Churchie: Power of the stylus

From 2018, all students in the Senior School at Churchie in Queensland are equipped with the latest tablet and stylus (digital pen) technology.

In a world with ubiquitous technology, the aim of the 1:1 tablet programme is for the School’s students to embrace the full spectrum of teaching practices, which is afforded by a combination of pen and paper and digital technologies.

According to Churchie, enabling students to engage with a diversity of learning experiences and situations best prepares them for life beyond school.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.

Recently, Churchie’s Director of Innovation in Learning, Dr Terry Byers, conducted a three-year longitudinal observational study that compared teacher and student pedagogical use of a traditional laptop device compared with a tablet PC (Microsoft Surface).

This involved a comparative statistical analysis of more than 100 observations of Churchie’s teachers, which yielded some telling trends in technology use.

Such analysis presents evidence of how a device interface (keyboard, touch and stylus) can influence how the technology is used by both teachers and students.

The analysis indicated that when teachers and students used a traditional laptop device, the technology use was largely substituting existing practices, with little functional change.

When typing, students do not engage the 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). When we rapidly type, we are not thinking or retaining knowledge.

When the traditional laptop was compared with the Microsoft Surface device, it became apparent that adding the stylus interface had tangible impacts on teacher and student learning. For example, there was a greater incidence of the use of the Surface device to either augment or modify teacher practice. Therefore, the analysis indicated a greater number of those learning experiences that required students to engage in higher order thinking (understand, apply, analyse, evaluate and create).

Interestingly, this also correlated to greater student use of pen and paper and the use of the stylus. A possible link between the increased usage of pen, paper and stylus is found in the work of Oviatt et al (2012). Their research suggests that the creation of more diagrams, symbols and numbers when using pen (stylus) interfaces has the potential to stimulate ideation, problem solving, and inferential reasoning when compared to keyboard-based interfaces. These are the key skills that we are seeking to elicit from our learners because they lead to deeper understandings.

When teachers and students use a tablet and stylus, there are more learning opportunities created for higher order thinking. This greater incidence of exposure to these learning experiences has been shown to correlate with the increased academic performance of all students.

Building from this, Churchie’s teachers are seeking opportunities to lead its young men in the greater use of higher order thinking skills that encourage using the stylus and pen and paper.


Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

Oviatt, S., Cohen, A., Miller, A., Hodge, K., & Mann, A. (2012). The impact of interface affordances on human ideation, problem solving, and inferential reasoning. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 19(3), 1-22. doi:10.1145/2362364.2362370

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