Is my brain wired for all of this technology?

Many of us did not grow up with technology and computers. Yet, our children will never know life without Chromebooks, social media, instant messaging, chat rooms, and—video games. Prior to Covid, I would tentatively dip my toes into this world… partly out of curiosity, mostly due to the demands of life. Since Covid, like many, I have had to jump headfirst into what feels like an overwhelming ocean of virtual learning, various online platforms, streaming, Google Meets, and screen sharing. I envy the younger staff who seemed to not only embrace this world but thrive in it. I am not anti-technology by any means..It just does not seem to make sense in my brain! Initially, I believed this was simply because I did not grow up learning this way. I did not have the established neural pathways that one who grew up using technology might. Then I got to thinking…what if there is more to it than just being Gen X? What if it had more to do with how my brain perceives things and how my brain learns. I began to notice patterns. I am a pencil and paper person, I have survived using a day planner most of my adult life. Sticky notes are how I get through the day. For the most part, this has worked for me. 

When I made the switch to all digital…I began to forget things. Well, let’s be honest, I often forget things, but when I write them somewhere, I remember that there is something I need to do! The digital switch was an extreme case of ‘out of sight out of mind!’ If a reminder didn’t pop up… it wasn’t even on my radar. I also had difficulty finding documents and information that I needed on this highly organized, user friendly platform. It was as if my brain could not shift from a concrete, 3 dimensional world with files and papers and filing cabinets to the 2 dimensional virtual world.

I found this fascinating, and wondered if it had more to do with what kind of learner I was than the fact that I was not introduced to the world of technology until well into my adulthood. It got me thinking about the students and clients that I work with. The very ones that have been using technology for remote learning and teletherapy sessions. Do they have a leg up with all of this because technology is all they have known, or do some of them also have difficulties making all of these connections too? 

I thought back to a conversation that I had several years ago, long before Covid. As an occupational therapist I have worked with many assistive technology experts and I recall a conversation with one SLP who asked me my opinion on whether or not we were doing our students a disservice on some levels by providing them too much technology, getting away from pencil and paper tasks, copying off boards etc. It was an interesting question at the time, and even more so now that we have all lived in a virtual world for the past year.

Although technology has so many wonderful benefits and has bridged the gap between ideas and written output for so many of my students, I do wonder if it is at the expense of other skill areas. As a therapist I have always felt there needed to be a balance. That a student shouldn’t stop working on handwriting skills just because they used a word processor or technology (such as word prediction or voice to text) to help improve their work output and engagement in written tasks. I have always felt these skills are still needed; there are forms to fill out, envelopes to address, personal information to jot down, checks to be written, and signatures to be learned. 

What about the students that rely on the multisensory approach of writing things on pencil and paper? What about the kinesthetic learners, those who need to physically manipulate and move to learn. For some of us the motoric act of writing things down, forming letters into words and words into ideas is more meaningful than simply depressing keys on a keyboard. It is likely that the physical act of writing itself helps us to make connections, assign meaning and relevance needed to better utilize skills such as working memory, organization, planning, and problem solving.

Interestingly enough there is research supporting this. James and Englehart (2012) suggest that young children who are taught pre writing and writing skills are better equipped to learn to read. “These findings demonstrate that handwriting is important for the early recruitment in letter processing of brain regions known to underlie successful reading. Handwriting therefore may facilitate reading acquisition in young children.” Other research specifically looks at the effects of cursive writing in the brain. OT’s have used cursive writing to address handwriting for years as we know it promotes skills such as letter formation, sizing and fluidity of handwriting. Once learned, many students find it easier to use and a more legible alternative to printing. This may be in part due to cursive handwriting using both sides of the brain and using more of the brain when compared to other methods of written communication (technology). Bergland (2020)2 does a nice job of summarizing several clinical studies that support the benefits of cursive handwriting, 

I think most of us have by now realized that there will be a “new normal” and that many of the changes to education and work experiences that were necessitated by Covid are here to stay. As we continue to move forward, I believe that we need to challenge ourselves as parents, clinicians and educators to look at the whole child. Technology is great and provides so many benefits and is at this point part of life as we know it. It is crucial to remember however that shiny and new, latest and greatest, most efficient….is not the answer for all of us. It is my wish that we do not lose sight of the importance of the basics for many of our kids. 

References:

  1. Frye, D. (2020, October 2). Why Cursive Handwriting Is Good for Your Brain. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202010/why-cursive-handwriting-is-good-your-brain. 
  2. James, K. H., & Engelhardt, L. (2012, December). The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in neuroscience and education. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4274624/. 

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