Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reading online

In my last entry, I mentioned that I had just started reading a book called Why Boys Fail. The goal of the book is the investigation of and suggestions for fixing the gender-related problems that boys may experience in school. In this post I want to focus on the author's investigation into how we read text online, one small sub-point in the author's larger argument.

The results of web researcher Jakob Neilson’s investigation into how people read online may surprise you. Neilson spent years studying how people read online. He “used eye-tracking tools to map how vision moves and rests.” His studies concluded that instead of reading full blocks of text from left to right, top to bottom of a page, we generally read in the shape of a capital F when we read a page of text on a computer. We will read all the way across at the top of a page, but as we go down the page, we aren’t as careful. “Near the bottom, eyes move almost vertically, the lower-right corner of the page largely ignored. It happens quickly, too. ‘F is for fast,’ Neilsen wrote…. ‘That’s how users read your precious content” (Bauerlein in Whitmire, 73).

The issue of how we read text online is not particularly an issue of boys; at least, it’s not at this point. The author offers no investigation of whether this reading pattern applies to males and females. However, if the pattern is true for either or both, we must keep this in mind as we move to digital textbooks or assign our students research online.

For me personally, it is difficult to read an entire article online. I still much prefer a book in my hand. I have a small collection of books on my ipad’s kindle app and other e-reading apps. I appreciate the ability to instantly download almost any books I am interested in and often for a price that is less than a hard copy of the book would be. I like that the library of books on my ipad really takes no space. When I move again, I won’t have to pack all those books in a box. Aside from the pure joy of holding a book, do hard copies of books have something that we don’t want to trade or loose over electronic copies, as they are right now?

Some years ago I read about a comparison between hard copies of books and e-readers. The author’s contention was that we recall what we read in hard-copies better because we can “see” the page in our mind. It is more difficult to “see” the page of an e-book in the same way. The text is not fixed on the page of an e-book. If we make the font larger or smaller, change the brightness or color of the background, the text can look quite different. We can put bookmarks and notes in e-books, but the pages will not have the coffee stains or dog-ears that hard copy books will have

Yet, who can argue with the access to databases or lightening of student backpages that electronic text offers? Is there a way to increase the care we take to read e-books? Can a careful teacher motivate students to read fully and completely? Does motivation matter in the way we read text online?

Some ten to twelve years ago, computers were being compared to “pencil labs.” This nickname was meant to point out that computers were being used primarily for word processing, or simply producing text, a task that could be done with a lot less expense by hand than by computer. With the growth of blogs and social networking, now the skills at the heart of our pencil labs have revolutionized the world. What was once derogatorily called a pencil lab can now foment revolution.

Actually, if e-readers are now to reading what “pencil labs” were to writing ten years ago, the future for the mesh of reading and teachnology is bright. 
Whitmire, Richard. Why Boys Fail. Tokyo: Amacon, 2010. Print.


Post a Comment

Add This