Publish at May 04 2022 Updated May 09 2022

The cohabitation of handwritten and digital notes

Why choose one and exclude the other?

Papyrus, parchment, slate, notebook; writing media have continued to evolve as technologies have changed. A new one pushes the others without, however, making them entirely obsolete. Let's think about our digital age. Today, note-taking in classes could quite possibly be done entirely with digital. Note apps are numerous for both computers and mobile devices. Some even manage to share writing across a user's different machines, giving him or her full access.

What if fully digital note-taking is good for the student? Some doubt it given the semi-automatic nature of the writing that often reverts to the verbatim of the teacher's words. For their part, its proponents rely on scientific studies to support their arguments.

Writing by hand better for memorization

In 2014, a group of scientists experimented with three groups of children who were asked to take down what a teacher said. If those on the computer had taken in more information than their written peers (paper and pen on a tablet), the latter remembered the content better than those who mechanically typed on the keyboard. Because writing forces the brain to analyze the written letters and words more and thus retain them better.

In 2022, a similar study was published by Japanese researchers. They asked 48 people to learn appointments by writing them down either on a paper notebook or an electronic device. They then asked them questions about them by studying the brain with magnetic resonance imaging. In all candidates, the recall process was activated but brain activity was much higher in those who recorded the information on paper. Their responses were also faster and more accurate than the others.

This makes some people say that we should definitely not get rid of the physical medium for note-taking. In any case, when students are interviewed, it doesn't seem that handwritten notes have disappeared. 90% of the 700 young adults surveyed attending the University of Poitiers said they use paper and pen; 60% added computers to that. Which makes sense because while writing down by hand is good for memorization, this practice also has its flaws.

Already, this method is cumbersome since it requires the use of notebooks, hundreds of pages, etc. Which leads to the second problem: difficult to navigate. It is impossible to do a simple search to find a term, unlike in digital format. You have to make sure the notes are organized and turn the pages until you find the information you are looking for. This can be done in a few seconds with software. What if the solution was the coexistence of methods?

Digitizing the written word

In fact, there's nothing stopping students from taking their notes after each day and digitizing them into an app that they can view on their devices. Handwriting recognition technology has improved greatly in recent years.The company MyScript has developed an artificial intelligence that can recognize more than 70 languages as well as numbers and even drawings. This algorithm is behind some software such as Nebo or MyScript Calculator in addition to having helped various companies with the digitization of handwritten documents.

Today, apps like Microsoft Lens, Cam Scanner or Pen to Print are able to scan text at little to no cost. Even giant Evernote is getting there. Good news especially in cases where the learner has difficulty taking notes via computer. A situation that has occurred more often with covid-19 pandemic. He can transpose what he has written down into software he knows without problems. One company is developing a tablet on which the user can write by hand and his writings are automatically digitized. A digital object that partially replicates the feel of paper without the clutter.

This handwriting recognition technology goes beyond simple academic uses. People who have lost voice communication temporarily or over time will often use writing to make themselves understood on a small board, for example. However, this method is not ideal when communication is required from a distance. Now, software is not only able to digitize handwriting but also to read it through a synthesized voice.

Illustration : J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash


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