Handwriting Versus Typing in University Classes

Upon transferring to a new university, I was shocked by the overall attitude of professors towards students using notebook computers in class. Many of my educators claim that the note-taking potential is not worth distracting other students in the room. I have written some of my opinions in regards to this topic. My opinion is best summarized by the final sentence in the fourth paragraph: "...This is pandering to the assumed lowest common denominator, and such catering lowers the potential of everyone in the class."

Without further ado, I give you my strong opinions on why typing leaves scribbling in the dust.


The current atmosphere on university campuses in regards to laptops in class is reminiscent of the attitude my high school teachers had on cell phones in the early 2010s. I not-so-fondly remember teachers having a no tolerance policy for phones in class, many claiming that there was no proof that cell phones were more so a boon than a burden. Even in many of my high school math classes, our teachers required we purchase and use calculators rather than the programs built into our phones or websites specifically designed to graph and model. Looking back, I agree in part with those ill-fated teachers. High school students tend to not have the discipline and dedication required to use their phones strictly for academic purposes.

I hold that university is a world away from high school. I find it highly unfortunate that many youths enter respectable tertiary educational institutions without the slightest clue as to what they would like to study. This is the demographic where I find self-discipline in learning to be most scarce. When Alice spoke to the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asked the cat which path she ought to take. The cat responded, saying, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

Too many of the rising generation, akin to Alice, do not know where they would like to get to, and resultantly seem apathetic towards the path they are on. Even were this Alice-esque group to be the majority of university students, we cannot sacrifice the teaching quality of those who truly desire to learn in the name of pandering to the lowest common denominator.

I have heard it cited on several occasions that using computers in class is detrimental to the information retention of not only the user, but also to anyone for whom the screen is in eyeshot. Once again, this is assuming that students lack the self-discipline required to stay focused and have become indifferent to their learning. I reiterate that this is pandering to the assumed lowest common denominator, and such catering lowers the potential of everyone in the class.

We must consider the opportunity cost. While it is true that studies have shown handwriting to be more effective in retaining information, this is not more desirable than collecting a larger portion of information which can be studied from later on. In note-taking, we are playing a game of quantity, not quality; what good is it to remember your notes if you only have a fraction of the lecturer’s information?

In 1995 the average American’s typing speed was barely below the average handwriting speed. In 1999, the average American’s typing speed surpassed average handwriting speeds for the first time. Twenty years later, Americans (all ages included) type nearly six times faster than we scribble (75 WPM to 13 WPM). I personally type at 120 words per minute, and I refuse to believe that handwriting at a rate that is nine times slower is of no greater value.

Teachers, professors, instructors, please understand. The world changes rapidly. It is not meet that we denounce something simply because we do not yet understand how to use it to its full potential. Tertiary education is for those who truly desire it.