As school returns to an in-person setting, a debate wages on among teachers and students about the merits of technology in education and reverting back to paper. (Jacqueline Chang )
As school returns to an in-person setting, a debate wages on among teachers and students about the merits of technology in education and reverting back to paper.

Jacqueline Chang

Head to Head: Paper or Digital?

September 7, 2021

Let’s go back to traditional worksheets

Solve 18x = 2(30/3) + 17 – 5x + 13.

This particular algebra problem has at least eight steps. Eight long steps of subtracting, adding, multiplying and condensing to get the final answer. 

While this may not sound like much when solving the problem on paper, it becomes tedious when students are forced to use their devices instead. 

Having to copy and paste special math characters from the internet, learning to differentiate between X as a variable from the multiplication sign and having to use slashes for all fractions — these are some of the many obstacles students encounter with online learning. Some problems even require students to download separate programs that allow them to graph, which could simply be done with a few pen strokes. 

The past three semesters of distance learning forced students to use their school-issued Chromebooks and other electronic devices to complete any and all assignments. Though it was hard to complain about the situation because students and teachers alike were trying their best to make do with the resources available, many missed the traditional methods of completing assignments with pen and paper. 

However, as schools transition back to in-person learning, paper will once again become an important tool for students. 

By reintroducing worksheets in classrooms, students can reap many benefits for themselves and their work. 

For example, according to a 2021  Tokyo University study of 1,000 graduate student volunteers, researchers found that writing on physical paper can increase brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. The spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on a hard copy is likely what leads to improved memory.

Researchers also note that, “…volunteers who used paper had more brain activity in areas associated with language, imaginary visualization and in the hippocampus — an area known to be important for memory and navigation.”

Students who take six to seven classes every day may easily forget the information covered in class, even if the lecture occurred only a few hours ago. 

Instead of sticking to their Chromebook during lessons, students who put in the extra effort to write notes will better recall the information in the future. 

Writing on paper also benefits students studying subjects like math and English. 

According to a 2020 study conducted by veteran math teacher Bill Hinkley, researchers examined the importance of students using pencil and paper to show their math work. They found that those who were encouraged to work with paper and pencil outperformed their peers by about 13 points, showing greater accuracy in their work. 

Students who use traditional tools rather than savvy technological ones can yield better results in their education. 

These benefits are not isolated to just mathematics, but they also exist in other aspects of education. 

According to a recent 2020 study conducted by the UK Office for Standards in Education, students’ educational progress throughout distance learning and the transition back to in-person classes showed a decrease in reading comprehension, verbal fluency, writing proficiency and stamina due to constant use of technology in classrooms. 

Clearly, effective writing and reading comprehension skills are essential for students’ cognitive development and overall ability to learn. 

Using traditional methods of note-taking or completing assignments also eliminates the likelihood of technology-related issues, allowing learners to stay on task and focus on the lecture at hand.

One big lesson that people learned from distance learning over the past year is that technology quickly backfires with little to no notice. 

Frustrating issues, like Google Docs deleting an important document or Google Classroom not loading a new assignment, can quickly turn a student’s day from fine to terrible, which can then cause students to shy away from volunteering in class simply because of technological issues, such as poor WiFi connection.

Even when students return to in-person classes, they still encounter many technical problems, and these issues only worsen when teachers solely use the Chromebooks. 

Although others can argue that technology remains beneficial because of its convenience — allowing students to access assignments at any time or place with a few clicks — the improvement in students’ memory and retention of school material impacts them more. 

Improvements to students’ learning environment are possible with the use of paper rather than Chromebooks in classrooms. 

When using their technology, students might get tempted to switch tabs or do other work, but if students don’t have any means of distraction, they can focus on what is important: their education. 

Over the history of education and innovation, the brightest thinkers have made great strides using two important tools: a piece of paper and a pencil. Students in the modern age can still benefit from the same tools.

