Research: The Importance Of Digital Inking

UPDATE 29th March 2018: In addition to the school-led research below, Microsoft has conducted funded research into the impact of Inking on Thinking in schools in Victoria, Australia. you can read these here:

I am excited to see that increasing numbers of schools are conducting research on the teaching and learning practices within their own schools and aligning that with external, peer reviewed research. My previous post reflecting on how leadership teams could pivot their focus and prioritize this type of analysis and strategic visioning goes into this in more depth.

churchieLogoTo that end, I’m really excited to see a recent post from the Deputy Headmaster at Churchie School in Brisbane, Australia that shares data from a three year longitudinal study around how technology is being used in their classes with a particular focus on traditional laptops vs digital ink enabled devices (Surface Pro in this case).

Read the full report from Churchie here.

What helps is that Churchie has a clear vision of what they wish to achieve with the use of technology in the classroom:

Churchie’s teaching of technology in the classroom is a responsive one that seeks to use technology as a learning tool to unleash the transformative skills of creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration, and to enrich those experiences that are linked to enhanced student engagement in learning

Over three years and 100 observations of Churchie teachers, the school found there was clear trends around how technology was used based on the device interface (keyboard, touch, pen) and this is in line with the seminal work from Professor Sharon Oviatt. Churchie used the SAMR model as a way of measuring teacher and student use of devices. If you’re not familiar with SAMR it’s a four stage taxonomy that looks at the integration of technology into teaching and learning practices:

  1. Substitution
  2. Augmentation
  3. Modification
  4. Redefinition

This has been visually represented in many different ways but one of my favourites is:


SAMR is good because it is simple to understand for teachers and relatively easy to plan and integrate into teaching and learning plans and frameworks. I wrote about it a lot when at St Andrew’s College and you can see some examples here of it in action here. In Churchie’s study, they identified a clear trend towards higher order thinking and use of technology when a pen/ink enabled device was used compared to a traditional laptop:

churchie SAMR

Research from Churchie School, 2018

The preponderance of laptop use at Substitution reflects the wider research:

When typing, students do not engage those key generative thinking processors (summarising, paraphrasing and concept mapping) that encode external storage cognitive processes and that are linked to improved learning through the retention of new knowledge and the creation of schemas with existing understanding (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014). Quite simply, when we rapidly type, we are not thinking or retaining knowledge.

Furthermore, when observing how students were using their devices in class across a range of learning activities, the Surface Pro really stood out in the higher order thinking skills of Understanding, Analysing, Evaluating and Creating:

Churchie 2

Research from Churchie School, 2018

Again, I encourage you to read the entire report from Churchie here and they are explicit that their goal is to stimulate and promote ideation, problem solving and inferential reasoning and they believe the device interface has research backing showing the use of a pen / stylus and digital inking can achieve this. In 2015 I conducted research across a trial of teachers at St Andrew’s College on the value of then Surface Pro 3 shortly after it had been released to see the impact of Digital Inking and you can read the full results of this in the blog post I wrote at the time. Even then, teachers were seeing the immense value of the pen for digital inking:


Research from St Andrew’s College 2015

Office365 – Think In Ink

The logical extension of the impact of Digital Inking is how well it is supported by a cloud collaboration suite. Office365 is uniquely positioned to support both educators and students with an unparalleled Digital Inking experience. A collection of links to get you started:


Finally, I do want to reference again a great article on digital note taking I blogged about back in August 2017 and it’s worth reading again because it has a whole section on Multi-Modal note taking that is front and centre for the team at Churchie:

  1. Digital Organization and Content Curation
  2. Multimodal Notes
  3. Concept Mapping
  4. Visible Thinking Routines

One of the telling passages towards the end of the article is:

Too often, educators project their own note taking habits onto their students, applying paper-based strategies to digital tools. With that mindset, it becomes far too easy for short-sighted studies to confirm previously held biases against technology. However, as students progress in an increasingly digital and connected world, one challenge for educators will be to view digital note taking as a unique, necessary and completely different skill set to be taught.

This accurately highlights the challenges educators face in terms of not being unduly influenced by older learning styles and remaining open to leveraging newer technologies that will benefit students. However, these new methods need to be clearly articulated and presented to students. Using the old adage, they are “taught, not caught” – in my view at least, it’s not enough to hand off note taking to students and simply hope they settle on a technique that works for them.

With schools regularly acknowledging they are informed and led by research in terms of best practice in the classroom, the increasing evidence around the benefits of digital inking and the associated support for this in Office365 should stimulate some robust discussions amongst school leadership teams!

UPDATE 27th March 2018: Terry Byers from Churchie has just published other research from the school around the impact of the physical environment in schools on the use of technology. You can read this at the link below:

Empirical evaluation of different classroom spaces on students’ perceptions of the use and effectiveness of 1‐to‐1 technology



  1. goddinho May 3, 2018
    • Sam McNeill May 3, 2018

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

%d bloggers like this: