Paper Matters Blog
Balance in the Classroom

Fix your strategy

There was a time when learning typically meant walking to school, sitting at a desk and copying sums that your teacher gave you—now it can be as simple as walking downstairs, sitting on the couch and turning on your computer. Technology has made it possible for us to participate in classes from our homes across the country, and the number of students participating in remote learning is growing daily, but finding ways to get away from the screen can actually have a positive impact on your ability to retain information. Blending our ways of learning, not choosing one style or the other, can only improve how we educate. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your education by maximizing your opportunities to learn from paper:

Take notes

In a world of PowerPoints and Google Docs, it’s often easier to type out your notes than crack open a notebook, but a study completed by the Journal of Print Media and Media Technology Research found that writing notes down can help with retention in the long run. Dr. Jane Vincent, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science says that “One of the reasons some students favour handwriting is the role it plays in learning and retaining knowledge…Many of the students in our study found [that] making handwritten notes leads to greater retention of data than if it is typed.” At the same time, Dr. Vincent also noted that there are times when “reading and writing online is more practical…” like when learning remotely. Ultimately, the article concludes by saying that students “favoured using a mix of paper and computers,” a strategy that will likely help students get information down quickly but also retain it for the future.

Take a digital break

Dr. Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, has studied the relationship between digital and paper learning extensively and acknowledges the many benefits that have come from the growing role of computers in the classroom—the democratization of learning and the share of lesson plans and group projects to name two—but also names some consequences. “The biggest challenge everyone faces when reading on-screen is distraction,” Says Dr. Baron, “Especially with an internet connection, the temptation looms to do something else—check a Facebook status update, post a new photo. Participants in my study were abundantly aware of the problem. A whopping 94 percent said the medium on which it was easiest to concentrate when reading was hard copy.”

While digital learning is essential for some things, like lectures or asking questions, whenever you can get away from a screen and involve paper in the learning process, your performance can improve. Dr. Baron continues “Think about the difference between facts and concepts. A study recently compared test results of students who took class notes by hand with those of people using a computer. Factual performance was the same, but students writing on paper by hand were better at answering conceptual questions.” While you may not struggle with remember when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, seeing and understanding the bigger picture and knowing why 1492 is relevant may escape you. Once your zoom lecture ends, pick up your textbook or jot down some hardcopy notes.

Find balance

Avoiding digital learning is neither feasible nor recommended; what you should do is find a balance and emphasize learning on paper. Online lessons and homework assignments will continue to multiply, but if you intentionally work paper into your lesson plan, you’ll likely find that you’re more balanced than you are not. Above all, continue to learn how to learn and look for ways to improve.

Have you mastered remote learning but need some help keeping the momentum going while working from home? Check out this blog on maintaining your productivity when you’re out of the office.

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