Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


How Handwritten Input Helps Students
Learning Algebra Equation Solving

Lisa Anthony, Jie Yang, Kenneth R. Koedinger

March 2008


Keywords: Math learning, handwriting input, intelligent tutoring systems

Building on past results establishing a benefit for using handwriting when entering mathematics on the computer, we hypothesize that handwriting as an input modality may be able to provide significant advantages over typing in the mathematics learning domain. The use of handwriting may result in decreased extraneous cognitive load on students, and it may provide better support for the two-dimensional spatial components of mathematics when compared to existing typing-based tools. It may also simply make for an easier transition to paper and speed up entry of mathematics, and thus free up more student time for learning. Here we report the results of a study in which middle and high school students used a software tutor for algebra equation solving with either typing or handwriting as the input modality. We found that the handwriting modality resulted in similar learning gains in much less time than the typing modality. We also found that students seem to experience a higher degree of transfer in the handwriting modality than in the typing modality based on performance during training. An implication of these results is that students could achieve farther goals in an intelligent tutoring system curriculum when they use handwriting interfaces vs.typing. Both of these results represent promising findings and encourage future exploration of the use of handwriting interfaces for mathematic instruction online.

14 pages

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