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Paper vs Digital: The Unspoken Mechanics Of Paper

This is the second part of our content series on Paper vs Digital. You can read the introduction here.

Before moving or adopting a digital planning solution for your school, it’s important to consider the impact this may have on your students. Even if you’ve already migrated to a digital planner, digital planners work best when paired with a paper planner, and there’s a wealth of evidence to support this.

Blue light blues
Advice from Public Health England suggests that children’s screen time should be kept to a minimum. In actuality, the light emitted by modern screens and devices can be detrimental to children’s emotional, physical, and mental health.

Sunlight comprises a spectrum of different colours, including blue light. The human body uses blue light to configure its internal body clock – it has a direct influence on when we sleep, how long we sleep for, and the quality of the sleep we get. Artificial screen light is drenched in blue light, at much higher concentrations than sunlight. Humans didn’t evolve concurrently with modern electronics; our minds aren’t designed to process as much blue light as many children currently do, and as a result, this can have a severely detrimental effect on children’s sleep cycles and mental health. By only offering a digital planning solution, you force children into a digital world without offering a real-world alternative.

Government research has found that just two hours of screen time can cause headaches, eyestrain, and fatigue, while long-term overuse can cause permanent eye damage and loss of vision. High levels of screen time can also have a significant negative impact on children’s happiness and wellbeing. While children probably won’t spend an extended period of time on digital planners, it’s important to consider taking precautions. Ground your students’ minds in the real world to ensure that children aren’t encouraged to overuse and develop a dependence on digital media for day-to-day organisation.

Self-directed learning
Malcolm Knowles has explored the importance of agency and self-direction in study by creating a distinction between two types of learners: self-directed learners, and reactive learners. Self-directed learners take the initiative and decide what and how they should learn, while reactive learners are led by an instructor. In general, self-directed learners are more successful, and these skills are transferable to other aspects of life.

If you push updates directly to students without providing them the opportunity to transpose this information and outline their tasks, you’re removing any sense of agency and control from the process, and possibly pushing students down a lifelong path of reactive learning. It doesn’t take long to write down tasks in a simple homework planner, but in the long run, this can have a hugely beneficial impact on children’s attainment and critical thinking skills throughout their life.

Benefits of a physical planning system
There’s a wealth of peer-reviewed journals extolling the benefits of physical planning materials over digital solutions.

Researchers Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted three comparative experiments examining the effectiveness of students taking handwritten notes and taking notes on their laptops. The found that handwriting requires more mental exertion, forcing students to explain the task in their own words rather than mindlessly copying it – which, ultimately, could lead to a deeper understanding of the task.

In a similar vein, a 2009 Bangor University study used fMRI scans of students’ brains to look for differences in brain activation while reading paper and digital media. The results? Physical resources printed on paper are seen as more real to the human brain, and better connect to spatial memory neural networks. They also found that the use of paper resources is connected to emotional responses not shared by digital resources, which can help students to internalise the information.

Love it or loathe it, it’s a fact that multitasking reduces productivity and can distract entirely from the task at hand. Naomi Baron gathered data from 429 students studying in five countries. Her findings revealed that 67% are more likely to start multitasking or to be distracted while reading digitally; in addition, around half of them complained about eyestrain while reading digital materials. Digital planners are paired with digital systems, and there’s an entire Internet of distractions out there waiting to drag your students away from their work.

The benefits of supporting students in taking charge of managing their own time are plentiful, but the tendency for many to assume that digital solutions are instantly better than their paper ancestors is perhaps a little too extreme. The two can co-exist peacefully – providing there is a clear outline as to what the planning system should be achieving as a whole.