Although electronic texts have been with us for many decades, in the past few years electronic reading has become increasingly popular.
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An interesting take on the paper vs. digital reading conversation. John Jones author of this article references a Scientific American article by Ferris Jabr who argues that there are four distinct advantages that prove paper reading is superior to digital reading.
Followers of this Scoop-it blog, know that I've long emphasized that it is the text not the means of accessing the text that should be at the center of that particular discussion regarding literary reading. And, that educators who voice their own preferences for one over the other may be inadvertently alienating student readers who have established preferences for "the other" means of accessing literary reading text.
There being a long list of perceived advantages and disadvantages for both paper and digital reading, my question has always been, "Which is the most welcome format for the student REGARDLESS of my own particular preference? And by the way, though I do lean a bit towards preferring digital over paper, particularly when I am reading with an academic intention, I feel equally at home with paper-based literary reading.
So, when I began reading this article and discovered that it referenced an article from a respectable periodical and that that article took a very clear stand in favor of paper, I was quite interested in the possibility of discovering previously unconsidered advantages of paper-based reading. And, with that in mind, rather than assume that I might let my slight preference for digital reading bias my receptiveness to solid evidence that ought to be conceded to paper, I actually began to wonder about the possibility that IF there is merit in the argument for paper and against digital reading, that this might be more significant than my "let them access the text in their preferred media and concentrate on the text" stance.
Why? Because whether students prefer one or the other, the assessment structures for the English Language Arts Common Core Standards specifically require digital reading.
Could this requirement to take the assessment testing via computer which is not the same experience to those who prefer paper's advantages and who are more bothered by their perceived disadvantages of digital reading, cause an unrecognized significant increase in the test's margin of error considerations?
And, ironically, after having spent some time exploring the Smarter Balance" practice tests, I became quite concerned that the reading experience presented by Smarter Balance was significantly unlike the digital reading experience that I've come to appreciate a bit more than the paper reading experience.
The "Smarter Balance" reading paridigm includes none of the advantages and many incredibly, ... well, I'll just say it, many really irritating disadvantages for attentive reading.
It is a reading experience that isn't an authentic representation of any reading experience at all. Nor does it employ technology in a way that reflects the best features of digital reading, those being features that streamline attentiveness via immediate definition access, those that integrate highlighting and note taking seamlessly, and those that make reviewing notes and highlights instantly accessible whether one is accessing them while reading or after reading while studying for an exam or reviewing the entirety of the story while constructing knowledge via project-based building, essay writing, and other demonstrations of understanding.
Jones' critque of Jabr's "conclusions" rest upon pointing out the narrowness of Jabr's scope of consideration. Admittedly I was pleased therefore to see that Jabr's blanket conclusions were being challenged and that Jones' critique was based upon legitimate questions of Jabr's analysis.
Yet, at the same time, I could not help but wonder if students who prefer paper-based reading and who have then not exerted the effort to go through the process of developing a comfort level sufficient to getting past the universal "temporary fall back" that occurs when the comfortable old modes of operation are replaced with the uncomfortableness of the new mode's "different way of doing things."
This is not a new phenomenon. It's called the "S-curve" effect. Productivity declines temporarily when one has to learn a new way of doing something that is replacing what appears to be a perfectily satisfactory way one had always done that task.
We may not recall Mark Twain's turnaround regarding the invention of the typewriter. By the way, it is interesting to note that Mark Twain happened to have been quite intrigued with "new" technologies having been the first person to have a telephone in a personal residence and the first person to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher and who happened to go bankrupt investing in what he'd hope would be a revolution in printing industry technology.
Nevertheless, his early adoption was fraught with irritation at the typewriter's initial setback in his comfort, efficiency, and productivity.
As he put it,...
"The machine is at Bliss's, grimly pursuing its appointed mission, slowly & implacably rotting away at another man's chances for salvation.
I have sent Bliss word not to donate it to a charity (though it is a pity to fool away a chance to do a charity an ill turn), but to let me know when he has got his dose, because I've got another candidate for damnation. You just wait a couple of weeks & if you don't see the TypeWriter coming tilting along toward Cambridge with the raging hell of an unsatisfied appetite in its eye, I lose my guess."
- Letter to William Dean Howells, 25 June 1875
Yet in the spirit of a true pioneer, undeterred by the inconvenience caused by the inevitable setback to his productivity and efficiency caused by having to master a completely new skill set for writing, he did recognize the typewriter's significant POTENTIAL advantages over handwriting early on when he had not yet mastered the typewriter.
