Why Write By Hand In The Digital Age?

Handwriting engages our body’s fine motor system. Fine Motor System (Fine Motor System) refers to a system consisting of small muscles and bones in our body, which helps us to perform precise and accurate actions. 

This system is mainly related to the function of hand, finger, elbow, wrist.

Examples of fine motor system include writing, drawing, picking up small objects, pressing buttons etc. Such work requires perfect coordination and control of our muscles. When children learn such tasks, their fine motor skills improve, which later help them in many tasks of daily life.

Professors Audrey von der Meer and Ruud von der Wiel of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a new study on fine motor systems. This study was based on a previous study from 2014.

Studies have shown that people tend to type without thinking when writing notes through computers. Professor Audrey von der Meer says, “When teachers teach, our tendency to write everything down comes into play. As words reach our ears as they unfold through our fingers. But we don’t actually do anything with the information that comes to us.”

This research suggests that the role of our fine motor system is limited when writing notes with a computer. 

And when taking notes by hand, it is not possible to write everything down. Students then have to pay close attention to the information in the lecture, think and decide which information to prioritize. They then put their thoughts together, making connections to previously learned information. These conscious knowledge-enhancing activities make it easier to stay engaged with classroom lessons, as well as to grasp new concepts.

A 2014 study made some changes to understand how these two note-taking methods work differently in the brain. The researchers created a hairnet (a mesh hat worn on the head), which contained 256 sensors. The brain activity of 36 students was monitored with the help of these sensors. During this time, students play a game called Pictionary, where they have to handwrite or type 15 words shown on the screen.

When students write by hand, the sensors show extensive interconnections between different parts of their brain. That same part of the brain is less active when typing.

Three areas of the brain are activated during handwriting: the motor cortex, the visual perception area, and the part of the brain that collects and processes information from the senses. The latter area helps coordinate body movement and sensory motor coordination.

Professor von der Meer said, “When typing, the letters are formed from the same movements of your fingers. On the other hand, when you write by hand, you realize that each letter feels different.”

He also said that children who learn to read and write using digital tablets often have difficulty recognizing close-up letters.  They also have trouble understanding reflective letters like b and.

Improves Memory And Learning Ability

Although not directly involved in the study, Sophia Vinci Buhar, assistant professor of educational neuroscience at Vanderbilt University, found the findings very interesting and consistent with previous research.

“Tasks that use the motor and sensory systems together, such as handwriting, create a deeper connection between our motor activity and our visual and conceptual recognition,” he said.

“When you draw a letter or write a word, you are actually putting your conceptual thought into practice with the motor system.”

When we write, the letters or images we create are sent to our center of vision. There they are further processed. As a result, the relationship between writing and writing images becomes stronger.

For example, when we create something in thought, the association between the images and words associated with that work becomes stronger. As something is created from the thought in this way, the thought matures and becomes embedded in our memory.

There has been a lot of research on creating something in real life to strengthen memory. Previous research has shown that when people are asked to write, draw, or act on words from what they read, they have to pay more attention than just taking in the information.

The motor part of the brain is activated during verbal expression. This part of the brain controls the specific order of the hands for writing.

Yadurshana Sivashankar talks about this. He is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo (Ontario), researching cognitive neuroscience. According to him, handwriting requires more brain motor programs than typing.

“When you write a word, there is a relationship between the hand movement and the meaning of the word”, says Shivashankar. He, however, was not directly involved in this new study.

In 2021, Shiv Shankar conducted a study. There the participants are asked to memorize a list. However, they had to do more to match the verbs in the list. As it turns out, those who were tasked with matching the list verbs were able to remember the list much better. Those who did not match the list with the task were able to remember less.

“Writing information down and working with it at the same time will help you remember the information. Because you will think about the information and create something that has meaning,” says Sivashankar.

By converting information from one form to another in this way, connections within the brain’s vast neural network become stronger and more permanent. As a result, it becomes much easier to remember related information.

Why Is It Important For Children To Learn Handwriting?

Many studies have shown that children learn better when they create pictures or text by writing or using their hands and fingers. Clicking using a mouse or tapping on the screen does not teach well.

According to the research of Sophia Vinci Buhar, multiple parts of our brain work at multiple stages when writing by hand. Brain activity when we write by hand is completely different from when we do other activities, such as studying or watching something.  

Buhar also showed that preschool children recognize letters better when they write by hand. “Learning by writing by hand is much more permanent than any other learning method with the same focus,” says Vinci Booher. He also suggests that children may be able to overcome “mirror invariance” by using the motor system.

Mirror invariance is the ability to distinguish an image from its mirror image. Children do not understand the difference between the English letters p and b until they have this ability.  

Mirror invariance is more common in children. When children around 2 years of age see their own reflection in a mirror, they think that there is another child in the mirror. Children’s brains develop slowly. As children grow up, they realize that their reflection in the mirror is actually themselves. By learning language, children learn to distinguish between objects and their images.

“This new research raises an important question about our learning process: how the connections between different parts of our brain change during learning, and when these connections play the most important role,” Sofia Buhar added.

He and his fellow experts note that the results of this study do not necessarily mean that the use of technology in the classroom is controversial. Laptops, smartphones, and other devices allow for more efficient writing and research, helping to ensure equal access to educational materials for all.

The problem is when people rely too much on technology, says Shivshankar. People are leaving more and more of their thinking to digital devices. This is called “cognitive offloading”, such as using a smartphone for task reminders, taking pictures instead of remembering information, using GPS to locate places. They certainly help us. But if we leave the work on the device all the time, our brain function decreases. 

Von der Meer said some officials in Norway are leaning toward introducing fully digital schools. He claimed that the first grade teachers there told him that the newly admitted students could not hold a pencil at all. Which indicates that they could not draw pictures or put together puzzles in nursery school. In doing so, they’re missing out on opportunities that help their brains develop, says von der Meer.

“I think there’s a very strong argument for engaging children in drawing and handwriting, especially in preschool and kindergarten, when they’re first trying to learn letters,” Vinci-Buhar said. “There’s something about fine motor systems and engaging in construction activities that really impact learning.”

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