Tell Us: Should Schools Still Use Pencils and Paper?
Lia De Cicco-Remu, Microsoft Canada's director of Partners in Learning, has a tough message for teachers skeptical about using new technologies in the classroom: “Shift or get off the pot.”
"Seriously, it’s not fair to the kids,” she recently told The Georgia Straight. “It’s tough at the outset to understand and learn all these tools, but you’re doing a disservice to our students and these kids’ futures if you don’t. And that’s your job."
Her comments come just as Microsoft prepares to host a summit this weekend where it will offer teachers interactive workshops featuring Microsoft products. More than 200 teachers are expected to participate.
In the interview, Cicco-Remu was bullish that educators should allow kids to communicate in the classroom the way they do outside of school. “When was the last time you used a piece of chalk to express yourself?” she asked the outlet. “Kids don’t express themselves with chalk or in cursive. Kids text.”
Cicco-Remu also chafed at the fact that many classrooms still rely on what, in her view, are antiquated tools. Equating school to "jails – brick walls, colorless, not very engaging or exciting" she stressed that too many educators are teaching students the way they did a century ago.
"Why do you expect a kid to go to school and sit in the same seat everyday with pens and paper?" she continued. "When they come home, they’ve got all these devices and they’re gaming and they’re doing all this great stuff online, and the expectation at school is to do something radically different. Would you want to do it? I wouldn’t want to do it."
Naturally, she pointed to a suite of Microsoft educational tools, such as Office 365 and OneNote, as resources students should be using.
No one can argue the increasing role that digital media is playing in the lives of children. But, barring the fact that many teachers simply don't have the budget to purchase digital tools for the classroom, should students really be encouraged to say goodbye to pens and paper in favor of high-tech learning tools?
Multiple studies suggest that there are benefits to be gleaned from the process of writing out notes by hand, benefits that typing (or texting) can't replicate. We've known for a while now that handwriting is important when we are young – kids learn to read more quickly when they are taught to write by hand, rather than on a computer – but more recent research indicates that adults may also benefit from writing down information by hand. Because handwriting is significantly slower than typing, it forces us to sift through and consolidate information as we write, rendering it easier to remember later.
Of course, you can write by hand on devices such as a stylus, but some research suggests that we may also derive benefits from reading on paper that are lost when we transition to reading on a screen. Because our brains are hardwired to register individual letters as part of a physical landscape, the theory goes that content is easier to recall when read in book, which has a right-hand and left-hand page and provides a sense of physical movement as a reader moves from start to finish, versus the single digital stream of pages found in an eBook. Our current understanding of how the device on which we read information impacts the way we process it is limited, a potential problem for educators looking to transition students from paper to screens.
On top of this is the question of distractibility: Undoubtedly, new digital technologies such as tablets, 3-D printers and Microsoft Office 365 can have profound uses in the classroom. Barring them would be ridiculous. But just as technology can improve the learning process, it can distract from it. This is not new information, although a recent study from the London School of Economics – which found that after schools in four UK cities banned mobile phones, the test scores of 16-year-old students improved by more than 6 percent -- reemphasizes technology's ability to hamper learning rather than enhance it.
Cicco-Remu raises a valid point: most classrooms could use a technological upgrade, and many lesson plans could be enhanced by incorporating new methods of learning. But that doesn't automatically make pens and paper the enemy (it's important to remember that her job is to hype Microsoft products). In many cases, non-digital tools still serve students just fine. There's something to be said by letting kids, particularly younger ones, write out information by hand, on plain old paper without the distraction of the Internet quietly and constantly lurking in the background.
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