The paper experience goes beyond digital: a college student’s view


By Jacob Gabriel Courey, Paper Engineering Student at Western Michigan University

I could recite countless studies that have been done in the past to try and convince you that reading and writing printed material is more beneficial to students than using screens for the same activities.  I could talk about how handwriting skills have been linked to better performance in school or how reading from a page maximizes comprehension or the difference between writing and typing and how they affect memory.  While all of these facts are true and important, they are not the cornerstones of my argument.

As an engineering student, I see the value in the role of technology in learning.  I’ve completed entire group projects and papers without ever needing to find a time that my whole group could meet at the library because we can all just edit the same document online simultaneously.  I love being able to listen to additional physics lectures that my professor posts online or watch the step-by-step solutions that he posts of tricky problems.  I absolutely believe that technology can be used to enhance and expand the schooling experience but I also do not believe that it can replace the crucial role of pen and paper.

While technology does many things well, I believe that it can be a detrimental oversight to use it exclusively in the classroom. As an engineer it is easiest for me to think of this in terms of process optimization.

As I stated previously, I have found technology useful for things like writing and editing group projects and watching example problems, but you will never see me taking notes in class on a laptop.  Besides the fact that I am easily distracted by internet access, I have found personally that writing out my notes helps me become much more engaged in a lecture thus saving me time down the road in how much I need to reread those notes.  It is also just very difficult to take notes on subjects such as differential equations or organic chemistry with the limitations of a keyboard.  

I have also found that I simply prefer reading from a physical book than a pdf document. I do not think that I speak only for myself when I say that as a young person who spends a lot of time in front of screens, I truly value a hardcover textbook.  It provides a tangible learning experience that is unparalleled by any screen.