Thursday, September 13, 2007


One of our university administrators generously gives talks in classes to our students about their education. It's a really good talk, and a wonderful opportunity for our first year students to meet a high level administrator up close, and to learn that that administrator cares about their education and isn't just a paper pusher.

So UA is doing a really good thing.

UA came to my class to give the talk, and as I introduced UA, I specifically told the students to take good notes. They dutifully began to take notes.

And about five minutes in, UA sort of got bothered by the notetaking and asked them to stop, telling them that we'd make the powerpoint available to them.

Inside, I just screamed. You see, notetaking is an important skill, and my class is one place where I try to teach notetaking skills in a real way. I let them use their notes in quizzes, for example, to encourage them. I give them a copy of my notes for some things, and talk about the strategies I use to take notes.

Near the end of the talk, UA said that one of the skills employers value is good notetaking skills for meetings, so that after a meeting, an employee can explain what happened in the meeting, act on decisions made during the meeting, and so forth.

Inside, I wanted to smack UA upside the head.

Yes, it can be painful to talk to students while they're learning notetaking skills. Yes, it slows down their willingness to respond to questions and such. Yes, it can be distracting while you're talking.

But this is where they learn! Don't undermine your own message!


  1. *sigh*

    *administers necessary admin headsmack for B*

  2. Anonymous11:19 AM

    Bardiac, can you tactfully mention this to the nice UA? I expect he or she didn't realize at all what had just happened.

  3. That's so annoying!!

    Also: I find it weird that someone finds notetaking bothersome.

  4. That's what I was thinking - what in the world is distracting about your audience taking notes?

  5. We're talking about a university administrator. What would you expect? We're not in the days of Fred Harrington or Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain any more. Were we dealing with a serial adminstrator (likely to be shopping resumes already) or a failed scholar (common in the special-assistant-for-nonacademics) or a business wannabee (circulating the slides is a clue)?

  6. Amanda, I know!

    Theodora, Happily, I ran into UA today, and said how much the students appreciated the talk. And then offered a helpful suggestion. UA got it instantly.

    Hilaire, You would have laughed to see me trying not to gasp out loud!

    Pilgrim/Heretic and Hilaire, I know! I expect people to write down every single thing I say! It's golden! Okay, not really, but I'm used to it. It is a little weird if you stop to think about it, though. I think UA was disconcerted that they were looking down at their notes more than up at his slides?

    Stephen, I'm pretty up front about when I think administrators aren't doing a good job, but UA is someone who's been a pretty solid scholar and who's committed enough to education that he speaks to a fair number of first year classes every semester. He's really good at explaining things, and cares enough to bother. I respect him greatly or I wouldn't invite him to come talk to my classes. I think he's someone who realized he was good at scholarship, but could also contribute in different ways by becoming a chair, and then doing some administrative jobs. From what I've seen, he's doing a good job in his position here. And if he's ready to shop for his next job, then the school that gets him will be very lucky.

  7. I can't imagine why anyone would be distracted by note-taking. The only time I ever suggest to my students that they shouldn't take notes on something is when I am trying to explain a complicated slide (e.g. a chart or diagram or something) and instead of listening, I can tell that they are busily copying down all the data. Like when I was comparing the word for something in 100 different languages and they REALLY REALLY did not need to write down all those words, just to see the pattern I was pointing out. But even then, I wouldn't say, "Don't take notes." I'd say, "You don't need all the words from those languages in your notes. Just make notes about the general pattern and I'll make the full data available to you in a handout if you want it."