Which is better: online or paper

Posted: May 22, 2024

Do you prefer taking your tests on paper or a screen? Despite your preference, as of this year, the SAT will only be available for online use. This brings up many concerns and questions, with the prominent one being: Which is better: Paper or online? 

Pencils and paper have been around since the beginning of writing. Shakespeare didn’t compose Romeo and Juliet on a 16-inch MacBook Pro. The Constitution wasn’t originally written in Times New Roman in a size 11 font. Learning to write is a basic skill everyone learns at an early age.

Johanna Beck, Latin teacher at Minnehaha Academy Upper School, provided some insight on developmental learning. 

“There’s something about learning through touch. And I’m not talking about a touchscreen,” said Beck. “Being able to flip through things that are tactile, that very involved process where you’re connecting your head and your mind to your body. I think that’s part of learning for a lot of students.” 

The pencil and paper style of learning has also been proven to help students digest information quicker and more accurately than by electronically typing. Physically writing out notes and papers engages complex areas of your brain that can’t be reached by simply typing words on a keyboard. 

A study taken in 2015 and 2016 studied the test results of the Massachusetts PARCC, (the state-administered end-of-year test). Roughly half of the students took the test online, while the other half took it on paper. The results were shocking. 

The students who took the test online scored as though they were five months behind in math and 11 months behind in English, when compared to the students who took the paper test. 

In summary, the pencil and paper method is trustworthy. It has been around for generations and is proven to accurately reflect students’ academic abilities. 

However, in 1943, the first electronic programmable computer was invented by Charles Babbage. The computer was shown to be a much more productive way of writing by simply pushing down on a keyboard consisting of letter buttons. 

As this technology has advanced with time, it has become capable of doing much more than Babbage could have imagined. 

Kyle Crowell, technology specialist at Minnehaha Academy, shared what he thinks the benefits of using technology in classrooms are. 

“It [technology] makes our lives easier,” he said. “It brings people together, lets us learn and do things more efficiently [than paper].”

Using IPads and MacBooks in a school setting are shown to be a very efficient method of organization. Schoology, a digital classroom tool, is able to provide clarifications on assignments and provide helpful side resources. Teachers can easily be messaged by students with questions. Grades are easy to access and can be helpful for students to view. 

First-year Makaela Binder shared her personal preference for online testing. 

“It depends on the class, but for most shorter quizzes and tests I prefer online because then you get your grade back immediately, which is really nice and reduces anxiety,” she said.

Another point of contention is whether it’s more beneficial for students to complete paper or online homework. 

Sophomore Sophia Blew prefers reading her textbooks online rather than using a physical copy. 

“It’s easier to pull up on my phone or like my iPad, especially if I’m traveling and I need to do homework,” she said.

An experiment conducted by the Paris Cooperation studied the productivity levels of students taking their homework online versus on paper. They found out not only that writing out answers with a pencil was more effective, but also that reading words on paper assignments produced higher attention rates and stopped students from getting distracted. 

Overall, online devices have proven to be very accommodating tools for students, especially organization-wise.  

So which is better? While both can be excellent styles for academic learning, countless studies show the benefits to studying and testing on paper, as compared to online.

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