Innovations in technology have changed the way in which society acts. As classical scholar and university librarian James O’Donnell points out in the 1999 radio broadcast “From Papyrus to Cyberspace,” one generation’s frontier becomes the next generation’s reality. One can assume that with each new frontier there are gains and losses. For example, the invention of the automobile sparked a transportation revolution, but with this improved accessibility we also implicitly accept thousands of car-related deaths each year. Advancements in writing technologies have unpredictable changes in human roles and geography. Printing presses led to the spread of unorthodox ideas across the world and new forms of democratization, while the shift from a primarily oral to literate society brought with it new lines of exclusion between those who could read and those who could not.James Engell, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard, highlights the point that such revolutions of technology do not occur suddenly but are instead a gradual shift within societies. Just as manuscripts continued to be produced well after the invention of the printing press, it is common for information from the internet to be written down on paper. Thus the challenge with emerging digital technologies is not that such societal shifts are occurring, but finding the most effective way new technologies can be integrated with the way things are currently functioning. Learn more about the impact of the typewriter on literacy in my short documentary The Shift from Handwriting to Typewriting:
The shift from handwriting to digital text and their associated issues continue to plague educators as one-to-one devices become the norm in schools. My English Department meetings often consist of heated debates concerning whether students should complete their coursework on paper or digitally. The topic seems to polarise the teachers within the department and we cannot collectively decide on the "correct" answer.
"students who write out their notes on paper may actually learn more" (Mueller & Oppenheiner, 2014).
In 2012, scientists find that the brains of preliterate kids respond like a reader's brain when they write their ABCs, but not when they type or trace the letters (Pauly, 2016). Another research team reports that college students who transcribed lectures on their laptops recalled more information than those who took notes by hand because the use of laptops results in shallower processing (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Across three experiments, researchers had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. The two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). This research suggests that perhaps completing tasks on paper may be more beneficial for students.
However, sometimes the purpose of note taking is simply to collect information. During novel studies I often have my students take notes to record key quotations or details from the book we are reading under the categories of the elements of fiction (e.g. setting, characters, style, theme). When forced to write on paper, I find students’ notes quickly become disorganised and chaotic. Factor in that a novel study last several weeks - sometimes months - I find students’ paper notes become more of a hassle than helpful.
Instead of making the paper-or-digital choice for my high school students, I share research findings and we collaboratively discuss the benefits and advantages of each format. I then prompt them to make the choice for themselves and give them the opportunity to change formats if they feel they made the wrong choice. In Benedict Carey's book "How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens" he refocusses attention away from a mono-solution to the learning conundrum, by prompting learners to consider the task at hand:
"It's not that there is a right and wrong way to learn. It's that there are different strategies, each uniquely suited to capturing a particular type of information. A good hunter tailors the trap to the prey" (Carey, 2014, p. 44).
My vision for my students is for them to discover for themselves how they work best in a time where they are living and learning during this technological revolution. The following is a lesson to prompt a discussion surrounding the ambiguity of the paper of digital argument:
While reading and writing remains at the heart of education, emerging technologies will continue to alter the concept of literacy itself. As we continue to move from written text to digitized information, educators must adapt their didactic methods to coincide with modern technologies. The technologies of handwriting and typewriting need not exist in a binary relationship in our postmodernist culture. They can co-exist, offering us a multiplicity of ways to communicate where each is geared for its own different purpose.
Mueller, P. A. & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science, 25(6).
O'Donnell, J. & Engell, J. (1999). "From papyrus to cyberspace" [radio broadcasts]. Cambridge Forum.
Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Pauly, M. (2016). A Brief History of Handwriting. Mother Jones, 41(5), 60.
The Information Processing Theory is an approach to cognitive development that suggests a way in which humans process the information they receive. This theory contrasts a behaviourist that humans simply respond to stimuli. This theory suggests that information is processed in stages, much like the way in which a computer processes data (Orey 2002). Information enters the brain (or computer) through our senses (mouse/keyboard). Next, the information is processed in our working memory (processor/ram), where it is stored and recalled from specific areas of our long-term memory (hard drive). This recalled information can lead to an output response to the stimuli (monitor).
