Monday, February 21, 2011

Do you think differently when you compose longhand versus on the screen?

There's a growing body of research that says we read text on a computer screen more superficially than hardcopy text.  Is the same true when it comes to writing?  Does writing longhand allow for more contemplative thinking than typing on a keyboard?  This column from the Chronicle of Higher Ed suggests the answer could be "yes."

Some neuroscientists suggest that the physical act of writing activates the brain differently than pushing keys on a keyboard, perhaps because of the shapes of the letters. Writing also helps bring key information to the forefront of the brain’s filters. One study that compared people composing longhand and by keyboard revealed significant differences in the timing of the revision process. They also found that participants changed their writing style when moving from one mode to the other — but not necessarily in the same ways. These studies and other recent work about how our brains adapt to the demands of the new media environment raise interesting avenues for research with future generations more familiar with keyboards from the very beginnings of their literacy.

It was relatively recently that law schools began requiring students to buy laptops, in part, to acclimate them to legal practice norms. Now the devices are so ubiquitous that it seems silly to think law schools still need to do that.  Will legal educators now instead show students "offline" reading and writing so they'll have those additional skills in their repertoire to use when the time is right?  

Be sure to check out the reader comments to the CHE story where, as if this writing, most said that writing longhand led to better thinking.


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