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Word-processing affects handwriting

by Roger Broadie published Nov 12, 2009 03:56 PM, last modified Apr 05, 2011 10:05 PM
Early use of a word-processor led to unexpected effects away from the computer

In 1984, on an MEP training course, a Headteacher from a Rotherham primary school was talking over coffee about the use of computers going on in her school. They had two BBC B computers, being used with a year group for writing. She explained the pupils were only getting about 15 minutes a week each on the computers, using a word-processor. But "It's rather odd" she said, "even though they are only getting a very small amount of time on the computer, almost without exception they have all increased the amount of handwriting they are doing by a half to two-thirds!"

We had talked in previous courses about computers changing what happened in teaching and learning in fundamental ways, that could not be predicted even if you knew a great deal about pupils, teachers, learning and computers, but this was the first time I realised that there could be some very powerful and very deep personal attitude changes that could have immense positive impact on learning.

We discussed possible reasons:

  • pupils able to see their writing presented well;
  • the ability to amend errors making them less scared of writing;
  • there being no need to struggle with holding and guiding a pen allowing them to concentrate on what they wanted to say instead of the process of writing

- but she did not know the answers. I asked if she had the evidence to show this improvement - but she had not measured a baseline against which to compare. And this alerted me to the difficulties we were going to have in researching impact of ICT.

The messages for the future are that it is the people changes that matter and which need to be researched and tracked. And that doing so must involve looking at before and after of processes in learning, the difficulty being that you don't know what change is going to happen, so it is very hard to know what baseline to measure.

In a recent study we are seeing a growth of trust between pupils and teachers being the result of a way of using ICT that some schools are adopting - this was not predicted as a possible result of the change they made, and anyway, how do you measure trust?