About the Writer
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Krishna Thaker, Special Sections Editor
As the special sections editor, senior Krishna Thaker is incredibly excited to dive into important issues in both her school community and the world. Varying from simple, informative stories about upcoming school events to heavily-researched opinion stories on controversial issues, Thaker is proud of the work she has done so far as a writer for The Accolade. She cannot wait to contribute to The Accolade’s hardworking staff over the upcoming year.

When Thaker isn't writing stories and interviewing others, she is buried in homework, volunteering, interning for the New England Academy or focusing on club activities. In her free time, Thaker enjoys playing with her puppy, Arya, and reading dystopian fiction books.
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Virtual learning offers new domains

The future of education is here, and it’s digital. 

As students return to school, many have developed a distaste for the use of technology in learning. 

Though their feelings are warranted, students and teachers should not limit their horizons to what digital education can be — a classroom without boundaries and knowledge without limits.

Zoom schooling did not fulfill the potential of digital education. It was an unprepared and panicked response to the pandemic, which left students and teachers in the dark — sometimes literally because of internet crashes and connection issues.

An online 2020 report by McKinsey & Company states that students have missed five to nine months of learning. Geographical location and inadequate technological support are some of the various factors that account for this drastic loss. 

However, the best lesson that emerged from Zoom schooling was an example of what digital education should not be. It shouldn’t be static lecturing, confined to neither Google Classroom nor emails. 

Students from all over the world missed an opportunity during the thick of the pandemic. Never in the history of the world were students of all nations, socioeconomic backgrounds and life experiences collectively online to learn.

However, the aftermath of the pandemic created a chance to carefully construct a more equitable and attainable form of education. Scholars around the globe have the opportunity to come together and learn from each other — on a scale international student exchange programs could only dream of. 

Acosta Rodolfo, a professor of educational leadership at California State University, Fullerton, believes that online learning has the incredible yet untapped potential to connect with students from around the world. 

“We don’t let teachers be as creative as they can with their online situation,” Rodolfo said. “With online learning we don’t have anymore boundaries, so we should be able to connect with folks in Brazil, in Denmark and in Japan.” 

The internet closes thousands of miles with a click of a button. Why should students be restricted to their schools? To their textbooks? What digital education offers is an unprecedented level of universality, innovation and exchange of information.

A technology based education means more than just sitting in front of a computer screen and submitting digital assignments. It means a chance to evolve the very concept of education itself. 

Advocates of more conservative styles of teaching champion the benefits of working with paper, including reliability and a more structured curriculum. While it may be true a book can never crash or glitch, technologies implemented nowadays in educational curricula exceed the usefulness of physical documents. 

Online files cannot be damaged, and nearly an infinite number of copies of any piece of media can be made and distributed on a whim. Additionally, support networks on the internet can match the reliability of paper to make up for any mishaps.  

The other argument typically made by paper proponents is the claim of a more structured curriculum since the absence of technology allows for less distractions. However, the structure of traditional education may be what prevents it from being effective. Resources on the internet are boundless and help assist students in achieving a well-rounded education. 

\A 2001 report by the Pew Research Center found that the majority of youth, from ages 12-17, expressed that the internet provides helpful information for schoolwork and research. It would be incredibly detrimental to strip students of free and beneficial assets to their education because of the belief that book learning exceeds the value of having access to all of humanity’s knowledge on request.

Though educational curricula need structure, taking away technology, which widens the student’s access to knowledge and different perspectives, contradicts the very purpose of learning itself. 

As the times change, so must the methods for learning.

Digital education represents a previously unseen hope for mankind in which the global youth can come together to cast off their chains of natural boundaries, becoming something greater than just students but members of a universal coalition who learn beyond a worksheet.

School can become more than a location but an experience. Learning can become more than reading a book but a chance for humanity to come together and progress beyond the borders of nations. 

Let the universities become universal and let high schools bring in the highest form of education. Let the students advance beyond the boundaries of paper and into a brighter future.

About the Writer
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Anthony Keem, Staff Reporter
Anthony Keem is a senior staff reporter for The Accolade. This is his second year writing for the newspaper. He hopes to continue contributing as much as he can. In his spare time, Keem enjoys reading and catching up with current events.
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