I (Cathy) read recently that Massachusetts is one of several states that wants to keep penmanship lessons in the curriculum. I have heard pros and cons regarding this argument in Canada, but a recent blog post by Dr. Ainissa Ramirez on Edugains gave me pause to reconsider the practice of longhand writing in class. Dr. Ramirez boldly suggests students not use computers and return to using longhand for note taking. Please don’t misunderstand, Dr. Ramirez is not opposed to technology. She, in fact, is quite a proponent having been an engineering professor at Yale University for ten years. She also received her Ph.D. from Stanford University in materials science and engineering and holds several patents, one of which was awarded MIT’s Top 100 Young Innovators award.
Dr. Ramirez states:
When students take notes with their laptops, they tend to mindlessly transcribe the data word for word, like speech-to-text software. But taking notes verbatim is not the point. What is lacking in their note-taking-by-laptop is the synthesis, the re-framing, and the understanding of the information. Students that transcribe with laptops have shallow connections to what’s being presented to them. However, those who are taking notes by hand are processing the information and representing it in a way that makes sense to them. They are learning.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that longhand writing is so 19th century. But we need to answer a question: do we want students to have a deep or shallow connection to the information we’re giving them? While we live in a world of short sound bytes where news is thrown at us unprocessed, this should not be the mode for schools. In the 21st century, the ability to connect knowledge in new ways is more important than the knowledge itself. So students with deeper connections to information can link it in new ways — they can create.
On further investigation I discovered that Ramirez’s position is supported by a study published in Psychological Science by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles. Their study sought to test how note-taking by hand versus by computer affected learning. Mueller states:
When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can. The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can’t write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.
This position is well worth sharing with students; however, I think it will be very challenging to convince students of the information age to forgo their computers and take up longhand writing. I’m willing to at least put forth the argument and it will also be a nice point of discussion for student teachers!