Are outdated computers reverting students to a prehistoric era?

3 reasons why there’s an increased need to get rid of keyboards and move to pen-based computers for today’s students.

If today’s educators continue to encourage the use of keyboards instead of digital ink and paper, they run the risk of being a ‘pager’ teacher in a smart phone world, holding on to a past that has outlived its usefulness and limits students’ cognitive potential…at least, that’s what human history and recent research is telling us.


What Human History Tells Us About Keyboards

Communication in society has mirrored progress, but it has always involved a person holding a “pen”, even if that “pen” was just a pointed stick. The first recorded cave drawings date back about 40,000 years when humans first picked up a stick, dipped it in pigment or ash and drew something on a wall.

Move forward to the third century: The stick was replaced by a stylus and cave walls were replaced by papyrus. By Medieval Times, the stylus and papyrus had evolved into a quill and paper.

It was only 200 years ago that the typewriter was invented. Suddenly, after thousands of years, there was an alternative to holding a writing implement in the hand. It was a leap forward, and provided many advantages, and thus, its use exploded. Despite this, the layout of the keyboard was not intuitive and created some problems.

The modern day, desktop computer was developed about 150 years after the typewriter, but it was still modelled on it. At the time, there were limited input methods as the technology for more “natural” methods did not exist. Therefore, the keyboard was chosen, and it would seem that the importance of thousands of years of human cognitive development was cast aside.

We can use coins to put this history of handwriting/pen based input in perspective. If 40,000 years is represented by a line of 188 nickels, the time that the typewriter keyboard has been in existence would be represented by less than one coin.


In summation, the keyboard should be seen for what it is: a useful addition for some occasions but not a replacement for methods that are deeply bound into the human experience.

This article was originally posted by ESchool News written by Peter West on 17th November 2016:

Comments (1)

  1. Steven Grzybowski says:

    I think that you are operating under a severely misplaced assumption that handwriting technology is in anything resembling an adequate place to replace keyboards. While it is possible to use a pen based input system for some things- taking notes, drawing, etc, for any serious computer work, especially programming/development, a pen based system is woefully inadequate. For example in programming, just dealing with the different types of brackets – [{( or colons and semi-colons is not something that handwriting does well at right now. Additionally, handwriting technology tends to be much slower than typing for all but the worst typists, let alone writing on paper. In order to use handwriting recognition, it requires a fairly strict method of forming letters that are unnatural for most people, as well as the issues of things like backspaces, special characters, other things beyond typing. This includes things like keyboard shortcuts (ctrl+c, Ctrl+v) or indentation and spacing.

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