12 March 2012

Read All About It, Part II: Skills for Digital Texts

In the previous post, we started thinking about whether or not reading a digital text is different from a print text. (It is.) Part of that difference is due to how the reader interacts with the text. Print typically has a linear, page-by-page tour for the reader; digital texts require the reader to find the path.

Unsurprisingly, there are more differences. Some of these are due to the kinds of reading online environments for which there is no analog model. For example, think about a list of search results.

This is not a table of contents. It's a bit like an index, but the reader will never know the rules (algorithms) behind its generation (e.g., it's not alphabetical). Search results are their own unique type of reading. There's different colours, font sizes and emphases, data (dates, number of authors), descriptions. A lot of stuff. Let alone what happens when you merely reorder the search terms.

Think about all of the dynamic content associated with digital environments. The books on my shelves never shout at me with ads or have a list of the most related chapters along the left side of each page. When we move students to digital media, there is a need to explicitly teach these new types of text. Students can transfer the skills associated with reading itself---phonemic awareness, vocabulary, phonics---but that does not mean that comprehension is automatically developed.

Research in this area points to the need for more complex skills with digital text. Consider the table below:

from Coiro, J. & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42, 214–257.

In moving to digital texts, students need to apply a layer of comprehension skills in three areas: prior knowledge, inferential reasoning, and being able to self-regulate the reading process. The middle column of the table has a description of the ways print and digital texts are similar, with the righthand column showing the additional skills required for digital texts.

Further investigation into the strategies associated with comprehending online text have revealed that reading online is a lot like doing research:
New literacies of online reading comprehension are defined around five major functions: 1) identifying important questions; 2) locating information; 3) analyzing information; 4) synthesizing information; and 5) communicating information. These five functions contain the skills, strategies and dispositions that are both distinctive to online reading comprehension while, at the same time, appear to somewhat overlap with offline reading comprehension. What is different from earlier models is that online reading comprehension is defined around the purpose, task, and context as well as the process that takes place in the mind of a reader. Readers read to find out answers to questions on the Internet. Any model of online reading comprehension must begin with this simple observation.
---Leu, et al., 2007, p 10.

Each of these has a subset of associated skills, including identifying accuracy and bias. Many of these subskills are the kinds of things we say are important, but assign little time and attention to in the classroom (see Life's Little Mysteries post).

Comprehending digital texts also involves visual literacy: how to read charts, graphs, maps, photos, and other types of visualizations. While aspects of visual literacy have long been a component of informational text, in a digital environment where students can search whole collections of graphics and images (or easily create their own), there is an additional need to "read" items which may have no text at all. Inferential reasoning skills are critical here, just as they are with text.

Want to see some of these skills in action? Have a look at the Videos of Three Online Readers. The page is three years old (and unfinished), but the videos give a glimpse into how students navigate online resources and tasks. Audio quality is not good, but there is not much of it. At the beginning, the researcher goes over the task with the student, then you have 30 minutes of watching the student's screen as s/he completes the task. What do you notice about where students click and how they search? What thoughts come into your head as you watch ("Why did they do that?" or "Don't they know they could...?")? What might this mean for your classroom and the way you address the use of digital texts.

In the final post in this series, we'll take a look at the "So what?" We know digital texts are different...we know that they require new skills...but is that really such a big deal?

Selected Sources
Coiro, J. & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42, 214–257.

Fisher, D., Lapp, D., & Wood, K. (2011). Reading for details in online and printed text: A prerequisite for deep reading. Middle School Journal, 42(3), 58-63.

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Banerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y., et al. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? In L. Rush, J. Eakle, & A. Berger, (Eds.). Secondary school literacy: What research reveals for classroom practices. (37-68). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

The Teaching Internet Comprehension to Adolescents (TICA) Project Web site


scitechlearn said...

Hi Science goddess this is very intersting. What do you think (will?) happen when reading is learned online? This is, when the reading experience is conducted first or at the same time as book reading? And what about e-readers?
Looking forward to your thoughts

The Science Goddess said...

Although I have nothing to base this opinion on, I think that for children in the pre-reading stage---where they are just gaining phonological and phonemic awareness---that there will be little difference for those who build skills online (or on a mobile device) vs. print.

I suspect that there may be a difference when it comes to building fluency and comprehension. However, there may be some good research (yet to come) that would point the way toward strategies that support students in this area. With the advent of tablets like the iPad, I would not be surprised that there is some informal research being done in classrooms...but I haven't seen anything peer-reviewed yet.