Around a month ago, a corner of my Twitterverse erupted with a study that indicated that laptops in the classroom discourage learning. Titled “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard“, one could easily conclude it best to have students close their screens and pick up a pencil if you wanted more retention in your sit and get.
One key conclusion from the authors:
Although more notes are beneficial, at least to a point, ‘if the notes are taken indiscriminately or by mindlessly transcribing content, as is more likely the case on a laptop’ than when notes are taken longhand, the benefit disappears. Indeed, synthesizing and summarizing content rather than verbatim transcription can serve as a desirable difficulty toward improved educational outcomes (e.g., Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, & Vaughan, 2011; Richland, Bjork, Finley, & Linn, 2005). For that reason, laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, ‘laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.’ (p. 1166)
Cue the fun debates and collective wig outs in social science magazines and education blogs!
Also cue existential crisis for technology directors (if there is no need for technology in education, do I really exist?).
Hold On a Second
Smarter minds than mine are finding solid flaws in the conclusion. One of the best takedowns comes from Darren Kuropatwa. He quite rightly points out:
LEARNING ISN’T IN THE DEVICE
In the same way learning to ride a bike and learning to drive a car require different learning experiences using different learning tools also requires different learning experiences. Students don’t automatically know how to take notes; it’s a learned skill, one we have to teach.
Not to mention the questions we should ask about how much of an impact does note taking (pen, keyboard, or otherwise) actually have on learning.
I think we too often forget that technology is a tool, not the actual learning. Tools help cognitive growth, but they are not the growth.