Total Pageviews

Friday, November 2, 2018

Is The Pen Mightier Than the Keyboard?

Longhand v. Laptop Note Taking

A look at recent research by Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS

In order for students to be academically successful, they need to be able to learn the material presented in their courses and perform well on exams.  With the nearly ubiquitous adoption of the use of digital devices for delivery of educational material and, in many situations, notetaking as well as the completion of assignments, the question of which is a more effective methodology for learning is of great import.

Dr. Pam Mueller & Dr. Daniel Oppenheimer published a paper in 2014 sharing the results of their research into this topic.  Their study was the first to focus on a direct comparison of the two styles of notetaking.  Other research has focused on the impact of the many distractions available on laptops and how well students could multitask.  Many researchers have shown that students tend to not be on task and to be less satisfied with their education than their pen wielding peers.

Let’s take a look at the head to head comparison of college student’s comprehension retention abilities when offline laptops and pen and paper  were the only options for notetaking during presentations.

In the past, some research showed that the processing of the information that takes place during manual notetaking improves learning and retention.  When a student takes notes during a lecture, s/he cannot keep up with the presenter so must sort and organize the material, as well as abbreviate it in order to record it.  Note taking can include summarizing, paraphrasing, and mapping concepts.  It can also take the form of creating a verbatim transcript of what is heard.  Other studies have shown that verbatim note taking predicts poorer performance than non-verbatim note taking, especially on integrative and conceptual items.  Integrating the new information with prior knowledge and with understanding new concepts are both improved when the note taker processes and records the information without taking a verbatim approach.

In this current study, it was repeatedly noted that students using laptops strongly tended to take more notes, and to take notes in the verbatim copyist style, rather than processing the information and creating their own re-presentation of it like the students taking notes longhand.  It was found that the students who took notes longhand and were afforded an opportunity to study them performed better on examination than any of the other participants.  The longhand note takers also did better than the laptop users when neither was permitted to review their notes.  Some of them even outperformed the laptop users who had been able to study their notes.

Although they recorded fewer words, those who used pen and paper outperformed their technology using peers for both conceptual and factual questions.  Selecting more important information to record may have enabled them to study the material more efficiently.  They concluded: “Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears.  Indeed, synthesizing and summarizing content rather than verbatim transcription can serve as a desirable difficulty toward improved educational outcomes…. For that reason, laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.”

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Recent Changes to College Savings Plans


529 plans allow taxpayers to save larger amounts of money than other tax-advantaged education savings plans do.  They are limited only by the contributor’s gift tax concerns and the contribution limits of the intended plan.  There are no limits on the number of contributors and there are not income or age limitations.  The maximum amount that ca be contributed per beneficiary (the student) is based on the projected cost of college education and will vary by the plan of each state.  Most have limits in excess of $200,000 while others are over $370,000.  Generally additional contributions cannot be made once the account’s balance reaches your state’s maximum level, but that doesn’t prevent the account from continuing to grow.

Although the plans are authorized by the various states, it’s not required that the plan be set up in the future collegian’s home state.  Additionally, the student is not restricted to using the funds in either his or her home state or the state where the plan was set up.  Some states, however, do provide state income tax deductions as an incentive to get their residents to set up plans in the state.  These incentives typically come as a state income tax deduction or a tax credit for the contributions to the state’s 529 plan.

When the times comes for college, the distributions will partially be earnings in value and partially from contributions.  The contributions are never taxable.  The earnings part is tax free if they are used to pay for qualified education expenses like tuition, fees, and books.  In addition to the tax-free distribution from the 529 plan, the taxpayer may claim and education credit such as the American Opportunity tax credit, which can be as much as $2,500 ($1,000 of which is refundable!). 

The big advantage of s section 529 plan is the tax-free accumulation of funds so it is best to establish and fund one as early as possible in the child’s life.  There is a special provision that allows those concerned with the annual gift tax limit (currently $15,000) to contribute five years’ worth ($75,000) up front.  This limit is per contributor.  If there are multiple contributors (parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, etc., huge amounts can be contributed up front and provide considerable long-term growth.

Keep in mind, however, that saving through a 529 owned by the parents means that you are accumulating your college savings in a vehicle that is considered an asset and will be factored into need based financial eligibility calculations by the FAFSA processor. It will also be considered, as long as the student is the beneficiary, no matter who the owner is, by the schools utilizing the CSS PROFILE financial aid application form.


As of 2018, tax free distributions of up to $10,000 per year per beneficiary are allowed for tuition for elementary or secondary schools.  Of course, using the funds for K-12 education  leaves less for college education.  This will especially impact those families not able to front load the 529s since the monies won’t be able to grow over the years.  This is a change to federal law; please check with your tax preparer regarding limitations your state may still have.  Some still restrict 529 distributions to use for college expenses.

The tax reform also allows the distribution from a 529 to be tax and penalty free if it is rolled over to an ABLE account for the same beneficiary (or a member of his/her family) within 60 days of its distribution.  This rollover provision is only available until 2025.  The rollover amount is limited, when combined to other contributions, to the annual maximum.

In case you’re not familiar with them, qualified ABLE programs provide the means for people to save in order to support individuals who became blind or severely disabled before their 26th birthday.  This support is to maintain their health, independence, and quality of life. 

Please contact your tax preparer for additional information.