Reading: Screens vs Paper

A recent New Yorker article “Being a Better Reader Online” discusses a number of issues that may be salient in your 1-to-1 classroom. Does screen-reading result in lower comprehension than reading from paper? Guess what…It’s complicated.

“[R]eading is always an interaction between a person and a technology, be it a computer or an e-reader or even a bound book.”

But we typically don’t think of bound books as technology, because they’ve been around for so long. There’s still no longitudinal data about digital reading, but there is emerging evidence that the style of reading we do from screens is fundamentally different than the style of reading we do from paper. And this makes a certain amount of sense, but we have to be careful about controlling variables – it’s not fair to directly compare reading a book on a deserted beach to reading from your laptop at work while checking email and listening to music.

And there’s no going back! More and more of our students’ reading will be from a screen as time goes by. Since we all teach literacy, we need to be cognizant of this, and help teach skills that will allow for deep reading from a screen.

If you find yourself distracted while reading on your laptop, you may want to check out the extension Clearly, which helps you focus on what you’re trying to read if there are sidebars and extraneous information flashing at you. If the problem is more that you’re constantly checking facebook, you could give StayFocused for Chrome a shot.

If you want to know more about the humans and reading, check out Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (yes that is an link), whose author was interviewed for this article.

Interested in talking about digital deep reading with your colleagues at AES? Drop by the Office of Learning and let us know!

(Big hat tip to Gary Coyle for the New Yorker article)