Technology vs Pen and Paper

pen paper

A teacher recently expressed to us the keyboard versus longhand dilemma: what do students gain by using computing devices instead of writing by hand? And what do they lose? Technology vs pen and paper is a common quandary.

Many school districts are not teaching cursive writing or even printing. In this digital age, most careers make use of computing devices almost exclusively. It is a tough sell to argue against the fantastic convenience of technology. Efficiency, multitasking, assistive devices, and so many more – the benefits of our computers, tablets, and phones are countless. So why are teachers concerned over the trend to virtually abolish pen and paper?

Technology vs Pen and Paper Problems

Using computers in education can have shortcomings. Here are a few.

  • Plagiarism – When students research facts, they often copy and paste. Teachers cannot assess whether students understand the topic or are just skillful copiers.
  • Depth of Understanding – Brain research tells us that learning only occurs by the creation of connections. The simplicity of recreating information found online does not necessarily mean that students have made those vital links.
  • Level of Engagement and Distraction – Processing information and reframing it using longhand requires that the writer be fully immersed in the task. As a result, there is deep comprehension. Students often work on a device while performing other tasks, viewing multiple windows, and dividing their attention.

Technology Solutions

Using computers CAN require students to be fully immersed and thereby gain a deep level of understanding. It just requires thoughtfully designed activities. Here are some ideas.

  • Inquiry Based Projects – Education is about learning, not filling heads with content. When a ‘big question’ is posed and answers are sought, students must use higher level thinking skills. For instance, in TechnoEarth, students examine an issue from multiple stakeholder perspectives. Then they assess possible solutions.
  • Critical Thinking – Inspire students to analyze and evaluate data. In TechnoDebate, they take a stand on a controversial issue and prepare a persuasive viewpoint.
  • Problem Solving Tasks – When students face a real-world challenge and need to develop strategies to solve them, they build skills in analysis, evaluation, and creativity. These are at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives. In TechnoCandy, candy sales are down. Students research the data and design an original solution.
  • Self Directed Learning – Engage students by letting them select a topic of interest. In TechnoBlog, young writers choose an area of personal expertise. They write a series of articles and opinions in their own voice.


Hella Comat, Curriculum Writer - Hella Comat is a dedicated professional, who has taught in the education system for more than 30 years. As a pioneer of technology integration in Ontario public schools she was one of the first teachers to introduce the internet, video conferencing, web design, and multimedia learning activities to teachers and students in the Halton Board. To inspire teachers to use technology, she has led sessions for the Touch Technology program, ran workshops at education conferences, and sat on numerous advisory committees related to technology-issues. In recent years she taught the Computer in the Classroom course, at York University. Her lifelong commitment to teaching and learning was acknowledged when she was honored as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics. Hella's contribution to the blog includes entries about the importance of technology integration. Drawing from her in-depth knowledge of technology in the classroom Hella writes about teaching strategies and useful resources that can benefit your practice. In addition, she provides innovative lesson ideas that you can implement into your own curriculum.

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