From Digital to Print and Back Again

Recently, I have been spending indulgent evenings on my patio reading a book–in PRINT! For more than a year, I’ve been doing most of my reading via ebooks. While I occasionally have read an ebook while relaxing outdoors, I more often read them “on the go” in the minutes I find while waiting for the coffee to brew, brushing my teeth, eating lunch, waiting in line, etc. Picking up a paperback and finding a comfy space to read without distraction feels luxurious and nostalgic, reminding me of childhood summers where I did little but that.

Creative Commons image by Megan Trace/MegMoggington via Flickr

Much has been made over the past two decades about whether reading on screen is as good as reading on paper.This Scientific American article from April 2013 recaps some of that history and highlights more current findings. Recent studies show less of a difference in comprehension of a text when comparing students who read ebooks and the students who read printed books. Yet some researchers have identified that reading digitally may not be as effective for building deeper understanding of a text or retaining information long term. They believe that students have more difficulty navigating large ebook files and less spacial awareness of where information was found in the text, which affects retention.

I most appreciated the article’s acknowledgement that readers may bring a different attitude toward digital texts than print texts. “When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation — strategies such as setting specific goals, rereading difficult sections and checking how much one has understood along the way.” Instead, digital readers engage in more browsing and scanning than focused reading. Yet attitudes can change. Especially if we have good teachers.

Clearly, as ebook sales continue to rise and schools move toward 1:1 technology adoptions, the shift toward digital texts is happening. How then are educators helping students navigate the differences surrounding digital reading? Susan Lucille Davis, a 5th-6th grade teacher at St. Mark’s Episcopal School in Houston, TX, wrote this excellent blog post after ISTE, outlining her thoughts about where she sees common ground in teaching strategies for print and digital reading, what some of the differences are, and what questions she is still trying to resolve–such as how to encourage readers to extend their reading on a device and teaching them how to handle distractions.

Equating my experiences to reports about students’ behaviors, I concur that I’m more easily distracted when reading ebooks and I tend to read them less carefully than I do print. But I see this as more of an issue with my reading “on the go” than a fault of the format. I don’t have time–or more honestly, I fail to make time–for focused reading. Could that also be part of the issue for our overscheduled students? Is it more than just the device that’s the problem?

As digital natives move through the educational system, it will be interesting to see how these research studies and reading strategies change–and how we recreate books to deliver information in better way for digital devices.

For convenience, I’ll return to mainly reading ebooks. But thanks to my experience this week, I’ll be cognizant that to get more out of my reading, I need to slow down, focus, set intentions, and read more deeply–regardless of the format. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going back to my lounger and copy of Divergent