rather than having to go back and rewatch it several times.

I’ve been pleased with how well this activity helps students to learn how to take notes while watching videos. Given that I assign Smarthistory materials in lieu of a textbook, this process of helping them learn how to take effective notes is worth it. It also helps them think critically about digital storytelling, and often encourages them to reflect on the important role of new media technology in today’s world.

Cite this article as: Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank, "Learning to Take Notes about Material Presented in Videos: An Activity Using Smarthistory," in Adventures in Pedagogy, Digital Art History, + More, March 13, 2019, https://lkilroyewbank.org/lke-blog/learning-to-take-notes-about-material-presented-in-videos-an-activity-using-smarthistory/.
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