Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Keyboarding or handwriting?

CNet's Candace Lombardi has an interesting article on the teaching of handwriting skills in the computer age. In the fall of 2007, Virginia Tech will issue tablet pc's to students and require students to use them in classes. At Memphis State, however, Professor June Entman banned her law students from bringing laptops to class. The speed of the keyboard enables students to transcribe her lecture. Taking notes by hand, she contends, requires independent, active thought, interpretation and analysis.

Is she right? One's answer to that question may be determined by his or her age.

In my generation, handwriting and keyboarding skills were taught at different stages of the educational process. In fact, it was primarily women who learned to type, in training for future secretarial roles. My junior year of high school, I was the sole boy in the second-period typing class, in a room with 23 teenage girls. Those were some of my happiest adolescent days.

For those of us who developed these skills separately, I think, typing is a distinctly different experience from writing by hand. I still compose poetry and fiction with a pen and a notebook, waiting to commit anything to the computer until it's pretty much in a final form. This isn't a Luddite resistance to technology, only an acknowledgement that my thought process is different when I'm on the keyboard. My words seem to arrive through a different route, the style is altered, and I'm paradoxically less inclined to edit and revise on the screen than I am on a sheet of paper.

Most of Professor Entman's students are unhappy over the ban. As a teacher, I fully support her right to dictate the rules governing her classroom. But I wonder about her assumption that younger students may be processing information differently if they bring laptops to her lecture. For them, the experience of typing may be the same as that of writing by hand.

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