Should your students be using stylus pens?

Should your students be using stylus pens?

Research shows that when it comes to students retaining what they learn, the act of physically annotating during lessons can make a significant difference.

This point was recently highlighted in Microsoft’s new book, titled: ‘Transforming Learning’, which was released last week.

Microsoft Australia teacher engagement manager, Travis Smith, said this is a call to action for schools who are seeking to leverage technology in order to produce better student outcomes.

“Every device used for learning should include a stylus pen. The reason is that learning is very different to what we use a computer for as adult learners,” Smith told The Educator.

“For example, maths is much better learnt if you can write the symbolic language of mathematics. Unfortunately, this process is a massive pain at best on a keyboard, so kids end up having to write symbols.”

Smith said the reason students write those symbols – even though computers or spreadsheets can do it – is because there is a connection between physically writing the symbolic notation of mathematics and the cognitive ideas that are formed in a person’s brain.

“This has been shown by research. Kids have to be writing this symbolic language to understand it,” Smith said.

“The difference is, in a traditional school where they might have keyboard-only devices, they don’t do that on screen technology, because they can’t.”

Therefore, says Smith, these students are not leveraging all of the electronic resources that might help them thrive in mathematics in the same place as they’re writing their mathematics notation.

“In a world where a student uses a surface with a stylus pen, they might be using OneNote as a notebook, which a teacher can use for their entire class,” Smith said.

“This way, all of the teacher’s 25 students work out of that notebook in their own private section, but only the teacher can see it.”

Smith said the benefit of this in terms of mathematics is that within that digital piece of paper where the students write their annotations, they can also embed videos.

“For example, an embedded Khan Academy video might teach them a concept on the paper while they take handwritten notes about what’s happening in that video. That’s a different paradigm,” he said.

Smith referred to a study where students were given two pieces of paper with scientific data and a problem to solve. Half of the students were allowed to write on the paper while they problem-solved. The other half had to put their pens down.

For those who could annotate during the problem-solving process, the performance difference was 24.5% better.

“Research shows there is a huge performance increase when students can write on something as opposed to when they can’t, if it’s a problem-solving task,” Smith said.

“If you’re teaching in a classroom where you don’t have a stylus pen and a computer, how are you doing that?”


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