A few weeks ago, my entire AP World History class was doing a mock long-essay question, or LEQ, that was meant to prepare students – those taking AP exams – for what to expect when writing of the trial required in the AP Global Trial. A few weeks later, I was in my AP Language and Composition class, writing an analytical essay that was also to prepare me for the essay I would have to write on the AP Lang exam. The difference between these two preparation exams is that one was done by hand and the other by computer.
Even before schools were closed by COVID-19, online learning was on the rise, with several institutions offering optional online classes to students who were unable to attend in person. Things like language apps, video conferencing, and virtual tutorials were used. Even the notorious SATs and ACTs — which have always been done by hand — are moving to the virtual world, with college administrations announcing online SATs as early as 2023 for international students and 2024 in the United States.
In the eyes of schools, virtual learning broadens the horizons of education away from the classic days of paper and pencil. But does that mean virtual learning is better than manual learning?
But does that mean virtual learning is better than manual learning? »
Well, in the eyes of demographics, not really. Accessing virtual learning can be difficult for low-income families, as online students need a computer and a constant Wi-Fi connection. At least 25% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have access to the conditions required to pursue an online education. Writing materials, on the other hand, are easily accessible and affordable for underprivileged students and provide a method of transcription independent of connection or battery.
Accessibility also provides a key question in whether schools should go digital or stay paper-based. Writing requires students to come in person to transcribe lessons to paper or students to receive packets relaying information. Digital, however, allows students to learn anywhere in the world as long as they can get a connection.
But, the main argument of IT versus manual learning that schools face is whether or not students are learning material online as well as they would have in school.
Studies have found that students who attend in-person learning can remember 50-60% of what they learned when writing down material on paper. According to Science News for Students, this is because drawing letters and taking notes by hand triggers more cognitive thoughts in the brain, as it has to think about the sound of the words and observe the shape of the letters.
Digital writing requires less cognitive thinking about the notes since the letters are already printed in the computer’s database. All students need to do is press the corresponding letters on the keyboard and, voila, you have your notes. Even apps like Grammarly make it easy to take notes because the writer doesn’t have to think about the spelling of words because they will be corrected.
However, writing in class takes more time for the students since they have to process on paper the information given to them by the teacher. Digital, on the other hand, allows students to print words faster than it would normally take to write them; so even though it is more difficult to retain information, there are still more notes for students to take.
Due to the enormous flaws and profits that digital or handwriting can bring – as seen above – many teachers and schools find it difficult to decide whether or not to fully commit to the either ; it really is a writing conundrum.
The best option schools have, at this time, is to mix the two methods to provide students with the most comprehensive and inclusive learning possible. When it comes to the effectiveness of digital or physical writing, the only one who can really answer which is more beneficial is the one who uses both: the student.