Writing vs. Typing: Is The Pen Better Than the Keyboard?

A recent study published in Psychological Science confronts the issue head-on. Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer asked students to take notes on a 20-minute video lecture using either longhand or a computer that had been disabled for any other use. They wanted to remove the distractions that have given note-taking on computers lower marks for memory and comprehension.
“Even if you are using computers exactly as they’re supposed to be used, might that still be hurting learning?” is the question Mueller sought out to answer.

The two researchers set up three studies to test various conditions. In the first study, one group of undergraduate college students were told to watch a 20-minute TED Talk on a subject they weren’t likely to know much about and take notes by hand. The other group took notes on the computer.

“Students who took notes on laptops tended to transcribe the content verbatim,” Mueller said. Those students took many more notes, but seemed to process what they heard much less. In a test taken a few minutes after completing the lecture, students who had taken notes using longhand performed much better. The difference was particularly striking on conceptual questions, where students had to take two pieces of information they’d heard in the lecture and synthesize them into a conclusion.

The typing versus handwriting debate recalls a related, heated discussion over whether students should continue to learn handwriting. While the research is not conclusive, several researchers contend that writing by hand stimulates special neural circuits, leading to stronger reading ability, new idea generation and retention of information.

Mueller thinks there’s still hope for digital note-taking, but says students must be taught how to slow down and process information as they take it in. She thinks there could be promise in stylus technology, which would slow the pace at which a person can take notes, but would still allow for digital storage.

Some educators are taking long form notes to new levels, embracing the idea of sketchnotes, in which the ideas presented in a lecture are captured as a combination of words and images.

“I sat through two 45-minute lectures in high school social studies and not only was I super focused because I was doodling, I could also basically give the lecture afterwards,” said Shelley Paul, who at the time was director of learning design at Woodward Academy. “And if I look at the doodle again today for three to four minutes, I can basically remember it all again.”

Paul admits it can be hard to keep up with a fast paced lecture, but even the things she decides not to depict end up getting connected to the images she does draw. She’s been implementing the practice with students who love the freedom to doodle in class and who are making great connections between information in the process.

While unconventional, drawing as note-taking makes sense based on memory research, which shows that if multiple ideas can be condensed into an image, the brain stores all those related ideas as one. The image acts as a zip file for multiple ideas, helping to fit more into the limited short term memory.

Original Source – Mind/Shift

What Can Programmers and Writers Learn From One Another?

Proponents of stronger computer science and programming courses in schools generally focus on the usefulness of those skills in today’s world. Some argue that computer programming should be offered instead of a foreign language requirement, while others say it’s crucial to engineering and robotics. Rarely is coding considered a complement to the English curriculum. But what if learning to code could also make students better writers?

There are more similarities between coding and prose than meet the eye. “The interesting thing about writing code is you don’t really write code for the machine,” said Vikram Chandra, a professor of creative writing at UC Berkeley and author of “Geek Sublime,” on KQED’s Forum. “That’s almost an incidental byproduct. Who you really write code for is all the programmers in the future who will try to fix it, extend it and debug it.

A famous programmer, Donald Knuth, championed the idea of “literate programming,” the idea that code should be written for humans, not just machines. Knuth compared the programmer with an essayist, Chandra said, paraphrasing his argument. “Somebody who sits down with a thesaurus and tries to construct a script that is best for human understanding, not for computer understanding.”

And code, like powerful literature, can have a long shelf life. If it is well written, it can be built upon many times over. And poorly written code could still be the cornerstone of an important software program that no one understands. To Chandra, truly elegant code solves a problem simply and within the aesthetics of functionality. And therein lies the difference between code and an art form like writing.

“Making something beautiful is not the same thing as being an artist,” Chandra said. “There is a substantial difference in what you are trying to do with the beauty.”

The difference lies in the intention behind each form of writing. Fiction tries to evoke emotion or illuminate a human truth, whereas good code strives to be as denotative as possible. If a line of code leaves something up to interpretation it is not doing its job. “Code has to be designed for change in the future,” Chandra said. Coding, unlike most fiction writing, is essentially collaborative in nature. If computer scientists can’t follow the effects of the code through the machine, it becomes incomprehensible — a “big ball of mud,” in programmer lingo.

Chandra is clear that while code can be elegantly written and even beautiful in form, it does not reach the level of art. “I think you become an artist by making an object that rewards contemplation outside of functionality,” Chandra said. A poem is powerful both in what it says and what is left out; it requires the participation of the reader. “If you introduce ambiguity into code, you’re setting up a potential disaster,” Chandra said.

Still, as both a writer and an amateur computer programmer, Chandra sees parallels that might help blossoming writers and coders learn from one another. “When I’m writing a novel and when I’m writing code, I can see certain analogies,” he said. “For example, the composition of complexity by building simple objects and putting them together.”

