Collaborative note-taking

Sometimes, collaborative note-taking can make classes or meetings better.

This how it works:

  • Make a google doc
  • Share it with a friend in the class/meeting
  • Take notes together in the same document
  • And comment on what the other is writing
  • (This only works if you both have laptops and internet access in class)

Here’s some examples of how this can be helpful:

It can make it easier to pay attention:

  • For many people, conversations are much easier to pay attention to than lectures
  • One reason is that if you’re interacting, it’s easier to *notice* whether you’re paying attention
  • Doing collaborative note-taking adds an interactive layer to the lecture, which can make it easier to pay attention

When you miss things, you can catch each other up, eg:

  • “I didn’t catch that. Is he talking about cats or dogs?”
  • “I think dogs, but it’s hard to tell. It’s tangential to the main point about lions.”

It can also be easier to write down complicated statements if you have two versions to compare in the moment.

When you don’t understand, you can ask each other for help without having to interrupt and get the teacher’s attention, eg:

  • “Is he really saying that hamsters can fly?”
  • “No, he’s saying that he once edited wikipedia to make it claim that, and it took a week for anyone to notice.”


  • “What page are we on?”
  • “Page 56 near the bottom.”

Sometimes it can also make it easier to ask the teacher questions.

  • “I’d like to ask him whether rainbows can happen at night”
  • “So, ask him!”
  • *verbally* “Can rainbows happen at night?”
  • (I’m not sure why this works for me, but it does. It’s far easier for me to ask questions verbally when I’ve run them by another student/coworker in text.)

It can also make terrible meetings or classes more bearable, for instance:

  • “Is he really suggesting that we buy 500 pounds of ham?”
  • “It seems like he is. Oh dear. Should we say something?”
  • *more notes about what’s going on, not just conversation

You can fluidly move between taking notes directly, and talking to one another about what’s going on.

Some of this is possible to do by taking notes in separate files and using a chat program to talk to each other, but it doesn’t work as well because:

  • It’s more distracting since you have to switch between windows and modes to talk in different ways. So there’s a switching barrier to paying attention to your notes file.
  • When your conversation is *in* the notes, it’s easier to pay attention to the notes
  • If someone is watching you, it looks just like taking notes usually looks. If you use a chat program, it looks like you’re goofing off and not paying attention.

This is not a good strategy for everyone or every situation, but when it works, it works *really* well.