My courses involve a lot of give and take with the students, me asking probing questions about the reading, helping students develop their responses. Often 100-level students find it challenging to take notes during these organic discussions. Also, if a student misses class or happens to be an English Language Learner or a student with a reading or hearing disability, taking useful notes gets even more challenging.
Enter Community Notes, a technique I have been using for the last three years. Community Notes are a shared bank of notes kept in a Google Docs folder accessible to the class. Each student in the class has a certain number of days where they are assigned to upload their notes on the readings, and a certain number of days where they are assigned to upload their notes on the synchronous class meeting. (The number of days of each are based on the number of students in the class and the number of class meetings and readings.) All students have access to all of these notes, and all students are permitted to use the Community Notes as a resource for the final exam (this is one of the “carrots” for them to provide good and comprehensive notes). To provide redundancy, I assign two note takers per class.
I have found a number of benefits from Community Notes.
Students’ note taking improves over the semester. Some of this occurs naturally, some is based on the tips in this video I created to help students learn how to prepare well for my courses. Some students actually meet with me to discuss note taking strategies in office hours. They don’t want to let their peers down, for one, but also I find that many have never been taught that there are specific strategies they can apply to note taking and they are keen to acquire the tools.
Community Notes have been a lifesaver this semester as a number of students have missed class or are remote. They are particularly helpful for students learning in distant time zones, who may be relying on recordings of synchronous classes plus Community Notes in order to learn class content.
English Language Learners and students with a reading or hearing disability have expressed great appreciation for this approach. Online Community Notes also permit the use of the search function.
My tests are open note, which incentivizes good note taking and provides for a lower stress test-taking environment.
Students develop a sense of ownership of the material and their learning.
Students who have taken subsequent courses in the department have self-reported referencing these notes.
I can use the notes as a diagnostic to monitor whether the students understood the content of the reading or class.
This approach is well-suited to multiple disciplines and could easily be expanded to include lab notes, shared spreadsheets, etc. Not only do students learn from the content, but also learn how to take better notes by observing others. Finally, Community Notes emphasize the notion of learning as a shared enterprise.
Hanne Blank Boyd
Visiting Assistant Professor
Women’s & Gender Studies