Is the Pen Mightier than the Laptop? The Research Might Surprise You.

Is the Pen Mightier than the Laptop? The Research Might Surprise You.

- in Grumpy Daily Headlines
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Maybe all that nifty technology in the classroom isn’t so nifty and may actually impede learning.  From The Washington Post and a professor who has banned laptops from his classroom:

Since most students can type very quickly, laptops encourage them to copy down nearly everything said in the classroom. But when students stare at the screen of their laptops, something is lost. The students shift from being intellectuals, listening to one another, to being customer-service representatives, taking down orders. Class is supposed to be a conversation, not an exercise in dictation.

This is not just vague worrying on my part. There’s now good research on the topic. Take, for instance, a recent study by two psychologists, Pam Mueller at Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer at UCLA. Mueller and Oppenheimer asked 67 undergraduates to watch videos of lectures. Half the students were randomly assigned to watch the lectures while taking notes on a laptop, while the other students were asked to watch the lectures while taking notes with paper and pen. Afterward, the students were all given an exam. The students who took notes longhand scored much higher on conceptual questions than did the students who used a laptop.

Clay Shirky, a professor at New York Univeristy, recently asked his students to stop using laptops in class. Another recent study convinced him to do so. The title: “Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers.” A research team in Canada found that laptops in the classroom distracted not only the students who used them, but also students who sat nearby. Meaning, not only do the laptop-using students end up staring at Facebook, but the students behind them do, as well.

Both of those research studies suggest that, in the classroom, laptops actually hinder learning. And you don’t need a randomized-controlled study to know that.  It’s just hard to focus in front of a laptop. (I checked Twitter twice before finishing that sentence.) Everyone struggles to focus when the Internet is only a click away. So why bring that distraction into the classroom?

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Here is the link to the Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer abstract showing students not using laptops for note taking performed better on exams.  From The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard:

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Taxpayers in districts shelling out millions of dollars for electronic devices to ‘improve learning’ might just want to research this subject a bit more and have a discussion with their school board members if this was a wise use of public dollars.  A one-time cost of $35.00 to access the article might be a better use of district dollars vs the millions spent for iPads and other personal computing devices.  An irrefutable fact of technology vs handwriting debate is that pen and paper is certainly more affordable than the extensive computer infrastructure and devices needed for CCSSI and MSIP5 mandates.

Who knows, maybe cursive writing will once again be a required subject when actual research shows that the move to technology was not based on data to improve student learning but rather to set up that common customer base Bill Gates envisions with the CCSSI in place:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. Imagine having the people who create electrifying video games applying their intelligence to online tools that pull kids in and make algebra fun.

Did your district (as mine did) fall for the ‘we need to do it for the kids’ talking point that may not really be the ticket for increased student and teacher achievement?

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You can read the entire Gates interview here.  Can you spot the r-e-s-e-a-r-c-h that proves technology is the panacea for higher academic learning and more effective teaching?  The ‘powerful market forces’ that will enable ‘better teaching’ seems to be the goal of the education reformers.  Is that the primary reason for common standards?  It creates a common product for those market forces.  The effect on the students and teachers may be a secondary concern, if it is a concern at all for the education reformers.

More reading on the distraction of electronic devices can be found here.  A lively discussion (primarily from parents) on the pros/cons of handheld/electronic devices for children can be found here.

(Handwritten image from missheymansteachingtools)

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