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! 

I Am Right! A Follow-up To My Rant About Online Reading

The future of books
The future of books (Photo credit: Johan Larsson)

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.

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    Cheating Is Cheating, But Why Does It Happen?

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    There was an interesting back and forth this week in the Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet  surrounding the topic of cheating. The first take on the topic was by Penelope Trunk who kicked things off with an article titled Why Schools Should Relax About Cheating.  Strunk, a successful entrepreneur with two successful startups under her belt, noted the following:

    In school, looking at someone else’s paper to get the right answer is forbidden.  But in the work world, the people who rise the fastest are the ones who know the right person to ask to get the answer.

    Personally, I find it hard to argue with this logic.  But when I tweeted out the article, I got some pushback from a few folks on Twitter.

    //[View the story “Tweets About Cheating Article” on Storify] As usual, the folks on Twitter got me thinking a bit more deeply on the topic of cheating. The follow-up article that appeared the next day by Elaine Power, a Biology teacher in Maryland also made me reflect on my initial reaction. Power titled her counter to Trunk’s point of view Cheating Isn’t Networking, It’s Cheating.

    While putting out the disclaimer here that I do not condone cheating, I think it is important to have a clear definition of cheating while also asking ourselves why cheating occurs.  In regards to the defining cheating, we need to be sure that we are all on the same page. For instance it was not too long ago that some students at Ryerson College were disciplines for starting a Facebook Page to help prepare for their final exam.

    Finally while I will not support anyone who copies from someone else’s paper, I do think we need to reflect upon assessments and the fact that if there are too many of them that require rote memorization of inane facts that we are the ones cheating. We are cheating our students of valuable time that could be used for something more significant that would better prepare them to be the true collaborators who Power describes as “the gem of the workplace.”

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