Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard!

The teaching, learning and technical aspects of the 2015 eLearning classes at Christchurch Boys' High School have been overall very successful. General feedback from teachers has been positive with eight out of eight teachers who responded to a recent survey either very happy, or happy to be teaching students who bring their own devices to school to aid their learning. 

As the year progresses many common themes are emerging, one of which is the keyboard vs the stylus. A Maths teacher from one of the eLearning classes has spoken of the inability for the students to do ‘real Maths’ on their devices when using the keyboard only. He (along with many other members of the Christchurch Boys’ High School Maths department) feel that laptops will not be fully embraced into Maths pedagogy until all students have write on touch screen capability. It is easy to understand a Maths teachers’ frustration as students attempt complex Algebra indices problems using a keyboard only. Similarly, teachers of Languages have recognized the time it takes Year Nine students to accurately type French, Japanese and Chinese letters and characters on a keyboard. A visit to a nearby school in Christchurch also revealed a similar issue. eLearning class students were not allowed to use their laptop in one Maths class unless their device had write on capability. Students who did not have write on screen capability worked with pen and paper.

With the emergence of technology in almost all aspects of everyday modern society, the use of the pen and handwriting is declining. A recentBritish survey of over 2,000 people revealed that one in three respondents had not written anything by hand in the previous six months(Docmail in the Media: Handwriting dying a slow death, 2012). However, research is emerging to show that students using keyboards for taking notes may not achieve as highly as students who take notes with a pen. A study published in 2014 involving more than 300 University aged students from California, suggested that students who took written notes were better able to answer questions on a lecture than those students who used a laptop. The findings revealed that students who took hand written notes memorized the same number of facts as students who typed, but the laptop users performed far worse when they were tested on ideas. “The students using laptops were in fact more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning, but they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this 'mindless transcription' appeared to cancel out the benefits (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014)."

 “...there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing. And there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information… (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014)."

A similar study published in 2010 found writing by hand allows the brain to receive feedback from a person’s motor actions, and this specific feedback is different than those received when touching and typing on a keyboard. The movements involved when handwriting, “leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain,” which helps the person recognize letters and establish a connection between reading and writing (Mangen & Velay 2010). The researchers believe since writing by hand takes longer than typing on a keyboard, the temporal aspect may influence the learning process.

While good teaching practice at Christchurch Boys' High School does not require students to take notes on what a teacher says, research is suggesting that we must consider the importance of students being able to write and not just type in the eLearning classes. Further research is needed about whether the effect is extends to when students write notes on screen as opposed to on paper, so too is research needed in to education specifically at secondary school level. One of the major benefits for students using their laptops at Christchurch Boys' High School is the ability to keep all of their thoughts neatly in one place, eliminating the possibility of losing notes while providing organization and clear legibility. Of the 55 students in the eLearning classes at Christchurch Boys' High School, 15 have touch screen write on capability. Not one of the 15 students have ever used their stylus to write on their screen at any time while at school. Many students cite reasons such as an inability to write accurately on the screen, or the functionality of their laptop does not allow the user to write at a comfortable angle. While further research on this fascinating topic is needed it will be interesting to see how laptop manufacturers react to this evolving area of research. Mike Reading (Microsoft Education Master Trainer and Google Certified Teacher and Trainer) predicts the next release of laptops designed for education will have a greater emphasis on full function write on screen capability and the stylus will play an increasing role for students in education. Furthermore a Director of eLearning at a local secondary school in Christchurch has recently reviewed the recommended device specifications to strongly encourage students to bring devices to school which have write on screen capability.

Nathan Walsh, Assistant Principal at Christchurch Boys' High School
Crossed posted from - 21st Century Teaching at Christchurch Boys' High School (CBHS eBlog)

Docmail in the Media: Handwriting dying a slow death (2012). Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Mangen, A., & Velay, J. (2010). Digitizing Literacy: Reflections on the Haptics of Writing. Advances in Haptics.

Mueller, Pam A., and Daniel M. Oppenheimer. "The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking." Psychological science (2014): 0956797614524581.

1 comment:

  1. This is a real interesting post, Nathan. I hadn't really thought about the enormous benefits of write-on capability but I know that ten years ago (!) I was teaching in Hong Kong where write-on screens were commonplace because of the need to write Chinese characters. I am surprised that they haven't yet taken off here in NZ. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.