Here are the key takeaways from our webinar with Professor Emerita Naomi Baron, a leading researcher in the evolving field of digital reading and writing.
- Match the reading medium to the learning goal. Research demonstrates that some tasks, such as reading long texts, answering inferential and comprehension questions, or reading for detail, are better suited to print texts, while tasks involving simple factual questions or scanning for information may be equally successfully performed using digital texts.
- Mindsets matter when reading in different formats, so talk with your students about what they perceive to be the differences between reading in print and reading digitally, and what they like and dislike about the different media. Studies have shown that students enjoy the feel and smell of books, but often perceive print text to be longer and more boring than reading digitally. They believe they concentrate better when reading in print, and indeed research shows that they are much more likely to multi-task when reading digitally. However, they also tend to incorrectly perceive that they have performed certain tasks better digitally than in print.
- Strategise how your students read with different materials. Be aware that students may carry over the more shallow reading strategies they use for reading online to print texts, so suggest that they stop after each page to process what they have read, asking themselves questions about what they learned, what they would choose to note down, or what they found interesting. When students are reading digital texts, suggest that they page down rather than scrolling, which studies suggest leads to better comprehension. Bear in mind the perceptions and beliefs that students have shared with you when planning approaches to reading using different media.
- Be aware that reading on digital devices may offer affordances for students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. For example, they may benefit from reading on smaller screens with fewer words visible at a time, or from reading texts with wider spaces between the lines, but these approaches should only be trialed after discussion with the student and evaluated to understand the impact they are having.
- Try to ensure that those responsible for setting policy regarding the use of digital devices for learning and testing are aware of the substantial body of research literature on how we read digitally and in print. Furthermore, it is important to know that some of the pressure to rely increasingly on digital texts comes from academic publishers and others with a vested interest in the shift away from print.
To learn more about Professor Baron’s research, we recommend her recent book How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio.