How important is handwriting in the digital age?

2 MAY 2016

New research at CSU will examine the importance of teaching handwriting and computer keyboard skills to Australian primary school children.

Noella MackenzieNew research at Charles Sturt University (CSU) will examine the importance of teaching handwriting and computer keyboard skills to Australian primary school children.

The study, Handwriting, keyboarding or both? That is the question, is being conducted by Dr Noella Mackenzie (picture), a senior lecturer in literacy studies in the CSU School of Education in Albury-Wodonga. Dr Mackenzie is also a member of the University's Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE).

The CSU academic wants to find evidence about the way children learn handwriting and computer keyboard skills, as well as discover more about the way teachers teach both these skills to their primary school students.

"I have a lot of anecdotal evidence about handwriting and keyboarding teaching practices through my professional development work with educators," Dr Mackenzie said. "However, what I want to collect is some real data from Australian teachers and parents."

Dr Mackenzie is calling for parents of school-age children being educated at home or in a classroom to participate in the study, as well as current or retired primary school teachers.

"I have tailored questions in the confidential online survey to suit the different groups of parents and teachers," Dr Mackenzie said.

"I hope to have as many parents and teachers as possible from across Australia complete the confidential online survey. Participants in the study will remain anonymous."

Dr Mackenzie said research from the UK suggests that when handwriting is automatic and efficient it frees up the short-term memory to focus on the message that is under construction.

"There is recent research to indicate that even adults have better recall of words written by hand than words written on a tablet or keyboard," she said. "There are certain cognitive benefits to handwriting which may not be fully retained in keyboard writing.

"Other research suggests that efficient letter writing is the single best predictor of length and quality of written composition in the primary years."

In August, as part of her research, Dr Mackenzie will travel to Finland, a country often hailed internationally for its leadership in teacher education.

"Finland is introducing a new curriculum starting in August which has handwriting instruction only in the first year of school," Dr Mackenzie said.

"But as an important point of distinction with Australia, it must be stressed that Finnish children start school at age seven, and many can already read and write before they start school having attended two years of government-funded preschool five days per week."

The results of the survey will be used by Dr Mackenzie to inform Australian parents, schools and policymakers. It will be reported on Dr Mackenzie's website by the end of 2016.

Media Note:

Contact CSU Media to arrange interviews with Dr Noella Mackenzie.

The confidential survey is available online. More information is also available at Dr Mackenzie's Facebook page and there are literacy resources for parents and teachers available on Dr Mackenzie's website.

The study, Handwriting, keyboarding or both? That is the question, has the approval of CSU Ethics Committee (protocol number 300/2016/06).

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