On transcription…

Apr 21st, 2024

On transcription…

There was an article in the Telegraph yesterday discussing the use of technology in the classroom – specifically they were (probably quite predictably) denouncing the use of “screens” (i.e. ipads and laptops), and the fact that children are no longer taught handwriting.

I went to school for the first time in 1970. For my first four years we were taught “printing” by which I mean we wrote with a pencil, and transcribed each letter individually with a gap between them. When I was seven and we went into “junior school”, we were given our first fountain pens and learned to do “joined up handwriting” which was basically a cursive hand where you only take your pen off the paper between words. R is seven years younger than me so would have gone to school in 1977. He never learned joined up handwriting, and to this day, doesn’t really “write”. I am (sort of) right handed. He is left handed.

So the DT claim was that handwriting was inherently superior to keyboard input in terms of speed, clarity of output and comprehension. The latter I can’t comment on and I in fact feel it is pretty meaningless. But in terms of provability, R and I tried a three part trial. We each transcribed a passage from the Bible (John 1.1 “In the beginning was the Word etc.”) using pen and paper, typing using a keyboard, and using Microsoft Dictate for voice transcription. The results were sort of surprising in different ways.

R was faster than me but less accurate in all three tests. Even allowing for the fact that he made a couple of mistakes more than me, he was still empirically better at the typing part. This shouldn’t really be so because I touch type with all ten fingers and he doesn’t – so I don’t know why that is the case apart from possibly that he is just a superior type of human being (I’ve long suspected this…).

On the handwriting, we both took around 4 minutes. Mine took 4:10 and is legible with only one mistake. I found it a bit of a strain because I don’t write much any more, but at the end of the day, we have a piece of paper with output on it which anyone could read and understand.
Typing the same passage, we both took less than half the time. Neither of us made many mistakes.
The winner for both of us was Dictate. R stormed in on this one with a time of 52s although there are some errors in it. In fact between slowest time (me writing) and fastest time (R Dictate) was a difference of over 400%.

Also at the end of the day, the four versions done electronically were storable and transferrable. In other words they don’t only exist as a single piece of paper.

So I think technology rules in this particular respect. I will go further and say that teaching handwriting in the way that I learned it (in my heyday at the age of 18 I managed 37 sheets of foolscap paper written in longhand in 3 hours in my English A level exam) is now a waste of time, as were so many other subjects I learned in school.