Digital vs. Long-Hand

I’m concerned about the amount of online work students are doing this year (and last year–thanks, COVID).  In class after class, I’m watching students open their Chromebooks and slog their way through digital assignments.  Almost all of their research, note-taking and writing is happening digitally.  I fear this shift away from long-hand notes and creative writing is actually detrimental to the development of our students.

Typing and digital work have their advantages, of course.  Students can generally type faster than they can write.  Typing is great for multi-tasking, too, especially when researching online.  We can throw in the benefits of a paperless classroom, as well.  Something is lost, however, especially when taking notes or writing creatively, when students type instead of write long-hand.  In an article in Scientific American titled “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop,” a study is mentioned where “participants were given an opportunity to study with their notes before [a] final assessment…once again those who took longhand notes outperformed laptop participants” (May).  Students who type rather than take notes long-hand tend to “short-cut” the learning process, coping or transcribing information without a lot of cognition and without using their own words to capture information.  In the world of online learning and digital class materials, the need for note-taking at all is reduced even further.  Researchers suggest that “because students can use these posted materials to access lecture content with a mere click, there is no need to organize, synthesize or summarize in their own words.  Indeed, students may take very minimal notes or not take notes at all, and may consequently forego the opportunity to engage in the mental work that supports learning” (May). How, then, should educators balance the needs of remote learners and efforts to social distance with the benefits of hand-written work?

In my ideal classroom, students would use physical notebooks for note-taking, journal entries, short writes, and reflections. A lot of initial writing work and drafting would be done long-hand. Final products would be typed and formatted. I’m all for posting class assignments, exemplars, and some texts online, but I don’t think our middle school and high school students benefit from doing all their work online. Let them physically feel the text. Let them color and underline, rethink and scratch out, erase and rewrite on the page as they discover what’s there and what they understand. Even remote students can do this and share their work through photos and scanners. As we all try to catch up after a year or more of adjusting to this new normal, let’s make sure our students have every opportunity to learn and develop as successfully as possible.

Works Cited

May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 3 June 2014,

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