I recently had a group of students that didn't take notes at all. They were in University classes and no one, apparently, had taught them how to learn. I asked one student why, and he just pointed to his head - it's here. But of course photographic memory isn't true for all but a vanishingly small proportion of our students. In order to learn something you need to be engaged with it, not just watch it pass by. I'm pretty sure that court stenographers don't retain anything of the court proceedings they record. It is just mechanical.
Stay tuned for my solution, below.
I worry, and think the research supports me, that typing notes in class is just mechanical. Like hi-lighting lines in a textbook. Little if anything is learned then. If you lecture and just want the students to transmit your ides to their computers, then just give them the lectures as rich text. But having something in your computer (or on wikipedia) isn't the same as having it in your head. So, as an instructor, you should ask yourself what it is that you want the students to be able to do with the information you transmit. Do you just want them to have it available? Or do you want them to be able to truly know it and act on it. If the latter, then you need to help them learn to be more active and engaged in their learning - as my students were not.
I usually take notes on things by computer. But my only goal is to keep access to it, not to truly know it. No problems. If I want to know something I solve problems or write code using it. Learning is doing. Doing is learning.
Writing by hand is much better than typing, even with bad penmanship. The brain is more engaged and you are changing the wiring of the brain as you do it. However, that isn't enough. You have to do something with those notes if you want to learn it. If you just write it out and file it, little is learned.
This was my solution:
I made sure every student had a Hipster PDA, which cost almost nothing as the U was happy to give each student a binder clip and they were happy enough to go in together to purchase the cards. Students were encouraged to put a sentence or two on a (fresh) card when they heard a key idea. For the last minute or so of each class I'd ask a few students to read to me from the cards of the day one key idea from the lecture (though it wasn't usually true lecturing). I might comment, usually, just by saying yes or no (or maybe YES). At the beginning of the next class I'd ask for the three most important ideas from the previous class. Or perhaps, ask for a one sentence summary of the previous lecture. Out come the cards...
I also encouraged the students to prepare a summary card for each lecture. Just one card. Just a couple of sentences, not the tiny print we used to use when allowed to bring a sheet of notes to an exam (remember that?). Just big ideas.
Moreover, I encouraged students to use the pda in other courses and to carry it about with them. They spent time on subways, generally, so the pda provided an easy way to review the day's activities and learning or prepare for the upcoming day. The valedictorian in my undergraduate class used this trick. He was never without a few cards for review.
Students don't need to capture every word in most cases and if they really do, then give it to them straight. I'm sure you heard the joke "The purpose of a lecture is to transmit the instructor's notes to the student's notebook without going through the mind of either." Make it active. With my students it was actually kind of campy - an in-group ritual.
Note that I also lectured from my own hipster pda and kept a card for each student, etc.
A separate reason for taking notes by hand with a good pen or pencil on good paper: It will be hard to convince your students of this, but they may need (as I have needed) to review notes taken 40 years or more ago. My student lecture notes were put into folders and filed away. I recently needed and was able to find a paper I wrote as a high-school student about 1961. Paper lasts, digital media is problematic. The physical media may deterioriate but the file formats may not be available in a few years. How much important stuff do you have on floppy disks? How about 8" floppy disks.
I'd especially recommend archiving notes on paper for any student planning an academic career. This is most important, of course, for your major courses, but also for things you love the most. Paper lasts. See: https://xkcd.com/1909/
On November 22, 2017, the New York Times published a piece in Business Day. Here is the money quote:
But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.
The author is Susan Dynarski is a professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan.
As an update: I've just been given information that a certain large university has banned laptops from the classroom. My correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, points out the following information:
Ban improves grades and also students are fine with it
Even students not using electronics seem harmed if others do:
Humans simply cannot multitask
Multitasking may actually damage your brain
They report that they run "active lectures" (talk a bit, then students work on problems in small groups, repeat), and have compared electronic and paper approaches. Paper works just fine.
The ban is working great.