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Are outdated computers reverting students to a prehistoric era?

By Peter West
November 17th, 2016

3 reasons why there’s an increased need to get rid of keyboards and move to pen-based computers for today’s students.

prehistoric-keyboards-students

If today’s educators continue to encourage the use of keyboards instead of digital ink and paper, they run the risk of being a ‘pager’ teacher in a smart phone world, holding on to a past that has outlived its usefulness and limits students’ cognitive potential…at least, that’s what human history and recent research is telling us.

What Human History Tells Us About Keyboards

Communication in society has mirrored progress, but it has always involved a person holding a “pen”, even if that “pen” was just a pointed stick. The first recorded cave drawings date back about 40,000 years when humans first picked up a stick, dipped it in pigment or ash and drew something on a wall.

By Carla Hufstedler: A cave drawing from about 30 000 years ago. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A20%2C000_Year_Old_Cave_Paintings_Hyena.png

By Carla Hufstedler: A cave drawing from about 30 000 years ago. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A20%2C000_Year_Old_Cave_Paintings_Hyena.png

Move forward to the third century: The stick was replaced by a stylus and cave walls were replaced by papyrus. By Medieval Times, the stylus and papyrus had evolved into a quill and paper.

It was only 200 years ago that the typewriter was invented. Suddenly, after thousands of years, there was an alternative to holding a writing implement in the hand. It was a leap forward, and provided many advantages, and thus, its use exploded. Despite this, the layout of the keyboard was not intuitive and created some problems.

A typewriter from about 1820. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1864_Schreibmaschine_Peter_Mitterhofer.jpg

A typewriter from about 1820. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1864_Schreibmaschine_Peter_Mitterhofer.jpg

The modern day, desktop computer was developed about 150 years after the typewriter, but it was still modeled on it. At the time, there were limited input methods as the technology for more “natural” methods did not exist. Therefore, the keyboard was chosen, and it would seem that the importance of thousands of years of human cognitive development was cast aside.

By Derrick Coetzee: An early Osborne laptop. The design is based on a typewriter, and yet how much has really changed? https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/Zenith_laptop_at_Osborne_computer_at_Powell%27s_Technical_Bookstore.jpg

By Derrick Coetzee: An early Osborne laptop. The design is based on a typewriter, and yet how much has really changed? https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/Zenith_laptop_at_Osborne_computer_at_Powell%27s_Technical_Bookstore.jpg

We can use coins to put this history of handwriting/pen based input in perspective. If 40,000 years is represented by a line of 188 nickels, the time that the typewriter keyboard has been in existence would be represented by less than one coin.

coins

In summation, the keyboard should be seen for what it is: a useful addition for some occasions but not a replacement for methods that are deeply bound into the human experience.

(Next page: What new research tell us about digital ink and digital paper)


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