Our world is becoming a technologically advanced place, with every little action we complete becoming faster. When our parents went to school, for example, they spent hours each day taking hand-written notes. We simply tap on keyboard squares, and in half the time, we’re finished.
But while typing might be a lot quicker, it turns out that we’re missing out on some positive outcomes associated with writing with a pen and paper. When writing by hand, you feel the paper and you think about the movement your hand makes with the pen. This leads to thinking more about the content which creates skill, rather than just getting all of the information down. All typing is, is tapping on squares with letters on them.
It takes out the human contact of feeling texture and making mistakes. Auto-correct, as the name suggests, fixes every little mistake we make. When we correct our drafts on paper, however, we can clearly see the changes or progress we make while writing and will learn from these mistakes.
In a survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers in Northern America, 40% said today’s technology make students more likely to “use poor spelling and grammar.” 68% said that students are taking shortcuts and not putting in effort when typing. They also possessed some worries regarding the register and voice in which the students are writing.
With handwriting, there are no rules. You can go over the margin and you can make scribbles on the side of the page which gives you more freedom over your work. When having freedom in your work, the quality increases and you feel more connected to the writing.
A theory thought by people all around the world is that millennials are better with technology than previous generations, which is why we can retain information better when using it. This term is called “digital native.” Mark Prensky, a writer and education speaker, has claimed that the people born into technology are automatically natives, while the previous generations are “digital immigrants,” which means they are learning to adapt to it, but will never fully know it as the millennials do. This claim has no scientific proof to back it up because it is an anecdote.
On the other hand, a study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, who are psychology researchers, has shown that university students who took notes by hand retained much more information and were able to apply and understand what they learned much better than the ones who had typed notes. They tested this by showing the students a TED Talk. The ones who typed wrote significantly more words than the ones that wrote by hand. When testing the students on their knowledge about the topic, the type of question made a large difference. In the questions that asked for short precise answers like facts and dates, both groups were equally successful. But in the questions that were for “conceptual application” that have different approaches to the answer, the ones who typed did “significantly worse.”
A reason Mueller and Oppenheimer suggest for this finding is that since writing by hand takes more time, students first listen and then summarize only what they think is important to be written down. Therefore, writing by hand forces our brains to work a lot harder than it has to when typing.
AISB Academic Support Teacher and SEN Coordinator Darryl Roberts has seen these effects first-hand. He’s noticed that when students type their notes, the information does not seem to stay in students’ short-term memories nor long-term memories. He reminds us that at our school and in all IB environments, students are expected to understand, analyze and apply the knowledge they learn, and rarely just remember facts, which means that typing might not be the best solution.
Other than just having different effects on memory, technology has an effect on organization and navigation. Roberts says that when students are using a computer, for example, they will have a harder time concentrating on the work because of all of the open tabs and endless other possibilities online. Whereas on paper, students are more focused and attentive.
More and more studies are being published on the benefits of handwriting, but it is a relatively new topic. It seems that from what we do know from this recent study, and by talking to several teachers like Mr. Roberts, we might want to consider putting our computers away during lessons and sharpening our pencils. Even though it’s more effort initially, being able to remember the information taught means less time studying.