An Engineering Student Takes on the Paper vs. Digital Debate


“You will never see me taking notes in class on a laptop.” Jacob Gabriel Courey, WMU

Jacob Gabriel Courey has read the arguments on both sides of the paper vs. digital learning debate.

“I could recite countless studies that have been done in the past to try and convince you that reading and writing printed material is more beneficial to students than using screens for the same activities.  I could talk about how handwriting skills have been linked to better performance in school or how reading from a page maximizes comprehension or the difference between writing and typing and how they affect memory.  While all of these facts are true and important, they are not the cornerstones of my argument,” Courey writes in

He’s no technophobe; quite the opposite, in fact. He values technology’s role in his own education as a student of Paper Engineering at Western Michigan University.

“I’ve completed entire group projects and papers without ever needing to find a time that my whole group could meet at the library because we can all just edit the same document online simultaneously.  I love being able to listen to additional physics lectures that my professor posts online or watch the step-by-step solutions that he posts of tricky problems,” he explains.

“I absolutely believe that technology can be used to enhance and expand the schooling experience but I also do not believe that it can replace the crucial role of pen and paper,” Courey continues.

Still, he asserts he will never take class notes on a laptop.

“Besides the fact that I am easily distracted by internet access, I have found personally that writing out my notes helps me become much more engaged in a lecture thus saving me time down the road in how much I need to reread those notes.  It is also just very difficult to take notes on subjects such as differential equations or organic chemistry with the limitations of a keyboard,” Courey insists.

At the end of the day, it comes down to user experience, as so many of our decisions do. Courey says he, like so many other college students, simply prefers printed textbooks.

“I do not think that I speak only for myself when I say that as a young person who spends a lot of time in front of screens, I truly value a hardcover textbook.  It provides a tangible learning experience that is unparalleled by any screen,” he concludes.

It’s further proof that digitally-native students still choose print for studying and note taking, and we don’t expect that to change any time soon.