Thursday, September 6, 2012

Handwriting on the Wall

We recently received an email message implying that one of the goals of Higher Education was to eliminate paper forms of communication. By utilizing all the different forms of technology-based communication programs at our disposal we could actually run our college courses without our students ever having to handwrite a single thing. They could complete their papers using Word and submit them for assessment through eCollege. We would then comment on the paper and return it complete with a grade which would also be entered into the Gradebook feature in the same program.

Since I am a blogger I am clearly an advocate for technology in all it's various forms but something worries me, a lot, about wanting to achieve a paperless culture. Yes, we'll save lots of trees just as Kindle and other book forms are doing, and we would save hours and hours of painful handwriting practice sessions for young children in schools. But is this really what we want?

If our cultural goal is a paperless society then the art of handwriting will no longer be valued and if it's not valued it will not be taught. We will then have to make sure that we always have a keyboard of some sort with us complete with a form of printing off notes, letters, shopping lists and anything else that we might incidentally need to communicate. Perhaps all those hours, days, weeks  and months spent learning how to do joined-up writing, as we used to call it in England, could be spent teaching keyboarding skills instead. But is this what we really want?

Several years ago I read an interesting research paper in which parents were asked whether their children's teachers should spend writing instruction time teaching keyboarding skills or handwriting skills. The results of the research were overwhelmingly (80%) in favor of teaching handwriting skills.

There are many ways in which handwriting can be integrated with technology. The IPAD2 a well as the SMARTboard and many other forms of technology accommodate handwriting and some can even convert it into print. If one of our goals is to create a paperless culture then we must make sure that we don't also create a keyboarding only culture and bring about the demise of handwriting skills.


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