In a work of fiction, the narrative and thematic structures are built upon paragraphs, composed of sentences, made of words. Code isn’t so different, except it has to be easier to break apart. “Each little piece of code that you write has one function that you can then test,” Chandra said. “And then you compose all these small bits of functionality to make greater functionality. It’s like putting together a mosaic or a jigsaw puzzle, but the jigsaw puzzle has to come apart very easily and then allow the replacement of some of the parts with newer parts.”


The digital world has come a long way in the last 40 years, but in many ways it still imitates analog equivalents, especially when it comes to education materials. E-books exist, but they are just that — electronic books — a digital form of a concept that has been around for centuries. The first books printed after the advent of the printing press looked a lot like manuscripts until people began to experiment more liberally with the new form.

Similarly, Chandra believes humans are still at the beginning of the code revolution. Programmers and users are still imitating what came before, and haven’t even imagined all that could be in the future. “There are certain possibilities in making narrative within e-books, but I still don’t have the tools to do it yet. It’s too difficult,” Chandra said as one example. In another, perhaps one day lines of code will literally take a three-dimensional form, becoming sculpture.

One thing Chandra is sure of is that code is a type of language, based on the same logic as Sanskrit, and for the first time in history language can change the physical world. That’s something literature has been trying to do for a long time. Think about it like this, Chandra said: “When I give you a piece of text to read, I’m handing you a script that you will run inside your own brain, that you will perform inside your own brain, and that will transform you.”

That might be just as good as transforming the physical world.

Why You Should Keep Writing By Hand

 Why Should You Keep Writing By Hand?
Why is writing so important? How did it change the world forever?

 Related topics on TestTube:

Does Being Bilingual Make You Smarter?
What’s The Most Common Language in the World?

Language is a hallmark of human achievement. Archaeologists estimate that early proto-languages were used by Homo erectus and Homo habilis over a million years ago! The first traces of the true verbal language developed between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago. Writing evolved alongside language: a new study from a Canadian researcher believes this proto-written language may be 40,000 years old. The study examined the symbols in cave paintings across Southern Europe and found repeating symbols among them, indicating there was likely some kind of writing system in use and being shared among early humans. The study even points out that there were even early forms of memes, with proof of some symbols rising and falling in popularity. The ancient Sumerian language of Cuneiform is widely believed to be the first true form of writing, having first showing up around 3000 BCE.

But language does more than facilitate expression, storytelling and coordination: Learning to write makes your brain master the fine motor movements needed to write letters and words. Reading and comprehending are also hygelimportant for brain development.

Time Travel on Facebook

The Green Study


I’ve written before about my aversion to some social media. Besides the conspicuous consumption of time, Facebook is how I found out that my best friend from 5th grade had lost the use of both her legs and arms in a car accident. Which led me to a search where I found out that another classmate and her brother were both dead in their early 40s. It was jarring and traumatic. These faces, frozen in my mind’s eye, were young and healthy and living happy lives in some far off world. Anything beyond that failed to reach my imagination.

When I was in my teens, we moved to a house, town and school far away from where I’d grown up. It was, in reality, only about 40 miles away, but rural miles. No public transportation or extra family car or cell phone plans to keep in touch with old…

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In Defense of Academic Writing

judgmental observer

Academic writing has taken quite a bashing since, well, forever, and that’s not entirely undeserved. Academic writing can be pedantic, jargon-y, solipsistic and self-important. There are endless think pieces, editorials and New Yorker cartoons about the impenetrability of academese. In one of those said pieces, “Why Academics Can’t Write,” Michael Billig explains:

Throughout the social sciences, we can find academics parading their big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases. By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real—something to impress the inspectors from the Research Excellence Framework.

Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those…

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How To Come Up With a Book Idea

Lit World Interviews

You have a goal to write a novel. Perhaps you want to do so in one month’s time. You are pumped and ready to go. You sit down at your keyboard and

You got it, nothing happens. Blank. Headache. Pit level feeling of nausea. Despair.

I know of what I speak. I think I just proved that. What do do about it.

How to come up with a book idea.

Thousands of books are unleashed upon the world every day. Therefore there must be thousands of ideas floating around out there somewhere. But you want yours to be original and not a copy of someone else. I get that, I really do. I actually avoid reading at times because I want my story to be my story.

How do I come up with ideas?

I’ve written perhaps . . . well we’ll say in the double digit numbers of books…

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The Psychology of Writing and the Perfect Daily Routine

WP Writers Group

brainpickings-showup‘…Reflecting on the ritualization of creativity, Bukowski famously scoffed that “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with.” Samuel Johnson similarly contended that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.” And yet some of history’s most successful and prolific writers were women and men of religious daily routines and odd creative rituals. (Even Buk himself ended up sticking to a peculiar daily routine.)…’

Seeing Through the Otherness of Others
Will you admire repulsive persons in the future?
“Maria Popova: This particular book explores the rather common experience of seeing someone as both frightening and repulsive until we get to know them — one manifestation of our broader, fundamental fear of the unfamiliar. Did you have such an experience yourself, either with a teacher or with another figure in your life, that inspired the book?

Peter Brown: When…

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