Nowadays, students call themselves as digital natives , it is the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like tablets, smartphones and e-readers. The teachers, the parents and the policy makers assume that the students familiarity and preference for the technology translates into better learning outcomes.
Being researchers in learning and text comprehension, the recent survey has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.
Placing the print in perspective
From all this research, there are some lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print’s place in an increasingly digital world.
- Consider its purpose
We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.
As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose. A lot of students from coaching centers use reference to make sure that they cover a syllabus from wide spectrum.
In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.
- Analyze all the tasks
One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.
But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students’ judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.
- Slow it down
In our third experiment, we were able to create meaningful profiles of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts.
Among all the profiles, we did find a group of undergraduates those actually comprehended better whenever they moved from printing to digital. What distinguishes this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.
- Something which cannot be measured
There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.
In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text. There must be a place for the print in the students’ academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.