Daily Archives: December 16, 2008

pen and paper technology – is that it?

I asked my friend Lance if I could reprint this note he had on facebook. He agreed, so here it is. I am a paper and pen kind of person; I would never bring a laptop to class. Yet I do agree that the way we teach and the way we test, especially, seems kind of primitive. Anyway, I still have an essay to finish. I’ll write my own comments on this later.

pen and paper technology – is that it?

As I study for my last final in school, NeuroAnatomy, I revert back to taking notes with a pen, writing bullets and key points and drawing arrows. I now realize that I only do this because it will make me pass the test. I am only allowed to be tested with the ancient tools of a pen and paper.

The test is not about whether or not I have the ability to understand concepts in NeuroAnatomy, nor is it really about NeuroAnatomy. Rather, it is about seeing if I can digest information using the tools the teacher finds most attractive, the pen and paper, and if I can represent that information using those same tools. What the hell is that? There’s not much I can show you about the brain with a pen and a piece of paper…

I have realized that I can learn anything I want and it’s definitely not a matter of passing tests. All it’s about is digesting information and piecing it together in a way that reveals a new truth about the world. And trying to create tools better than a pen and a paper to discover or recreate information.

I will do diligence in writing my notes with my pen on my lined sheets of paper because I will be tested and only allowed to use a pen and a paper. If I were only allowed to use images and conversation, I would practice communicating with other people about the answers to fabricated problems, just so I could pass that test. But let it be known, this doesn’t get me any closer to understanding “NeuroAnatomy”, it just teaches me how much better I can make it for other people learning NeuroAnatomy.

I would rather be tested by seeing if I could program an application that showed how cell signaling worked in the limbic system or how the visual system constructs images. Or to see if I could rewrite the NeuroAnatomy textbook using today’s amazing programming frameworks and Wikipedia, so that it made more sense, or to see if I could aggregate all the data on the internet about NeuroAnatomy to allow students to learn better. That would show you much more whether or not I knew NeuroAnatomy.


Ever think about how you hardly ever remember anything complex by writing it down? Some day we’ll be teachers and students won’t be using pens and paper anymore, or even a text editor on the computer which just postpones the learning problem. We need interactive and engaging experiences to really understand anything important.