Skip to content

Digital vs. Paper

January 16, 2011

One focus area of our secondary Reading Apprenticeship professional development discussions this year has been the issue of the digital interface in reading.  Specifically, does the digital nature of the text impact reading comprehension?

A recent article from the Middle School Journal explored a study comparing students who read texts online and those who read conventional print versions. When asked questions about main ideas and general themes, the online and print readers performed at comparable levels. However, when asked about important details and specific information, online readers did significantly worse than print readers.

Why did this happen? The researchers found that online readers were less focused than print readers. Even though they weren’t allowed to, online readers wanted to click on links and start reading related pages, click to see pictures, go to the online dictionary, and check their e-mail. These distractions kept them from reading as methodically as the print readers. According the researchers, “We cannot assume that skill in reading conventional text will transfer to online reading without modeling and explicit instruction.”

They suggest some ways to help students read online material more carefully:

Establish purpose. Students are more likely to focus on specific content if they know why they are reading a passage. Is it for pleasure, the main idea, the author’s perspective, or specific details?

Model.  Modeling and thinking out loud is especially important when gleaning information from the Internet. Here’s an example of a science teacher doing this: “This line is confusing to me. It says, ‘The water cycle has no starting point.’ How could that be? I have to find the details to support this main idea. I see a graphic here with the same words on it that are underlined in the text. I think I’ll read more about each term and then come back to the main idea to see if I understand the details that support it.”

Use graphic organizers. Even if students know how to use these with print reading, they don’t carry over to online reading. There are several programs that can help, including Inspiration and Webspiration.

Facilitate discussions. “Learning is a social endeavor, and people tend to learn better when they get to talk with others about what they are learning,” say the researchers. They suggest getting students to blog and instant-message as they read online and unpack the meaning and details of passages.

Slow down. “Teachers have to remind students that reading is not a race,” say the authors. “While fluency is important, and exceptionally slow reading will interfere with comprehension, it is important to note that different types of texts and different purposes for reading require different reading speeds… Reading more slowly and deliberately also provides readers time to activate relevant background information, make connections, visualize, infer, predict, and even disagree with the author – in other words, to mobilize all of the strategies they have been taught.”

Here are two videos, with different viewpoints, about the issue of digital literacy.

Click the link to view the second video – Reading More, Learning Less

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 17, 2011 3:33 pm

    Hi Scot,

    Thanks for sharing ways to integrate technology and introduce all sorts of classroom strategies for new media literacies. I’m happy to see that graphic organizers and the use of Inspiration and Webspiration Classroom made the list here!

    I’d love to continue this discussion on our blog, Facebook or Twitter. Feel free to email me directly at connect(at) as well!


    Sarah Cargill, Inspiration Software

  2. January 18, 2011 7:03 am

    Here is an interesting article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the move to digital only content –

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: