I Think It’s Obvious Why College Students Prefer Real Books

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...
If this is how you grew up reading, what would your preference be? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this week the The Washington Post ran a story titled Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right. Every time I see one of these stories it makes me think a bit about why this is the case. It actually amazes me that people are so surprised that “Digital Natives” prefer real books to e-books. The fact of the matter is the in the case of this article, we are talking about college students who have spent more than a decade completing their reading in real books and having educators assign work from real books.  Just because they now have access to e-textbooks and/or e-books does not mean that they will choose to abandon the workflow they have used for their entire educational career. Why are we surprised by this? 

In Burlington for instance, we handed out iPads four years ago and our current seniors have had iPads for their entire high school careers. Yet, we have not seen a seismic shift in the amount of reading that has moved away from traditional books. Again, is this a shock? Given that these students had done almost all of their reading through eighth grade in a traditional format, I think not. Do I think that our elementary students will feel the same way? No, I think we will start to see more of a split in the choice by students in regards to a preference of reading online vs. reading traditional books.

The Only Way To Get Students Comfortable With E-Reading

The major problem in regards to seeing some of the unique aspects of reading online is to have students guided through the process and shown some of the things a reader can do digitally that they cannot do with a traditional book. Unfortunately, this is still something that many educators are uncomfortable with or unwilling to try. Personally, I love reading online and the fact that I can click on hyperlinks, bookmark key points/articles, and interact with others interested in the same topic/novel. In fact, we have had a pilot in our middle school this year using LightSail that has shown some indications of success. (I’ll write more about this later).

The point here is that we need to give students access to all of the tools and resources that can help them engage with whatever they are reading and then let them choose what works best for them. The key part of whether students choose to read traditionally or online is choose to read.  We need to encourage reading and discussion about reading with our students and help them on a pathway that will help them enjoy this lifelong journey. The only mistake in this whole conversation is to micromanage the decision.

Embrace the Struggle

We need to embrace the struggle that is part of this and have meaningful conversations to guide our own learning and the learning of our children.

Denying these opportunities benefits no one! 

Another Defensive Post About e-Reading

various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...
various e-book readers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disclaimer: As an administrator in a district where we have provided iPads for all students, I always feel a bit defensive about articles and research studies that are quick to dismiss e-reading in lieu of traditional books. This is especially true when I am quoted in one of the articles.

Caitlin Dewey produced another take on the merits of e-reading in yesterday’s Washington Post in her article titled “Why you might want to ditch your e-reader and go back to traditional books.”  Dewey’s piece highlights a study out of Italy that was highlighted in the Guardian this week where 50 people were asked to read a short story, half of the group on a Kindle and the other half out of a book. The findings here were that the overwhelming majority of the participants who read on the Kindle remembered less of the story than those who read it from a book.

As is usually the case with these types of studies, I have some questions I need answered to help me understand the findings of this study:

  • How many of these Kindle readers had done reading electronically before?
  • What was the mindset of these people about reading electronically?
The fact of the matter is that only two of the Kindle readers had experience reading on the Kindle, a fact that this story seemed comfortable glossing over. I am a bit at a loss as to how such a significant matter can be considered insignificant. It seems straightforward to me that people tend to perform better in an environment in which they are more comfortable.  I am wondering when I will see a study done with a group of people who consider themselves strong e-readers and face them off with a group of “luddites.”

Here’s my key takeaway from this article:

“Anne Mangen, the lead author of the new Kindle study, says more research will be needed to determine which devices should be used for what content and which populations benefit from each. It’s also unclear to what extent readers’ own attitudes affect their comprehension; one line of research posits that, as iPads and Kindles become more mainstream, people will approach text on those devices a little more thoughtfully.”

I am left with the same conclusion that I had back in April when I wrote A Rant On Reading Online vs. Reading Paper.

Why is it that as we seek the best way to accomplish a task, we cling to the false belief that we are going to find one right answer? Personally, I love reading online and the fact that I can click on hyperlinks, bookmark key points/articles, and interact with others interested in the same topic/novel. Am I distracted or adding a level of interaction to this task that was not possible for previous generations of readers?  

Of course, the answer here is that sometimes I am distracted and less productive and other times I am able to utilize the online resources in a way that adds greater depth to my experience.  My main problem with the alarmists who would prefer that all students read paperbound texts is that they deny these students opportunities to experience the power of Interactive reading, as well as the chance to find their own individual sense of balance in this area.  We need to embrace the struggle that is part of this and have meaningful conversations to guide our own learning and the learning of our children.

Denying these opportunities benefits no one!