review: International Symposium
Event review 10 November 2017
2. International Symposium on Handwriting Skills in Darmstadt: Handwriting remains – even in the digital age. However...
“The media are changing, but handwriting remains.” And, “Education needs handwriting in a sensible digital context.” These were two working theses that scientists, teacher trainers, representatives of culture ministries as well as teachers and occupational therapists discussed at an international symposium held by the Schreibmotorik Institut in cooperation with the TU Darmstadt’s Institute for Ergonomics in one of the university’s guest houses. The focus was upon the opportunities and risks of handwriting in the context of digitalisation as well as upon addressing the fundamental issues of future educational practice.
The “International Symposium on Handwriting Skills 2017” at the TU Darmstadt. Photo: Milena Mayer / Schreibmotorik Institut
Handwriting and digital technology are by no means mutually exclusive. This is shown by the latest technological developments, which use handwriting as an input medium, for example. “Writing by hand is one of the most user-friendly forms of interaction with human-machine interfaces – direct, flexible, intuitive and creative”, explained Dr. Marianela Diaz Meyer, ergonomics expert and director of the Schreibmotorik Institut, Heroldsberg. Presentations included recent studies on writing with digital and analogue media as well as proven practical approaches involving combinations of both worlds.
For several years, there have been international efforts aimed at increasingly replacing handwriting with typed letters in schools. The contributions at the symposium revealed the various problems this causes in terms of educational attainment. After all, handwriting promotes cognitive development. “Only three fingers write, but the whole brain works.” This was the title of a lecture by Dr. Ruud van der Weel, professor of cognitive psychology, Norwegian University of Science & Technology. He talked about how handwritten notes – preferably combined with visualisations such as drawings, shapes or arrows – are beneficial for “sensory-motor integration and learning”. In other words, these are tools that facilitate and optimise learning.
Gerald Lembke, professor of digital media at DHBW Mannheim, discussed the risks of an overly digital education. “A childhood without a computer is the best start to life in the digital era,” he said – particularly as digital technology has come to define our culture in such a big way. “But now that these devices are here to stay, we must be careful to use them as tools, as a means to an end and a way to achieve our goals. Then they will make sense,” said Lembke. “But they should not define our lives. We must control technology, not let it control us. We shouldn’t just give up our tried-and-tested cultural tools so easily – simply because we are fascinated by the next digital gadget.” The scientist stressed that the key was to finding a careful, responsible way to deal with technology in the digital era.
In terms of what this means for the classroom, he said: “The later children and young people are confronted with digital media, the better it is for them, and the more effectively they will develop the skills they will inevitably need to help them deal with technology in the future. Children who cannot do maths will not be able to understand logic or algorithms in IT, either.”
Writing motor skills test
The presentation by Dr. Christian Marquardt, scientific advisor for the Schreibmotorik Institut, explained that digital technology can not only be used as a learning material, but that it can also make work easier for teachers. He presented a simple new writing motor skills test for those who are just learning to write, called the “SMI CompetenzWeb”, aiming to provide answers to question: “How prepared are children for writing lessons?” “The SMI CompetenceWeb” is the first diagnostic screening process that enables teachers to assess children’s handwriting skills. It covers all the relevant aspects for learning handwriting in one specific, reliable, easy to use tool,” explained Marquardt. Individual promotional approaches could be derived on the basis of the results.
Alongside scientific findings, experience from practice was also presented. Reports by teacher Djoke Mulder from the Netherlands and Ina Herklotz from Germany were based upon differing forms of teaching: One (Mulder) addressed a combination of handwriting and tablets in the classroom, while the other (Herklotz) focused exclusively upon discovery and exploration using the hands. What are the important impulses that can be derived for educational practice? This was discussed from an interdisciplinary perspective. Diaz Meyer: “It is clear that the future will be digital.” If we wish to save the future of handwriting, we should bear that in mind.
The institute director stressed: “Instead of ignoring digital progress, we have to get intensively involved with it. It is our duty to support new educational approaches with the relevant research results, to deliver fundamental suggestions to their content, and to reshape practice together with the educators.” In this way, digital media and innovative technology could very well facilitate the future of learning to write. And this is necessary. According to teachers, every third girl and every second boy has significant problems with learning to write, and the trend is upwards.
An SMS poll of symposium participants’ opinions on the working theses proved unequivocal: “The media are changing, but handwriting remains.” – 88 per cent agreed (based on SMS votes). “Education needs handwriting in a sensible digital context.” – an overwhelming 97 per cent agreed.
bibo / Agentur für Bildungsjournalismus
Published by arrangement with News4teachers.