Turple, C. (2016).
Our sensory memory intakes information through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. If we decide to pay attention to certain stimuli, it moves into our short-term memory, also known as our working memory as it is the place where we process information. In order for information to be stored in our long-term memory and formally learned, the information must be elaborated on through rehearsal to consolidate the new data.
Turple, C. (2016). Adapted from: Lutz, S. & Huitt, W. (2003).
We can then organize new information into existing knowledge sets (if information is similar to prior information) or create a completely new knowledge structure if the new information is unlike anything we have experienced before. Once information is stored in our long-term memory, we can later recall this knowledge back into our working memory to compare to incoming information or help elaborate on our knowledge experiences.
Many of these operations involve executive function to pay attention to new information, attend to rehearsal practices in the working memory and help consolidate information into our long-term memory. Unfortunately, new information can be lost at all stages of information processing. If incoming stimulus is not paid attention to in our sensory memory, our brain does not notice the information. In our short-term memory, only a maximum of five stimulus can be used at once - if this information is not encoded within 15-30 seconds it will be lost altogether. In long-term memory retrieval, there are also chances of encoding failure during information consolidation if elaboration does not occur or the information cannot be properly organized in existing knowledge structures. Finally, information in long-term memory could be lost through a retrieval failure or “overridden” if new information contradicts something previously learned.
Watch my visual breakdown of the stages of the theory and applications to classroom practice:
When considering the stages of the Information Processing Theory, there are 5 easy steps teachers can take to support students in the acquisition of new information.
RECEPTION to ensure teachers gain students’ attention using an abrupt stimulus change to focus students’ sensory memory on the lesson.
RETRIEVAL educators should stimulate recall of prior learning and skills from students’ long-term memory into their working memory.
I like to use kinesthetic warmups that gets the students moving around and talking to peers other than their elbow partner. Simple activities work great such as having the students move around the room and when the music stops (often I use the songs above), I yell out a number. Students must form a group with that many people and answer a question about the content from the previous lesson. Scholastics's Mind Up Curriculum books are full of such activities.
RECEIVE information transmitted by the teacher that should have distinctive features and suggest a meaningful organization of ideas for students.
I started “branding” my lessons by using the same template and colour scheme for all lesson within a unit. For other skills such as the MYP Approaches to Learning, I always use the same cover slide. I have also started using less unconnected slides and utilising animations to put together the “pieces” of a slide. Finally, acronyms and step-by-step procedures have become the focus of my lessons. For example, when I was teaching my students about how to find reliable online sources, I began the lesson by playing the research song, played the kinesthetics warmup game, then introduce an acronym to help them remember the criteria for reliable websites:
RESPOND or experience the information for themselves to absorb knowledge into their preexisting knowledge sets by eliciting performance from students.
Arguably the most important step in student learning! Students need to immediately do something with their new knowledge. When introducing the CRAP acronym for determining reliable resources, I had students decide whether example websites are reliable or not. One issue I often run into for this stage is running out of time when I have 30 minute class time blocks. What I have come to learn is it is better to break up the learning into smaller pieces where students have the opportunity to immediately respond to new knowledge, rather than using a whole block to introduce content and the following block as a work period.
REINFORCE by providing ongoing feedback to students and especially give them additional performance opportunities to apply the feedback.
Encouraging students to make mistakes and learn from those “failures” is key. I try to give as many opportunities for students to experiment with new ideas by offering several chances to practice new skills. I aim to give my students individual verbal feedback once a week and written feedback every other week. Since I utilise Google for Education Apps Suite in my teaching, this is often done through the comments function. I have learned to create one ongoing template my students work in throughout a unit so all of my comments and their work is in one place. This way, it is easy for both myself and students to see their ongoing progress.
Turple, C. (2016).
More than anything, learning about the Information Processing Theory reminded me of the importance of lesson warm-ups and "hooking" students into a learning activity. The theory also offers a simple explanation of how memory may work and is something I have even taught my students to make them more away of their own learning behaviours.