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Sunday, September 25, 2022

AI Teaching Cursive Handwriting

Unusual application for these times, but I agree it can have useful side effects.

Applied AI Teaches Handwriting    By Esther Shein

Communications of the ACM, October 2022, Vol. 65 No. 10, Pages 19-20   10.1145/3554919

Researchers from Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and pen-maker Stabilo are collaborating on an artificial intelligence (AI)-based pen to teach schoolchildren what is becoming a lost art in an increasingly digital world: handwriting.

The joint project—Kaligo-based Intelligent Handwriting Teacher (KIHT)—is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

German children are taught to write by redrawing the shape of letters, which requires them to think about writing, explains Tanja Harbaum, a researcher at KIT who is involved with the project. "We want them to be able to write without having to think about writing. That's what we as adults do."

The eyes of unskilled writers are not able to keep up with writing, and "that's really a problem because if you force a child to redraw shapes, they won't be able to practice fluent writing at the same time," according to Harbaum.

While teaching shapes should be the first step, children are "painting the letters, not writing them," says Peter Kämpf, head of special product development at Stabilo. "Painting means that pen movement is slow and deliberate, with close hand-eye coordination. Therefore, the next step must focus on the dynamics of writing," which is the wrist movement, he says, and not focus on shapes "until the writing movement has developed to the point where it is an overlearned motion that does not depend on optical control."

This not only speeds up the writing process but also frees up cognitive capacity, he says.

Styli have been shown to enhance the ability to write. "Writing with the finger is more suitable for performing large, but not very accurate motions, while writing with the stylus leads to a higher precision and more isotropic motion performance," according to a 2015 study published in the National Library of Medicine.

Regardless of whether a stylus or an old-fashioned pen or pencil is used, however, studies have found there is a significant connection between handwriting, cognitive development, and the ability to retain information.

In 2015, Finland became one of the first countries to phase out handwriting instruction altogether, to keep pace with technological progress. (Although U.S. schools are not required to teach cursive writing, schools in some states continue to do so.) Some researchers do not agree with Finland's decision.

University of Washington professor Virginia Berninger told the online news site Qcostarica that writing with a pen not only helps develop fingers, but also thinking skills, because the brain works harder to write.

Other studies support the fact that handwriting is a complex task that requires more brainpower to process a word than just reading or typing it. Handwriting is both physical and mental, and the brain has to apply motor skills and thought processing when applying pen to paper to create words. 

Even adults can benefit from continuing to use their handwriting skills. A 2021 study by Johns Hopkins University published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science posits practicing handwriting "refines fine-tuned motor skills and creates a perceptual-motor experience that appears to help adults learn generalized literacy-related skills surprisingly faster and significantly better than if they tried to learn the same material by typing on a keyboard or watching videos."

"Our results clearly show that handwriting compared with nonmotor practice produces faster learning and greater generalization to untrained tasks than previously reported," researchers Robert Wiley and Brenda Rapp told Psychology Today. "Furthermore, only handwriting practice leads to the learning of both motor and amodal symbolic letter representations."  ..... ' 

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