Digitizers are computer input devices that enable a user to hand-draw images, animations and graphics, printing, or handwriting onto a tablet or digitizer device similar to the way a person draws images or writes with a pencil and paper. This process may also be called inking and is typically done with a stylus. Digitizers may be used to assist with graphomotor and organizational difficulties (see below).
Graphomotor Skills: Some digitizer programs have a feature that will convert handwriting to text. Students with graphomotor problems may benefit from training their digitizer software to recognize their handwriting, so that they are able to read it at a later date; however, it is not clear that digitizers currently have the functionality to reliably recognize handwriting. In many ways, digitizers share the same obstacles as paper for students with graphomotor challenges. Further, research has shown that the smoother tablet surface of most digitizers can actually present greater challenges for students developing handwriting due to the additional control of handwriting movements required (Gerth et al., 2016). These challenges are greater in younger students (Alamargot & Morin, 2015). Therefore, typing skill development may be preferable for students with graphomotor challenges, but parents and teachers should always consult with an Occupational Therapist before implementing a new program to support graphomotor skills.
Organization: Students with organizational difficulties may benefit from digitizers in that they eliminate the need to use paper, and therefore the possibility of losing paper. Notes are taken (or immediately transmitted) directly to the student’s device and stored automatically. For tablets, students will need a tablet with the proper note-taking software, and a stylus that works well.
Stylus: A stylus is a small, pen-shaped device that is used to input information (like handwriting or drawing) into a tablet or device with a touchscreen. Styluses allow users to interact with a tablet or touchscreen technology more naturally than by just using their hand (Annett, Gupta, & Bischof, 2014). Research has shown that writing on a touchscreen with a finger is suitable for large, but not very accurate motions, whereas a stylus is preferable for motions that require high precision, such as writing notes (Prattichizzo & Malvezzi, 2015). Therefore, users should consider the type of task being performed when considering whether or not to use a stylus. Some users have found that they are prone to unintentional touch (e.g., their palm makes a mark on the page) when writing on a tablet because the tablet cannot differentiate between the stylus and the other parts of their hand (Annett et al.). This may be frustrating for students because they have to adopt an unnatural way of holding their hand while writing; however, newer stylus technologies (especially those that are battery-operated) are better at overcoming this problem.
Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable, however, few studies have directly studied these technologies for educational purposes.
May help students with organization difficulties.
Handwriting is generally more difficult on a digitizer, especially for younger students (Alamargot & Morin, 2015).
Typing may be preferable to using a digitizer for many students.
Consult with an Occupational Therapist before implementing new programs for students with graphomotor challenges.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Alamargot, D. & Morin, M-F. (2015). Does handwriting on a tablet screen affect students’ graphomotor execution? A comparison between grades two and nine. Human Movement Science, 44, 32-41.
Annett, M., Gupta, A., & Bischof, W. F. (2014). Exploring and understanding unintended touch during direct pen interaction. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 21, 1-39.
Gerth, S. et al. (2016). Is handwriting performance affected by the writing surface? Comparing preschoolers’, second graders’, and adults’ writing performance on tablets versus paper. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1-18.
Prattichizzo, D., & Malvezzi, M. (2015). Digital handwriting with a finger or a stylus: A biomechanical comparison. IEEE Transactions on Haptics, 8, 356-370.
Written by Bronwyn Lamond, Last Revision February 2018