Note on taking notes in CSC 207

In my many years of teaching this course, I’ve seen many student approaches to taking notes. Some students have clearly developed careful note-taking habits, and continue to use them in this course. Others see that I write a lot on the eboards, and don’t take any notes. And some others are somewhere in between. In this document, I suggest some approaches to note-taking in CSC 207

Some general principles

First, you should know that there is good evidence that taking notes helps you learn the material. Hence, even though there is a written record of most of what I say in class, you should still take some notes on your own. My written record is not intended to replace your notes. Rather, it is intended to be a supplement so that you don’t feel that you have to write down everything.

Second, you should know that the best learning happens when you reflect on the most important points, and take notes on those. It is, of course, sometimes difficult to identify the most important points, particularly when lots of ideas are being raised during class. I recommend that you review materials (the reading, the lab, your quick notes, and my notes/eboards) after class, and see if you can pick out a few most important points, which you then record. You might, for example, record details of some of the more complex procedures you wrote.

Third, you need to consider how to organize your notes for efficient access. While taking notes will help you remember things, at some point you will need to look things up. How can you organize your material to make that easier?

Multiple modes of note taking

As suggested above, I recommend that you take notes during class. You may just want to scribble down a few high points (or low points). But you should record enough that you can look at your notes to start to recall what happened.

I also recommend that you regularly create summaries. A summary may draw upon your notes, my notes, your answers to labs or homework assignments, and so on and so forth. At times, I may incentivize summaries, such as by allowing you to bring a page of summary notes to a quiz or test. I’m told that it’s better to write the summary without looking at other materials and then go back and update afterwards.

Many students find it useful to take notes while reading. I will admit that I have never been good at marking up the texts I read, even though I do “read actively”. But I see many very successful students printing out readings and taking notes as they go. In CSC-207, it may also be helpful to try code while reading. Most of our readings introduce new ways of expressing ideas in code. You understand the code much better when you try it (and then take notes on what you observe). Taking notes on readings also allows you to develop questions that you can ask in class.

Because you are learning a new language, you might follow some of the strategies that people commonly use for studying languages. In particular, I suggest that you take notes on flash cards. I will provide you with a variety of colors of flash cards; you can decide how to use the colors. For example, you might have one color (probably white) for vocabulary, another for syntax, another for stylistic issues, and so on and so forth. One distinct advantage of flash cards is that you can also rearrange them quickly. That means that you can use your flash cards to quickly look up vocabulary, as well as to quiz yourself on that vocabulary.

Final thoughts

Take notes. Realize that there are different ways to take notes. Explore options, and see what works best for you. But take notes.