On Monday, I posted some thoughts regarding an article from last week’s Washington Post that was titled Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say. I was excited to see a rebuttal to Michael Rosenwald’s perspective by his Washington Post colleague Valerie Strauss this week.
In her article, Actually, online skimming probably hasn’t affected serious reading after all, Strauss notes the skepticism of Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist from the University of Virginia. Here is a bit of what Willingham had to say:
“… teachers aver that students can no longer read long novels. Well, if we’re swapping stories, I — and most of my classmates — had a hard time with Faulkner and Joyce back in the early ‘80s, when I was an English major.”
“A more plausible possibility is that we’re not less capable of reading complex prose, but less willing to put in the work. Our criterion for concluding, “this is boring, this is not paying off,” has been lowered because the Web makes it so easy to find something else to read, watch, or listen to…If I’m right, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that our brains are not being deep-fried by the Web; we can still read deeply and think carefully. The bad news is that we don’t want to.”
While I find Willingham’s feelings on online reading versus more traditional means more palatable than those cited in Rosenwald’s artilce, my conclusion is still the same. There is no one right answer! We need to embrace the struggle between reading online and reading from paper-based products. Forcing our students to do one or the other denies them the opportunity to see the benefits that each has to offer. In addition, there needs to be an increased focus on the advantages of online tools so that students can meet more modern standards of literacy, like the ones below described by the National Council of Teachers of English in its Definition of 21st Century Literacies:
Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes;
Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information;
Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts;
Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
About a week back the Washington Post ran an article titled Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say. Immediately, I saw a number of tweets from people touting the article as a groundbreaking piece of research. (I’ll provide my own hyperbole alert since this is online and the research says readers may just skim over this).
Anyway, just a close reading of the title would have tipped folks off that this article was nothing significant. The keywords of course being “researchers say” in the headline which is a far cry from “researchers prove.” As I scanned and skimmed the article numerous times other phrases popped out at me, phrases like the following:
“comprehension seems better…with paper”
“Researchers say that the differences between text and screen reading should be studied more thoroughly…”
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!
I’ve spent the last few week’s reading Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, which dispels many of the notions of those who feel that technology is doing irreparable harm to our children and our society. In fact, I wrote a short post with some initial impressions last Friday. Interestingly enough, I also came across an article by Thompson this week (h/t to Lyn Hilt) which gave an interesting perspective on the role society has played in creating the world in which our children are so easily drawn to their devices.
Thompson’s article from Wired
cites the work of Danah Boyd
, who has spent thousands of hours interviewing teens regarding their online habits, and has written a new book called It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.
Thompson cites the following:
“…teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”’
Thompson also cites research done by Pew which has found that students who text the the most are also those who socialize the most.
The bottom line here is that, we need to be careful of jumping to conclusions about the activities are kids are taking part in online and categorizing them too quickly as antisocial and/or useless. I am reminded of another optimistic excerpt on the online behavior of our children from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus:
“Although some of what kids are doing may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize.”
|Christmas Has Brought More Devices Into Our Home and More Worries…
My son Tim is a sophomore in high school and we spend a lot of time in the car going to one of his sporting events or one of his two siblings. Recently, I told him how much tougher I thought it was socially for him than it was for me when I was his age. There really aren’t a lot of private moments for our kids nowadays as they tend to take photos and share information without forethought whenever they get together in small or large groups.
While I see some very positive effects from the connectedness of our kids, I often worry about the negative impact that a momentary lapse of judgement might have on the short-term or long-term future of Tim or one of his friends. Thank goodness some of my poor decisions as a teenager were not archived online for others to see! My only defense for my own children and others is to talk openly about this issue and provide concrete examples of the poor decisions of others.
With this in mind, the story of Justine Sacco is one that we should all be sharing with our teenagers. Tarun Wadhwa outlines the story of this regretful tweet in his Forbes article, Justine Sacco, Internet Justice, And The Dangers of a Righteous Mob. For those who may have missed this story, Justine Sacco is PR Executive who made a racially insensitive tweet prior to boarding a flight to Africa. Unbeknownst to her, the tweet went viral and became a national news story as she made the lengthy flight to Cape Town. In the interim, she lost her job and who knows if she will ever be able to repair the damage done to her reputation.
There are clearly two lessons here. First, there is the basic warning about thinking twice before you share something online. This one that we cannot share enough with our children. The second lesson here, however, may be more important. This lesson is the one about jumping into a hateful or insensitive mob in the name of righteousness. As Wadhwa points out in his Forbes piece:
“this wasn’t really about fairness, it was about entertainment… Sacco’s comment was terrible and indefensible, but there is no shortage of offensive things said frequently in public across the internet… We’ve “democratized” witch-hunts; a paparazzi is nothing compared to the digitally-empowered righteous mob. The next Sacco might not be such a clear case and instead of pointing and laughing now, we’d be better served by analyzing how best to react to similar cases in the future.”
As I continue to reflect on these viral situations where individuals are caught up in these web controversies that may or may not be of their own doing, I will ask my children to consider the importance of not adding more hate to and already hateful commentary. My wish is that my children will see the hypocrisy in the actions of those who promote tolerance with ugly remarks about those who are intolerant. There will come a day when we will all seek to be pardoned for something and that is the time when we will reap what we have sowed with our network.