Today, many people no longer read traditional bound books, but read them on a digital device: a tablet, laptop or phone. For students, this could mean a great deal less to lug around a campus as one device can hold a great deal of material. For students attending online schools, it may mean not using physical books at all. However, is reading from a device the same as from a traditional book? Do people retain the information just as well? Four University of Phoenix faculty members have written a paper on the subject of digital comprehension and how to enhance it: “Strategies for Enhancing Digital Reading Comprehension”. That paper was recently recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) with publication and presentation at its 2019 Global Learn conference. One of the authors, Roxbury resident Elsie Walker, recently talked about the project, the recognition and the paper’s topic.
“The paper was written by fellow faculty Myrene Magobo, Richard Kammerman, Shelley Gordon and myself. We did it as a project at the university. One of the challenges is that we live in four different states, for example Richard is in Colorado , so it was interesting to put this together long distance,” said Walker.
Walker explained that the AACE, which accepted the paper, is an international organization involved in sharing information on using technology in education and e-learning research. This year, its annual conference was held in July in the United States: Princeton, New Jersey. “Myrene championed submitting our paper. It isn’t easy to get a paper published in the academic world, but Myrene was determined to see ours in print. Thus, it was perfect that Myrene was our presenter at the July conference,” said Walker
“The paper shares studies of reading comprehension differences between books read on digital devices, like tablets, verses regular paper books. Comprehension on digital devices wasn’t as strong, especially for students who had come from disadvantaged areas,” Walker said. The problem is that most people start out learning how to read and comprehend using a paper book.
Walker explained that “the lay of the land’ is different between a physical book and a digital one. While the pages of a physical book are clearly defined, it can seem like the pages of a digital book just roll one into another. Having defined pages helps the mind to picture where a piece of information was located in a book and retain it. Along the same lines, online textbooks have ‘hyperlinks’, which means if someone wants to know more about a term, the text can ‘jump’ to that definition. Reading continuity may be lost,” she said.
Walker added that another example of comprehension interference is multi-tasking. “It is so common today to be involved in a number of things on a device at once, that students don’t think anything of trying to multitask at the same time as reading. Thus, they are not ‘deep reading’ for comprehension.” Finally, many online readers may have the idea that since the material is “at their fingertip”, they don’t have to take notes on it, seeing it like everyday topics they just “google”.
The paper goes into the techniques instructors can share with their students to increase digital comprehension, such as having an introduction on navigating an online textbook, providing a tip sheet on how to use tools within online textbook, such as highlighter, to aid in remembering material and having students journal about what they’ve read or teach them how to take good notes.
In addition to the current co-authored paper, Walker had had solo works previously published by the International Technology, Education and Development Conference: “When The Writing Gets Personal: Helping Students Write Through Trama” (2017) and “Helping the Military and All Students to Succeed” (2016).