Cambridge Uni may allow laptops for exams

CAMBRIDGE • Bad handwriting might just be the reason Cambridge University halts 800 years of tradition.

The university is considering the use of laptops to replace pen and paper for exams as students are losing the ability to write by hand due to their reliance on devices during classes, British media reported last Saturday.

Senior lecturer Sarah Pearsall of the history faculty said students still wrote by hand several hours daily 15 or 20 years ago, but now hardly do that except during exams.

"As a faculty we have been concerned for years about the declining handwriting problem. There has definitely been a downward trend. It is difficult for both the students and the examiners as it is harder and harder to read these scripts," she was quoted as saying.

Dr Pearsall added that an increasing number of scripts were having to be transcribed centrally, which meant students with illegible writing were forced to return to their college during the summer holidays to read their answers aloud in the presence of two university administrators.

The university has launched a consultation as part of its digital education strategy after piloting an exam- typing scheme in the history and classics departments earlier this year, according to British media.

Edinburgh University launched a similar scheme for first- and second-year divinity students in 2011.

The university's professor of higher education Dai Hounsell had said then that students faced two problems when writing during examinations.

First, they were not used to writing by hand for so long. Second, planning and writing essays on paper was different mentally from typing them out on computers.

Students were thus given the option of using a laptop for exams, although it has not been rolled out campus-wide yet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Cambridge Uni may allow laptops for exams'. Print Edition | Subscribe