writing technology

Re-formatting writing for the digital classroom


The value of handwriting tech in today’s digital classroom.

digital-handwriting-collegeThe nation recently celebrated National Handwriting Day, and for a brief moment, the world celebrated the age-old art of penmanship. But with keyboards and touchpads reigning supreme, should institutions of higher learning continue to emphasize handwriting?

Of course! The evidence doesn’t lie. Handwriting remains a critical communication skill. A 2013 study found that students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more. Participants using laptops were more inclined to take verbatim notes than participants who wrote longhand, thus hurting their ability to reframe lessons on their own. Specifically, participants who had taken notes with laptops performed worse on factual and conceptual tests, relative to participants who had taken notes longhand.

At Arizona State University, educators now encourage students to handwrite their notes. Both faculty and students cite positive results of this initiative, highlighting better exam performance and note-taking abilities. Additionally, deemphasizing handwriting’s importance puts our younger generations at an educational disadvantage. While good handwriting can elevate a mediocre test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, bad penmanship can drop it to 16th.

(Next page: Not a technology issue)

Not a technology issue

Technology often gets blamed for handwriting’s shrinking role in the classroom, largely due to the availability of digital devices in everyday life. However, technology is not solely to blame. The widely adopted Common Core Standards, which only require students to learn handwriting in kindergarten and first grade, have also led to handwriting’s demise. Fortunately, advancements in software have now caught up to the education technology revolution to make handwriting an effective and viable mainstay in the classroom again.

Students don’t need to close their laptop or shut down their iPad to experience the benefits of handwriting. There are currently a slew of educational apps available to students and teachers that incorporate digital handwriting. Using MyScript handwriting recognition technology, note-taking apps solve the students’ woes, allowing users to store and index data so that they can easily search for keywords alongside the equations they have included in their notes.

All students benefit from digital note taking, but for those engineering, math and science students, this capability seemed nearly impossible until the apps incorporated MyScript’s handwriting recognition technology.

MyScript Smart Note is an app students can use to write, draw, annotate, and insert pictures into notes. Words and sentences can be quickly moved, split, joined, and erased by simple gestures. Students can even write and edit math equations on a note page. Searching for a word or sentences across pages of notes or even notebooks is simple, providing students with the easy organization of digital documents.

Why hasn’t digital handwriting caught on?

Given the cognitive benefits, why haven’t digital handwriting and other educational technology solutions gone mainstream? The cause lays in the small budgets and slow procurement processes the education space is notorious for. These barriers, coupled with the lack of solutions that go beyond text to include math and shape recognition, create little incentive for tech companies to produce educational solutions.

But the tide is turning. Venture capital is now pouring money into education technology. Soaring to nearly $1.87 billion in 2014, financing for education technology was up 55 percent from the year prior. Companies even plan to increase adoption by using this capital influx to expand on their direct marketing to teachers.

This is not to say schools should entirely abandon pen and paper. Legible penmanship with a pen or pencil is an important skill, as is proficiency with the traditional keyboard. But today’s teachers and students are tech-savvy and welcome a digital experience.

A 2013 PBS survey found that 35 percent of teachers polled had a tablet or e-reader in their classroom, while 59 percent had access to an interactive whiteboard. The same study found 74 percent of teachers surveyed said technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content. Seventy three percent reported that tech allows them to respond to a variety of learning styles.

In response to this educator feedback, app developers are hard at work identifying new ways technology can improve the education experience. Once at odds, education and technology now work in tandem to complement one another, benefiting both teachers and students.

Nathalie Delbecque is product manager for MyScript