From notetaking to phone photos: But what about cognitive transfer?


In 2016, my school will have completed its five year roll out of BYOD.  When they were in Year 9, the 2016 Year 13 students were the first to have compulsory devices.

Over the four years to date, there have been many changes, some large, some small.  A large one has been the change in device policy.  The school quickly realised that certain devices didn’t have the capacity for both reception and production so we specified devices with full operating systems, either Windows or Mac OSX,  Google Chrome, and common browser plugins like Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Java, Adobe Shockwave and Apple Quicktime.  Of course the cost has decreased over time as battery life has increased so many students now have more than one device on hand, often a netbook and a phone.

The improvement in technical support has been incremental.  The personnel team has doubled in number, and there are now enough borrowable netbooks in COWs (Computers on Wheels) that lack of access to laboratories, device malfunctions, and student forgetfulness no longer prevent access.  A more robust wireless network, improvements to security, and the incremental transfer to cloud technologies are also majors.

Of course there have been subsequent and often subtle changes in the classroom as well; we are not teaching and learning in the same way as before.  The school has continued to support and encourage these changes with ongoing and generous teacher professional development.

However, a change that pleases and concerns me at the same time is the use of the ubiquitous smartphone to take photos of my scribbled whitebord notes, and even of the PPT slides which are readily accessible on Moodle pages.  Why it pleases me is that language students have those notes at ready access in their pockets at all times and can be learning their vocabulary on the bus as they go home.  Why it concerns me is that when language learners mindfully copy and reorder new language, cognitive transfer occurs.  The instant photographing of notes means the memory is not being activated in the same way.

Thinking about this as I write, maybe it shouldn’t be a concern because we now purchase interactive online programmes like Language Perfect and Kerboodle which ensure retention.


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