For Learning, Pencil-and-Paper Beats Laptops

Taking notes by hand helps students learn more and it's up to teachers to impose anti-screen policies in the classroom as a pedagogical tool. 

For Learning, Pencil-and-Paper Beats Laptops

Taking notes by hand helps students learn more and it's up to teachers to impose anti-screen policies in the classroom as a pedagogical tool. 


Supported by a scientific study explaining how paper-and-pencil better facilitates knowledge acquisition and critical thinking, Professor of English at Emory University Mark Bauerlein has banned screens in his classroom. And many of his students are thankful, he says.

In the study, longhand and laptop note-takers performed equally well on factual-recall questions, but on "conceptual-application" questions, "laptop participants performed significantly worse than longhand participants."

The distraction of the screen is palpable. Even students who are not using a laptop are attracted to the screens of others, screens which often beam with social media sites pertaining to their circle of friends. Or if a student is watching a movie in class, others can't help but catch a glimpse, distracting them from the lesson.

In the study, longhand note-taking resulted in higher test scores despite the fact that laptops allowed students to record more words. But typing quickly results in "shallower processing" than writing by hand. 

"Because the speed of longhand is lower than the speed of presentation, the student also must condense and summarize, thereby initiating a process of comprehension in the very act of taking notes."

In his Big Think interview, Nicholas Negroponte, creator of the One Laptop per child initiative, offers the counter argument. For technological reasons, the demise of the classroom textbook is inevitable, he says, and teachers who lose student attention to the screen must change their methods:

A brief history of human dignity

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Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

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