Monday, October 26, 2009

Does student comprehension differ depending on whether they're reading on the screen or the printed page?

Researchers are just beginning to understand how the digital world affects both the mechanics of how we read and whether comprehension is dependant on the medium.  Here are a couple of stories that report on some of this early research.  First is an interview with Dr. Anne Mangen, "a reading specialist at the National Centre for Reading Research and Education at Stavanger University in Norway," and author of an article entitled Hypertext fiction reading: haptics and immersion published in the 2008 edition of the Journal on Research and Reading.  

Dr. Mangen concludes that reading digitally "makes us read in a shallower, less focused way" than reading a hardcopy.  Asked whether that means "screen-reading" undermines critical thinking skills, she answered:  

"This question is a too general – but very important also–and it cannot be dealt with in such a general, either/or manner, as you phrase it. The precise reading situation, context, purpose, kind of text, reader dispositions, device characteristics, and other variables, would have to be specified in order to yield any constructive and interesting answers to your question. So your question is too general, but it's an important one."

You can read a summary of the conversation published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, here.

And here's an opinion piece from the NYT called "Does the Brain Like E-Books" that solicits opinions from five experts on the subject.  Among the observations are that screen reading presents far more distractions (i.e. email, surfing, etc.) that can interfere with the reader's ability to deeply engage in the material.  In the case of young readers, "screen-reading" may prevent them from learning in the first place how to deeply immerse themselves in the material.  As Professor Gloria Mark, a member of the Department of Informatics from the University of California, Irvine, says:

Reading online is thus not just about reading text in isolation. When you read news, or blogs or fiction, you are reading one document in a networked maze of an unfathomable amount of information. My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.

You can read the rest of the NYT's piece here.

I am the scholarship dude.


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