He demonstrated the kind of openess to the "new fangled" ideas that we might well hope our students adopt in the rapidly changing times they must be prepared for and the kind of openess to the "new fangled" ideas that we as educators ought to be receptive to in spite of their required discomforting "learning curves," when he wrote...
I am trying to get the hang of this new fangled writing machine, but I am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first attempt I have ever made & yet I perceive I shall soon & easily acquire a fine facility in its use...The machine has several virtues. I believe it will print faster than I can write. One may lean back in his chair & work it. It piles an awful stack of words on one page. Id don't muss things or scatter ink blots around. Of course it saves paper.
Of course, he did master the new fangled technology. He far surpassed his initial concept of the value-add that typewriters would bring to his writing once he made the transition. And, from that vantage point he was able to look back at pen and paper and see that in the long run the potential of pen and paper was far more limited than the new possibilities brought about via his surviving the transition to the typewriter.
In a later letter to Howells, his enthusiasm for typewriters was, ah, let's say great. He wrote, ...
...[children] what are they in the world for I don't know, for they are of no practical value as far as I can see. If I could beget a typewriter--- but no, our fertile days are over."
Now that's enthusiasm after an initial expression of serious dislike for typewriters.
Though forever condemned by an overly simplistic understanding of their motives, the Luddites are often cited as the poster-persons for resistance to technology. In truth, their concern was about their concerns regarding the impact on unions and laborers brought about by more efficient productivity that technology might bring. There's room for empathy there.I would suggest that there are in fact many people today who understand the Luddites concern. It was not that the technology wasn't more efficient in time and cost, but that many people today are finding their skill sets just no longer viable in a world that changes so quickly.
It's not unusual. Remember the discomfort expressed by many when word processors didn't make clicking sounds when the keys were hit?
Remember the discomfort when Apple stopped putting modems in their computers?
Inconvenience, some worthy of sympathy and some merely signaling a resistance to having to learn something new, often comes before the increased value-add made possible by change.
And, as long as this particular commentary has been, my point has been not to focus upon the legitmacy of the arguments made by Jabr in his assertion that paper beats rock, ...oops, ....I mean paper beats digital.
My point was, without assuming that one is better than the other, what if there IS an important difference between the two modes of reading that is particularly prevalent during times when disruptive paradigm shifts are making radical changes in the way we do things? And, if there is, might those differences extend the margin of error in the standardized testing results into the unacceptable range given the transition in place between the traditional paper-based skill set and the extremely varying degrees of achieving a level of comfort with the very different skill set of reading as a digital process?
I really hadn't thought about this in spite of the fact that I'm old enough to remember how microwaves were welcomed and unwelcome during the early days of microwave ovens and the discomfort and advantages of VCRs when they were new and with DVR when it disrupted VCRs, all of which brought new options to the exisiting modes of doing what it was that they did. Yet, they also brought a discomfort level that was for many such a challenge that they never did achieve the required new skills for reaping the benefit.
The pace at which people adjust to new paradigms is incredibly personal. There are folks who never did learn to program their VCRs. And there are people who just don't feel a need to jump on every unproven band wagon that happens along; some until the "bugs have been worked out, and others because they've seen too many Edsels and Beta-max flops. And, as successful as Apple has always been some remember the Apple Newton a "not-yet-ready-for-primetime" predecessor to the iPod and today's smart phones and tablets.
Even some of us who are educators remember the resistance to spellcheckers and calculators. Some still are; others insist that students be held responsible for perfect spelling since it is so much easier to spell perfectly when spellcheckers can catch the first 98% of spelling issues. Today no employer will tolerate labor expenses involved with employees who do math "the old inefficent way." Is there an educator reading this commentary who does not know a veteran teacher who to this day still has a significant discomfort with searching for ways to integrate the powers of the internet into his or her classroom even though there are others who signficantly enhance and engage students in the same content at the same school? The problem is not that the old ways "ain't broken" but that like it or not they are obsoleting.
I have a hard time leaving my paper books behind and I doubt that the day will come soon that I'd even think about doing so. But, I also do not deny the inevitability of an ongoing digital disruption on every front far into the future.
But that's okay. I still have a deep love and appreciation for the experience of driving my wife's 5-speed manual transmission Prelude "rocket ship". While at the same time appreciating my Nissan Pathfinder's automatic transmission, especially in the crazy traffic in the area where I do my driving. And, I am also perfectly aware of the fact that although I generally keep cars for 10-15 years, the next time I am in the market for a new car, my criteria won't be blazing speed and exquisite handling like the Prelude or comfort in traffic like the Pathfinder. My criteria will be dominated by my concern for sustainability of resources and room for my three adorable grandsons.
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