The following is a most timely and informative publication from Education Week.
Digital Reading Poses Learning
Challenges for Students
Comprehension may suffer when students read on the digital devices now flooding into classrooms, an emerging body of research suggests.
In response, some academics, educators, and technology vendors are pushing to minimize the distracting bells and whistles that abound in high-tech instructional materials. They’re also trying to figure out how best to help students transfer tried-and-true print reading strategies into new digital learning environments.
“We have to move into the 21st century, but we should do so with great care to build a ‘bi-literate’ brain that has the circuitry for ‘deep reading’ skills, and at the same time is adept with technology,” said Maryanne Wolf, the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
Schools have experienced a huge influx of digital learning tools in recent years, with nearly 1 in 3 public and private school students in the United States now using a school-issued mobile computing device, such as a laptop or digital tablet, according to a recent survey from Project Tomorrow, an Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit group.
Over the same time period, all but a handful of states have adopted common academic standards that call upon students to master increasingly complex texts.
The convergence of those trends has helped spark renewed interest in decades of study of the merits of reading on a screen versus in print.
Researchers now say that while many digital texts do a good job of motivating and engaging young people, such texts also pose a number of problems.
When reading on screens, for example, people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences. Research has also found that students, when reading digitally, tend to discard familiar print-based strategies for boosting comprehension.
And many of the multimedia elements, animations, and interactive features found in e-books appear to function primarily as amusing distractions.
Rather than resist the new technologies, though, some educators are trying to make sure students get the best of both worlds. And they’re beginning to get help from ed-tech products such as Actively Learn, Curriculet, and Subtext.
“We are very intentional about how [our] user interface operates,” said Jason Singer, the CEO of Curriculet, an 18-month-old San Francisco-based startup that has already signed up more than 100,000 students and teachers for its free digital reading platform. “Our approach helps struggling or reluctant readers revisit or reread the text, or note that important moment to stop, take a breath, and read more deeply.”
Digital Reading Tension
Christopher Hitt, 14, is the picture of a “reluctant reader.”
“I never read. Only when I have to. I think it’s really boring,” said Mr. Hitt, a 9th grader in the 3,000-student Southern Regional school system in Manahawkin, N.J.
When given an assignment, he said, he prefers reading on a digital device to reading a print book.
But Mr. Hitt is also quick to acknowledge a big problem: “I understand better when [text] is on paper, because it’s all right there, and it’s not skipping ahead and back all the time.”
That tension—between digital reading’s tendency to foster increased engagement, but discourage deeper comprehension—is presenting a massive new challenge for schools, said Andrew Dillon, the dean of the school of information at the University of Texas at Austin.
“There’s been this huge push from tech companies to get their stuff into classrooms, but that’s purely a commercial venture,” Mr. Dillon said. “There are real consequences for the types of serious reading people can do in those [digital] environments.”
Researchers have documented students’ struggles with comprehension when reading Internet-based texts on computers, although the literature on how reading e-books on computers is inconclusive.
And while similar research on mobile devices is just emerging, there are worrisome signs: A study last year by Heather R. and Jordan T. Schugar, a wife-and-husband research team at Westchester University of Pennsylvania, found that a small sample of students comprehended traditional books at “a much higher level” than they comprehended the same material when read on an iPad.
A 2012 study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New York City-based research organization for children’s digital media, found that 3- to 6-year-old children who “co-read” high-tech e-books with their parents “recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.”
As a result, some observers fear that mobile devices, especially digital tablets as they are now being used in the classroom, are not supporting the kinds of extended, rich interactions with text called for in the Common Core State Standards.
“People think of technology as the solution, but it’s often the cause of the problem,” Mr. Dillon said. “It’s not the end of reading, but it is the diminution or simplification of reading.”
For Katherine A. Baker, who’s been teaching freshman English at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey for 15 years, the question is not whether print or digital media better support students’ comprehension, but the best ways to help students like Mr. Hitt learn to read deeply in both environments.
“We live in two worlds now,” she said. “We have to adapt.”
“Some of our best thought will go into how the [digital] medium can address its own weaknesses,” said Ms. Wolf, from Tufts University.
But for now, she said, “good common sense tells us that we want to preserve the best of what we know from print as we acquire these new skills.”
Article from Education Week Published in Print May 7, 2014
“Screen Reading Poses Learning Challenges” Vol. 33, Issue 30, Pages 1, 24-25
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