A 2017 study by two academics from the University of Maryland – professor of psychology, Patricia Alexander and Ph.D. candidate in educational psychology, Lauren Singer Trakhman, found that while students believe they perform better after reading on screens, their actual performance tends to suffer.
The researchers found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length.
This begs an interesting question for schools trying to balance the provision of educational technology with traditional methods of improving students’ annotation and retention.
According to Travis Smith, Microsoft’s K-12 spokesperson and academic engagement lead, schools need to consider how certain technology is tailored to common classroom tasks.
“One of the challenges with technology adoption in schools is that we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in terms of the things that technology allows us to do and the things that certain technology doesn’t allow us to do,” Smith told The Educator.
“For example, research clearly shows that notetaking with pen on paper or stylus on screen is far more effective than taking notes using a keyboard.”
The reason for this, says Smith, is that brains are spatial and visual in nature.
“The other thing is that people are so fast at typing these days that these could almost transcribe what’s been said to them rather than process what’s being said to them,” he said.
“This can be a real challenge if you’re trying to learn something deeply. Experiments have shown that factual recall and conceptual application of information learnt is recalled, understood and transferred better if notes are taken with a stylus over a keyboard.”
Another important thing Microsoft is hearing from schools, says Smith, is that there are certain subjects that are ill-suited to keyboard use.
“These are subjects that require a symbolic language. This includes mathematics, physics chemistry, art, music and languages,” he said.
“What happens is that technology doesn’t become an integral part of the learning of those subjects even though it affords potential benefits.”
Smith said when schools are considering technology, having a device that allows students to leverage their learning in the most versatile way is critical.
“The thing we need to consider in education is that technology has never been neutral. People often say technology is just a tool, which is fine until you have the wrong tool,” he said.
“If you try to do mathematics on a keyboard, it doesn’t work as well as it does when it’s written down with a pen. This is an example of where having the right tool matters.”
Smith said the fact that children are learning so many different subjects, they require the “biggest educational toolkit they can get”.
“A device that includes the pen gives them yet another tool, and I would say that’s absolutely essential to the learning process,” he said.