Sunday, January 20, 2008

The end of handwriting

While teaching an introduction to marketing course at Northwood University last week, I had an interesting thing happen. When I asked my students to bring a blue book for the essay midterm, they had no idea what I was talking about. On top of that, all the students but one asked to bring their laptops to the midterm (and they submitted them through email via the WiFi connection in the classroom.)

Futurist William Draves wrote in his book The Nineshift about this phenomenon. Millennials are not much for cursive - but they have a replacement skill: keyboarding.

Some readers of this blog might wonder if I was worried that the students may cheat on the exam because I allowed the use of computers. My answer is no. Draves points out that how we defined "cheating" in the last century will vary from how we see it in the 21st Century.

"Shift Seven. Cheating becomes collaboration.
New values, work ethics and behavior of the 21st century take over. Boys are leading the change in values and behavior, just as they did 100 years ago."

When I was in college in the 1990s, school was all about the individual. You learned the material alone and spit it out alone. Students today are accustomed to working in teams. They've been doing it since they were kids. And that's one of their strengths going into the 21st Century workforce: Teamwork.

A lot of academics don't get that. In fact, I recently saw a professional development seminar for community college faculty titled: BEATING MULTITASKING MILLENNIAL STUDENTS AT THEIR OWN GAME: USING THEIR TECHNOLOGY TO CURB DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR. Hmm. Sounds a little combative.

So back to the cheating question - why wasn't I worried? Because I told them what would be on the exam and I allowed them to use notes on the exam. Was I worried that they hadn't memorized the exact textbook definition of marketing? No. In the workforce they let you keep notes and files and books on your desk - making memorizing unnecessary. What's more important to me was that they could synthesize and apply the information they studied (and they could).

1 comment:

Rob said...

I've blogged about this a bit myself ( and I think we're poised to do ourselves a real disservice by allowing handwriting to die off. Sure, keyboarding is an important skill - as a non-typist, I've seen the disadvantage that this causes me - but handwriting is a vital skill too, even if it is used only rarely.

And maybe I'm dating myself with this logic, but I do still think there's something to be said for the learning process of taking notes. The analog act of writing notes seems to cement that information in much more than capturing the same data on a keyboard.