The perils of electronic notetaking

Below is my reflection for this week (I know it’s only Wednesday, but learning doesn’t only happen at the end of the week). The incident I discuss here was a side issue in many ways, and just one of a couple of triggers that have made me think hard about the power dynamic between teacher and student in a way I hadn’t fully appreciated before. 


Today I learned how it felt to be wrongly accused of not paying attention in class. Having worked in elearning for a number of years, I try hard to keep all of my notes electronically, so that they can be tagged, categorised, sorted and searched. I can type quickly and insert photos and figures into my notes in a format that I have found is successful for me and has been refined over a number of years. In a session today my beloved iPad ran out of charge and so I used my iPod to make notes. This looks the same as an iPhone and is connected to the Internet but does not have the mobile phone capability. The speaker assumed that I was texting while she was talking, and was understandably irritated and told me to stop. I showed her that I was taking notes and she apologised.

This incident made me think about the power dynamics of teacher and student and reminded me of some reading I did this week in preparation for our observations of children during our first school placement. Nutbrown (1996) suggests that educators have a responsibility not to judge children:

If educators observe children carefully and thoughtfully with wide eyes and open minds they will be showing the children the respect they deserve as people and as learners’ (Nutbrown, 1996, p.52)

So, by acknowledging that the child has complex behaviours that may be hidden to the observer if we seek only to see what we think we know, rather than what is actually presented to us, we can respect the child’s achievements.

Having experienced the feeling of powerlessness when my behaviour was misunderstood, it brought home the relevance impartial observation. It showed me that I must afford the children I teach the respect they deserve by not bringing my own assumptions to bear on my interactions with them. I recognise that this will be hard to achieve. However, today’s practice session on  focused and objective observations of children combined with the realisation that I will be doing this for real next week in my first teaching placement was a wake up call. I hope that I can begin to take steps towards having ‘wide eyes and an open mind’.

NUTBROWN, C., 1996. Wide Eyes and Open Minds – Observing, Assessing and Respecting Children’s Early Achievements. In: C. NUTBROWN, ed, Respectful educators, capable learners : children’s rights and early education. London: Paul Chapman, pp. 44-55.


8 thoughts on “The perils of electronic notetaking”

  1. An interesting blog and one which rings so true for many of who have attended lectures or training. I remember delivering some training when working for an LA and had to decide whether or not to challenge a delegate who had an ear piece in listening to the tennis!!! I took the coward’s route and didn’t challenge the teacher because I didn’t want to spoil the training by challenging someone and causing conflict. The learning point for me was the fact that other teachers were upset that he was allowed to get away with it!

    I do have great sympathy for the lecturer as this is such a minefield – my handheld device does allow me to make notes in meetings but it does also allow me to check the football scores or join in a Twitter conversation – this means I can be fully attentive or distracted!!! However, there should be a clarity over what is acceptable or not acceptable so that all lecturers and students have clear terms of reference.
    It is difficult because it seems that it was presumably acceptable in the eyes of the lecturer for you to be on the iPad but not a hand held device.

    1. I use my iPad in landscape and type on the virtual keyboard so I’m sure that looks more ‘laptop’ like and easily interpreted as an acceptable note taking device. I tend to take notes on my iPod using two thumbs, which does look like I’m texting.

      I guess the wider point for me here was the assumption the lecturer made about my behaviour and how that changed her interaction with me. What if the delegate with an ear piece had a hearing impairment and it was his hearing aid? (I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but I’m playing devils advocate!) If he was listening to the tennis, I would take the view that it is his choice as an adult to miss out your fabulous training session. People can not pay attention in any number of ways, electronically or otherwise. It is interesting that the other delegates felt that the tennis-listener was somehow cheating the system, did his lack of participation impact directly on them? or did it mean he didn’t learn anything himself?

  2. He was definitely listening to the tennis (I knew him quite well and knew he didn’t need a hearing aid) it was also obvious from a fist pump at a crucial moment!!!!!

    I think that the other delegates took offence at a perceived discourtesy towards the presenter and them as fellow delegates. I think also that as it was centrally funded training some of them saw it cocking a snoot at something which was being given free so that he could go and support staff with writing back at school.

    It is difficult but the fault lay with me not finding a pertinent and appropriate way of dealing with the situation. The crunch is that the lecturer today did deal with the situation but in a way which alienated rather than clarified.

    It reminds me that as teachers we can, all too often, make comments in haste which regret at leisure.

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