This may help to alleviate some fears and clear up some misconceptions, and it puts forward an idea that combines three of the top priorities into one:

Writing – eLearning – Curiosity

There are probably many of us that have had real concerns about the future of ‘writing’ in light of technology changes; this concern has good reason, because the act of handwriting has served us well for thousands of years. The act of writing seems to come so naturally to us from when, as infants we are first able to hold a crayon.

J.R.R. Tolkien put it so aptly when he wrote:

A pen is to me as a beak is to a hen.

Some may say that he wrote at a time when there wasn’t much choice, but I wonder if given the choice, would he still have chosen the pen? Something tells me that he would have.

Even writers who have had their choice of technology have still opted for the pen:

If I could write directly on a typewriter or a computer, I would do it. But keyboards have always intimidated me. I’ve never been able to think clearly with my fingers in that position. A pen is a much more primitive instrument. You feel that the words are coming out of your body and then you dig the words into the page.

Paul Auster

Many writers love the immediacy of the pen and their connection with it:

It’s called a pen. It’s like a printer, hooked straight to my brain.

Dale Dauten

And thanks to technology advancements that have allowed insights into the working of the brain, we can now see that there is indeed a connection between the movements of the hand, the act of writing (mental sequencing of letters, words, sentences) and thinking.

We are somehow wired to engage thinking with the hand

Dr. Virginia Berninger

Being an artist I have always understood the connection between the actions of the hand and thinking, and the role that the formation of 2D shapes has plays in the construction of understanding and memory.

The relationship between the artist and computer has been a rollercoaster ride of delight and frustration, because of the endless possibilities presented by new technologies and the restrictions that need to be overcome.

Back in 2008 when I first started using Microsoft OneNote with some of my classes I realized the potential of this piece of software to enhance and capture student learning. Back then the desktop software worked a treat, but real-time collaboration, although possible, was tricky and problematic.

It wasn’t until 2012 when I started using Office 365 with my classes that the true power of this software become fully realized for its collaboration and connectivity potential, however, there was still one big problem: The process of note taking, annotation (great video on annotation here), and sketching of ideas was much easier to do via the act of handwriting and drawing rather than via a keyboard and mouse.

I envied the progress made by Travis Smith at Frankston High School and their use of expensive Toshiba touch screen tablet PCs and I hoped that Moore’s Law would kick in quickly to bring the cost of touch screen and flash memory technology down to affordable levels – but here in 2015 Moore’s Law hasn’t quite done its job.

iPads were an obvious choice for those who wanted relatively cheap solution to touch screen technology, however, the writing experience with handwriting and typing is far from perfect, and could easily be described as downright annoying.

Luckily the more open cross-platform development frameworks over the past few years have allowed for a scenario where companies like Microsoft are able to freely create apps for devices like the iPad; and more recently these apps have started to evolve to a point where they are finally bringing about an equalization of technology where any device will soon ensure the same user experience (meaning that the process will be the same on any device).

I have used the OneNote app on the iPad over the past few years, but each update was matched with disappointment at the user experience of this app not matching the desktop version, until the latest release in February of this year.

This latest release of OneNote for the iPad has several new features including the much anticipated ‘Draw’ toolset, which now makes it so much easier for students to take handwritten notes, annotate (great video on annotation here), and sketch ideas.

I have fully tested this app out over the past month, and I am very satisfied and excited about the results so far. I am calling this app the Game Changer for the iPad because I believe that combined with the connectivity allowed by the Office 365 this app will help transform the iPad into a very handy learning tracking tool that will now enable the inclusion of handwriting.

So in terms of the three priorities: Writing, eLearning, Curiosity

The writing and eLearning have been covered, but what about the curiosity?

The great thing about this app being connected to the Office 365 means that the connections are ‘live’ which in layman’s terms means that every connected person has each other’s work the moment it is done, therefore, when a student creates a piece of work the teacher instantly has it; when a teacher corrects a piece of work the student immediately has this feedback.

Because this is so immediate it means that the momentum of learning is not lost, and curiosity can be fuelled by the right questions prompted within the teacher’s feedback to each student.

I have produced a brief run through of this app in a video – click here

And here is a link to a previous video where I discuss the link to the Office 365 and OneNote Class Notebook creator.

On March 25th of this year Microsoft announced that it has now made available all of its Office software free to all Australian students and staff, so that means that each and every student and teacher now has access to this software on any device (Android and Windows due to arrive in April).

If you want to see the full video of Dr. Virginia Berninger discussing the importance of handwriting here it is:

Other related links:

‘My First Sway’ – Microsoft’s new online presentation web tool – New from Microsoft – Students will love this because they can access images from their social networks (Social side may not work on school’s network).

How Handwriting Trains the Brain

What the best education systems are doing right – TED

Handwriting in OneNote for iPad and OCR everywhere – Microsoft


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