Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Back to pen, paper and the personal? -- Aug. 28, 2014 column


One of my favorite news stories lately concerns the Cleveland Browns’ radical experiment: They’re writing stuff down. By hand.

The football players got tablet computers – like everyone else in the NFL this year – but the team’s new coach also gave each player his own pad of paper.  Coach Mike Pettine wants his players to learn plays by taking longhand notes.

Pettine is drawing on his experience as a former high school coach and his dad’s as a high school teacher and coach to help players remember their moves, The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Clark reported Aug. 12 in a lengthy story about the revolutionary strategy.

“I would talk to teachers all the time, and they would say, `To write is to learn,’” Pettine told Clark. “When you write stuff down, you have a much higher chance of it getting imprinted on your brain.”

Pettine deserves points for bucking the digital tide, however his team fares on the field.
The Browns’ experiment reminds us that, all too often, once we’ve raced to the latest new thing – be it device or diet – it turns out to be not nearly as cool and shiny as it first seemed.

Schools have rushed to put tablets – the electronic variety – and laptops in students’ hands, and rightly so. It’s important that all students learn the technology that dominates our lives. At the same time, though, research increasingly suggests that the old reliable skills of writing by hand and reading traditional books may be better for learning and comprehension.
Students who took lecture notes longhand learned more concepts than those who took notes on a keyboard, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of University of California, Los Angeles reported in April in the journal “Psychological Science.”

Why the difference? Students who took notes on laptops tended to transcribe lectures verbatim while those who took notes by hand summarized and reframed the material in their own words. The second approach was more effective for learning.
“Laptop use can negatively affect performance on educational assessments, even – or perhaps especially – when the computer is used for its intended function of easier note taking,” Mueller and Oppenheimer wrote in “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.”

The researchers concluded that “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.”

Students love e-reading, and enthusiasm goes a long way to spur learning. But several studies here and in Europe suggest that people who use e-readers comprehend less than readers of traditional books. 

A new study in Norway found that Kindle readers could not reconstruct the plot of a mystery story by Elizabeth George as well as those who read the short story in a paperback. Researcher Anne Mangen of Stavanger University said that seeing pages that have been read pile up on the left may help a reader’s sense of a story unfolding, reported The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Researchers at West Chester University in Pennsylvania found that students comprehend at “a much higher level” when they read a traditional book than when they read the same material on an iPad. Heather Schugar and Jordan Schugar also warned that interactive e-books may be gimmicky and distracting to students, who “often skipped over text, where the meat of the information was.”

Educators aren’t the only ones who need to be wary of digital gimmicks and distractions.

“I spend so much time on my iPad, I forget how much I like talking to people,” I overheard a young woman say as she and a friend took a morning walk. It sounded like the caption on a New Yorker cartoon, but she was not joking.  

September gives us a new start, a time to reassess our “e-lationships.” If we choose, we can set aside our devices from time to time to handwrite notes or letters, curl up with books with paper pages, and talk with friends in person. How revolutionary -- and modern!

©2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.



  1. Your column was very timely. The night before it was published in our Sunday paper we were having a discussion with a college student who was visiting us. Lee was saying that he remembers the notes he takes in class better because of writing them on paper! Once I fully read your article, I cut it out to send to him. It is always nice to have your efforts validated. I am also bookmarking this post to show my 10th grade daughter. I am wondering if it make a good idea for a science research project for her this winter.....

    1. Thank you for writing, Amy Mapes. What a great story!

  2. So deep, getting a can't write my research paper righteous front the arm in deadline has worked onto me. I would love to explore an seasoned correspondent who, exact accompanying a succinct deadline, is apt to free shrill savor process that devise lift my mark. Do you permit some referrals?