The coexistence of handwritten and digital notes

papyrus, parchment, slate, notebook; Writing media have evolved with technology. A new one pushes the others, but without making them completely obsolete. Think of our digital age. Today, taking notes in class could be completely digital. Note that applications for both computers and mobile devices are numerous. Some even manage to share the fonts between a user’s different computers and give him full access.

But is fully digital note-taking good for the student? Some doubt this, given the semi-automatic nature of the writing, which often boils down to the teacher’s verbatim comments. For their part, proponents rely on scientific studies to support their arguments.

Write by hand, better for memorization

In 2014, a group of scientists experimented with three groups of children who had to write down what a teacher said. If those on the computer recorded more information than their comrades in writing (paper and pen on a tablet), the latter memorized the content better than those who typed mechanically on the keyboard. Because writing forces the brain to further analyze the written letters and words and thus remember them better.

In 2022, a similar study was published by Japanese researchers. They asked 48 people to study dates by writing them down in either a paper notebook or an electronic device. They then asked her about it by examining the brain with magnetic resonance imaging. The memory process was activated in all candidates, but brain activity was much stronger in those who recorded the information on paper. Her answers were also quicker and more accurate than the others.

Which some say is important not to get rid of the physical medium for notes. However, when interviewing the students, it doesn’t appear that the handwritten notes have gone away. 90% of the 700 young adults surveyed at the University of Poitiers said they use pen and paper. 60% added IT. Which makes sense, because while hand-taking is good for memorization, the practice also has its shortcomings.

Already this method is cumbersome as it requires the use of notebooks, hundreds of pages, etc. Which leads to the second problem: difficult to navigate. Unlike digital media, it is impossible to do a simple search to find a term. You’ll have to check the classification of the notes and turn the pages until you find the information you’re looking for. This can be done in seconds using the software. And if the solution were the cohabitation of methods?

Digitize the written word

In fact, nothing prevents students from taking their notes after each day and scanning them into an application that they can access on their devices. Handwriting recognition technology has greatly improved in recent years. The company MyScript has developed an artificial intelligence that can recognize more than 70 languages, as well as numbers and even drawings. This algorithm is behind some software like Nebo or MyScript Calculator and has helped various companies digitize handwritten documents.

Today apps like Microsoft Lens, Cam Scanner or Pen to Print can scan texts cheaply or free of charge. Even the giant Evernote can do it. Good news especially in cases where the learner has difficulty taking notes via computer. A situation that has occurred more frequently with the Covid-19 pandemic. He can easily convert what he has written down into software he is familiar with. A company is developing a tablet that allows the user to write by hand and have their writings digitized automatically. A digital object that partially reproduces the sensations of paper without the clutter.

This handwriting recognition technology goes beyond simple school use. People who have lost speech communication temporarily or over time often use writing to make themselves understood, for example on a small blackboard. However, this means is not ideal when it is necessary to communicate remotely. From now on, software is able not only to digitize the writing, but also to read it from a synthetic voice.

drawing : J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

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