I love new technologies and I love gadgets. After all, I’m posting this on a blog of my creation on a website also of my creation. So, I’m not against technology. I’m against the adoption of technology for the sake of technology itself which I have seen up close and personally in schools for the past several years. The mantra in education for years now has been, “Technology, technology, technology.”, with no insight, planning or purpose.
Writing has been around for about 10,000 years and books as we now know them have been around for 564 years. These are very resilient technologies in that they have proven very beneficial to the improvement and advancement of mankind, with very little significant alteration to the original technology. In contrast, the modern computer has been around for about 70 years, depending on what form of computer you consider to be the first. Smartphones are in their infancy in this lineup having first made their appearance 27 years ago.
David Smithrud and Allan Pinhas, from the University of Cincinnati, published a study, Pencil-Paper Learning Should Be Combined with Online Homework Software, which looked into the very relationship between how students perform when doing homework online, using pencil and paper versus not using pencil and paper, to augment their online work. Smithrud and Pinhas used students in an organic chemistry class as test subjects and found a statistically significant improvement in examination scores for students who supplement their online endeavors with pencil and paper.
Smithrud and Pinhas are not alone. For years cognition experts have been waving the red flag that sole reliance on technology in education would precede a decline in student outcomes. Pencil and paper and the reading of the printed word, on paper, provide a valuable tactile and sensory experience which leads to learning. The reason writing down vocabulary word on index cards, and then calling them out is so effective is because of the triple reinforcement of writing (with a pen), speaking and hearing. I printed Smith and Pinhas’ paper up today in order to read it and then write this posting, which of course I am doing on a word processor.
All of this technology we are adopting may make our schools look impressive, but I am afraid that is where it will end if we give up on pencil and paper. We will have followed the Pied Piper right over the cliff’s edge. As for this website, I expect students to have pencil and paper when viewing my videos. The technology allows me to reach a much wider audience and, with luck, make an impact.