Report on the Presentation at a Study Group for the JSET, Japan Society for Educational Technology (Implementation of Information Morale Education / General),
"Comparative Study on the Necessity of Paper Notebooks When Using E-Textbooks"

I participated in a study group for the Japan Society for Educational Technology held at the Faculty of Education, Yamaguchi University on March 3, 2012, to present experiment analysis results titled, "Comparative Study on the Necessity of Paper Notebooks When Using E-Textbooks." This is a summary of the presentation.


The speed of e-textbook evolution is quite fast, and they are even about to incorporate a notebook function in addition to annotations. In Korean elementary schools, notebooks are embedded into e-textbooks, and students do not need to carry paper notebooks. In 2010, we had an opportunity to visit Korea in order to investigate how e-textbooks were utilized in Korea, and observed a science class for the 5th grade at Dongmak Elementary School, a trial school in Inchon City.


The students' textbooks were no different from those displayed on the electronic blackboards by the teachers. Students operated multimedia content or wrote on their e-textbooks using special pens. Only tablet PCs, their stands and special pens were on students' desks; there were no writing instruments such as paper notebooks, pencils or pencil cases that we would normally see on students' desks in Japan. Eliminating paper notebooks by incorporating a notebook function into e-textbooks sounds like something that would be unexpected to many fellow teachers, aside from the discussion of electronizing textbooks with various multimedia elements. We need to consider thoroughly if such a learning style as using only e-textbooks can be effective enough for education.


This study was conducted to investigate the necessity of paper notebooks in this e-textbook age through comparative experiments. We provided college students with e-textbooks that had a notebook function and then compared the learning effectiveness between using e-textbooks only and using e-textbooks along with paper notebooks. We picked 38 male and 42 female college students, 80 in total, who were with class curves (an academic ranking score) of around 50. We had them study information mathematics and statistics on their own, using the e-textbooks for 30 minutes for each subject under two conditions in terms of where to take notes. Condition D for digital is to write directly on e-textbooks, whereas Condition P for paper is to write on paper notebooks. We made two groups with one group studying one of the two subjects using paper notebooks and the other group studying by directly writing on the e-textbooks.


These e-textbooks were specially developed for this experiment. They were not made for general-purpose use, but instead were equipped with the minimum functions necessary for this experiment.


A page example of the e-textbook

Figure: A page example of the e-textbook

*With highlights or handwritten comments by users


The experiment resulted in a difference in free writing on technical content during a post-experiment exam conducted to see learning effectiveness, which showed better results with Condition P, learning by taking notes on paper notebooks. No difference was seen in the two groups in regards to simple questions such as terminology or calculations, but the experiment demonstrated that better results were obtained through learning by taking notes on paper when it comes to complicated questions such as free writing of technical terms which require students to think through to the answer.


Exam results for Information Mathematics
Figure: Exam results for Information Mathematics (n=80)
*A statistical difference was confirmed in Q2, free writing of technical content.


According to a free-comment survey, there were many negative comments about learning only by using e-textbooks. Some of the key comments included 'It didn't make me feel that I had learned something,' 'Somehow, nothing came in,' or 'I could not reorganize key points.' They seemed to be concerned about not having an opportunity to reflect on what was taught by taking notes of the key points or reorganizing what was taught since they wrote comments directly on textbooks without using paper notebooks. They even commented that having notebooks would help them to 'remember by transcribing what I had seen' or to 'reorganize my thoughts.' These indicate that learners achieve deep thinking or memorization by revisiting their own thoughts to be expressed with their own thinking patterns or words.


There were also some interesting comments such as 'the paper tradition will be lost,' 'there is no sense of achievement without pages of notes,' or 'there is no warmth,' which talked about benefits of analog media.


This study demonstrated better results for e-textbooks with note-taking on paper for certain questions such as the free writing of technical content in this case. Possible reasons for this are; 1) this is a learning style students are used to, 2) there is more exact memorization by taking notes on paper, and 3) it is possible to reflect on a subject by reorganizing thoughts on notebooks.


It is quite natural for us to become used to learning by writing on paper as we have been doing this since elementary school, so it makes sense that people find it uncomfortable or difficult to concentrate when learning without taking notes on paper. At the same time, we do not dare to copy the same statement as in a textbook even if the textbook has enough space to write this down; but we would try to copy on a separate notebook, or try to reorganize our thoughts in our own way instead of just copying this. I believe this process encourages students to think over in order to reach a correct understanding of the technical content.


This study suggests that taking notes on paper would be more effective in learning for current college students; however, it could be just because they are accustomed to this learning style. The result could have been different if they were used to learning without writing on paper since they were young.


We did not find a difference as large as we had expected in the beginning, but in the future, we need more verification on various other learning patterns such as questions related to students' native language.


(Masayoshi Yanagisawa, CRET Researcher)

Masayoshi Yanagisawa

CRET Researcher / Professor of Department of Human Sciences, Toyo Eiwa University

Hobbies: Cooking, star gazing, the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido, looking for something new by taking a look around various exhibitions, electronics retail stores, and DIY stores

I am studying combinations of huge electric blackboards and the latest in various devices. I want to create something new, aiming to develop the educational environment of near future.


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