I have been encouraging my classmates to connect with me on Google Docs to work collaboratively on taking notes. Still, no takers though. I imagine that if I were a professor, I would attempt to get them on board with collaboratively taking notes and improving on old notes as I go through the material. A major feature would be that I could see their comments if they ask a question, even anonymously. They would also be able to help each other if I can't get to their question sooner.

However, I'm not very clear on what research exists that would support or debunk such methods as best practices in pedagogy. Can anyone offer research sources and/or personal experiences in attempting different forms of collaborative note taking of this sort?

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    $\begingroup$ According to the Help Center, "I am a mathematics teacher and have a question related to my teaching, but it is not specific to mathematics. Can I ask this here? The community welcomes general questions related to teaching provided that they are relevant to teaching mathematics. However, there is also an Academia Stack Exchange for questions about academic life more generally. You may wish to consider if your question fits better there." $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Mar 28, 2019 at 6:30
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    $\begingroup$ To your credit, @Philosophist, I think by your choice of tags, you make the context of your question clear. Most on topic would be the question under the umbrella of "mathematical-pedogogy". But you point out that much (but not all) of mathematical-pedagogy has been developed from ideas about education in general, and math education has greatly benefited from some of those general ideas. And what applies on Academia SE may not be transferable to math educators, nor are folks at Academia SE (typically post high-school forcus) necessarily the best experts to know what works in math education. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:30
  • $\begingroup$ ...I'm glad you posted this question here, and I disagree with the suggestion of my colleague Joel because it is best suited to picking the brains of math educators, and not strictly academicians. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 28, 2019 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm an engineering student and my greatest frustrations are with the engineering, science, and math departments. Math is the unifying factor. What works for teaching willing and interested students in math should work well across the board. Thanks for the feedback. I will keep trying to refine the quality of my posts with these points in mind. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ Philosophist I think your question is fine. Try Google Scholar; I spent five minutes to yield the following search: Collaborative note taking and mathematics. Of course, the search terms can be better adjusted, perhaps, but I very much like your idea, and there is research to support your efforts. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Mar 28, 2019 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


Personal experience.

In an intro to probability course I had the chance to have a good friend (who used to be a lab partner in another course) and we decided to use ShareLatex to build our own course notes (a "digested" version of what was shown in class). (It is better than Google Docs for the typesetting of formulas, but it is only free for up to two people that work at the same time on a document).

So the note taking was made "by hand" in class and we would update the Latex document a few times per week with new notes, formulas, etc. We also had a separate document where we solved some of the exercices. We also built a 'cheat sheet' of all the important stuff with the rule that it had to fit in one page (for the final exam).

To me, it was a great experience because we had to check what the other had written and make sure that there was no mistake and that it made sense (so that made us think about the content of the course, it was not just about copying notes). Also, if I made mistakes or if something was unclear, I had feedback from my partner and we would talk about it in order to reach a consensus.

So the main takeaways for me are:

  • It worked well because we were $2$ and we worked well together (with more people or people I didn't like or trust, there tends to be more disagreements and time wasted, so results might have been different). Also, we were serious about this 'project' and it was from our own initiative; if a teacher were to force this on students, some students might not like that at all!
  • Because the note taking was collaborative, I felt more motivation to work on these notes (we both expected the other to do some work) it helped reduce procrastination
  • The fact that we forced ourselves to digest the 'in-class' notes actually helped us learn because it forced us to think about the content, not just mindlessly copying formulas

If I had to do it again, I would do some sort of collaborative portfolio. So instead of just digesting notes and solving problems, I would add a new dimension where each participant can ask (and try to answer) questions such as "when could this formula be used?", "what content from other courses should be reviewed before studying this section?" or "is there a real life example where this technique was useful?". This would have helped putting the content into perspective and learn how to use the stuff we learned in other areas (transferring of knowledge).

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this answer. I appreciate the point made that people might not like it if they were forced to use it. However, there's two other points to be made here: 1. Students are forced to do things in all sorts of ways, so a standard response to that problem might be available, at least to compare against other examples.; 2. How much of the discomfort would be due to a change in routine/tradition vs actual dislike of the method? $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Also thanks for pointing out ShareLatex. I'll check it out. I've been looking closely at NextCloud as an option if a school can work with a server. It would be a whole project to personalize though. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ As for students who procrastinate, I'm honestly unconvinced that this would be a real problem. I think the method used where students get to choose how they wish to study has been shown to work well. I think having notes open for all to see and letting each contribute what they wish should be helpful. Communication with the prof and others would just be encouraged through the application. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Philosophist I just wanted to mention that aside from "not liking" the method, some students (depending on the socioeconomic background) might not feel comfortable using computers for note taking/consulting; others might not even have easy access to a computer so this should be taken into account in planning the course. I like the idea of allowing multiple ways for note taking (such as "open notes"). This will reach more student types. Relative to procrastination, I meant to say that the task being collaborative helped reduce my own procrastination towards studying, so it's positive. $\endgroup$
    – orion2112
    Mar 28, 2019 at 17:01

There have been many positive reports on the use of collaborative note taking in the STEM disciplines, in part because they help students learn not only the content of a lecture, but they also help students to model and replicate independently how to take good notes.

This is consistent with research which demonstrates that the best mode of instruction comes not only from lecturing content, but also modeling how to learn and understand it best. This would include how to take good notes when encountering delivered content, whether in the form of a lecture, or text, (or powerpoint, etc.).

See, e.g., Note-taking: A research round-up.

I should also note that such efforts (collaborative note-taking, etc.) and research on the effectiveness of those efforts has focused primarily on secondary education students (high-school), and undergraduates in their first year or two.

Also note that collaborative note-taking doesn't require a computer, if socio-economic concerns are of issue. Guidance can be given in class, on transparencies, or at periodic intervals during classroom reviews (on transparencies of instructor's notes) during which students can compare their own notes to those of the instructor (prof/TA/teacher). Also an option is occasional group work or study groups in which students can pair off into two or more team members to compare their notes with other students.

Perhaps setting up study-groups where you and other students in your class can meet in person to compare notes is also an idea worth considering. Don't hesitate to ask your professor or TA whether such a study-group/study session can be announced in class, and same wrt using Google Docs for collaborative notetaking. If you're at a university/college, there are often class websites on the university/college's server, and often these have discussion boards/chats, over which you can suggest your ideas. If you're looking to help get the word out, your prof or TA or teacher will likely be amenable to your efforts.


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