Pen? Keyboard? Voice? Touch? Computer Interfaces and their Impact on Learning


Guest post by Dr. Sharon Oviatt. Professor Sharon Oviatt draws on her extensive research, and that of other global experts, to examine the role keyboards and digital pens play in the process of thinking and learning.

Schools typically are investing in technology to help students learn without first evaluating how different computer interfaces actually influence their learning. New research now provides insights into the types of computer interface that enhance thinking and learning, versus ones that undermine it.

In the publication, Computer Interfaces and their Impact on Learning I summarize research showing that the computer input tool that students use on a computer (such as a keyboard or a pen) has a major impact on their ability to think and learn. Although a keyboard might seem like the best tool for learning because it reduces student effort, studies have found that typing can actually undermine the learning that occurs when more effort is expended. In comparison, using pen input can increase a student's ability to produce appropriate ideas, solve problems correctly, learn during note-taking and knowledge creation, and make accurate inferences about information. Studies have shown that students can perform 9-38% better when using pen input on a computer, compared with keyboard input. These improvements in performance have been obtained during educational activities ranging across mathematics, science, language arts, and everyday reasoning.

Computer Interfaces and their Impact on Learning describes more details about these studies and explains how and why pen input tools facilitate cognition and learning in students. For example, digital pen interfaces are more expressively powerful than keyboard interfaces, especially for creating nonlinguistic content like diagrams, symbols and digits. The publication also discusses how to select an input tool to best support different types of educational activity.

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Using digital pens, students produce 56% more diagrams, symbols, and numbers

For those who are interested, there is very recent research in cognitive neuroscience describing why writing is more effective than typing for facilitating learning. This research has shown that writing letters is more effective than typing them for accurately recognizing letters later, which facilitates reading comprehension. Compared with typing letters, writing also causes more intense and widespread brain activation. The act of repeatedly writing letter shapes creates a long-term motor memory that is part of an integrated sensori-motor "reading neural circuit." Studies have shown that writing with a pen can facilitate learning in both children and adults, and for native communicators of different languages involving alphabets or logograms (e.g., English, French, Mandarin).

In April, I will discuss these findings about different computer input tools with Microsoft Innovative Educators. I invite you to download Computer Interfaces and their Impact on Learning to read more.

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