Writing by Hand and Memory, Part 1

I saw a post on Facebook that said, “For teachers, August is like a month-long Sunday night before work.” This resonated with me because I am in the process of trying to wrap up a bunch of crap from the summer (weekend) and prepare for the fall semester (Monday). In other words, my plate is full.

My view from Starbucks in Fort Worth, Tx!

But, as I work on my syllabus for my Rhetorical Theory course, I realized that I use a lot of technologies for my work. I use my laptop and Starbucks’s free wifi to research readings, resource for my students, and foreign terms I don’t recognize. I listen to music through headphones to block out conversations nearby. I have photocopied or scanned articles and book chapters in front of me. The wood pulp based paper I use is pretty recent invention. I’m using a sophisticated technology called a ballpoint pen too.

However, I started to think about why I still print articles and take notes with a pen. I realized that I remember things better when I write them by hand. I can recall the way the letters looked on the page, where my annotations rest on the page, and what marks I made next to important passages. I can see my notes in my head and make connections easily.

I began to wonder if I’m a weirdo, but then I remembered reading this article that basically affirms my experience. In their study of student who took notes by laptop and those who took notes by hand, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer found that student who write out their notes, “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who used took notes with their laptops.” So, while laptops may allow for more notes that doesn’t mean the notes are better or more effective.

So, as I take this little break, I realize that I take notes for teaching by hand because I like the ability to recall information quickly and easily in the classroom. If I’m honest, it may be because I like the ethos of just “knowing” stuff in front of students. At the same time, I hate derailing good class discussions to look something up on Google. But more than that, Theuth was wrong in Plato’s Pheadrus. Hand writing doesn’t necessarily externalize memory, but maybe typing does.

Digital Literacy

I vividly remember getting our first computer. It was 1995 and I was a senior in high school.  My mother ordered a Gateway computer because it was a good computer and she liked the cow print box gimmick. She placed the computer in the space between our kitchen and living room so everyone could use it.

The machine changed our lives. Instead of retreating to our rooms alone, my brother and I stayed out with our parents to fight over computer time. Sometimes, we had to negotiate time with our mother! The dial up hand shake gave me a thrill.

I was lucky. My mom loved technology and made it a priority in our family. I didn’t get my own car, but I had the internet.

How each of us comes to digital literacy can be radically different. In Literate Lives in the Information Age, Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher share stories of digital literacy (we’re reading at least one of them in a month or so). At the end of the book, Selfe and Hawisher provide the questionnaire that they used to generate these narratives. You may find some of their questions fruitful as you blog about digital rhetoric.

Selected Questions from Literate Lives:

  1. If your family had a computer at home when you were growing up, can you tell us a story of buying the computer? Who bought it? When? Why?
  2. Can you tell us how much the computer cost? Can you talk about how significant/serious that investment was in terms of your family’s regular budget?
  3. Tell the story of how you first learned to use the computer at school: What was your motivation? Age? Who helped? How did they help? What kids of support did you have? In what classes did you learn to use the computer? How much access did you have to a computer per day/week/month?
  4. What did your teachers/the school you went to think about computers? What values did they place on this activity? On your participation? On their role? Do you have any stories you can tell us that would illustrate the value of the educational system placed on computers or computer literacy?
  5. Do you currently have access to a computer someplace other than at home? Where (workplace, school)? When? For how long? How do you get there? How much does it cost to use this computer?