I'm no researcher. I have been using the Internet and computer technology in my English classes since 1983. I have been a Chapter One coordinator and developed a course called CyberEnglish. Since 1983, my classes have met in a computer lab and I have used those computers nearly everyday to deliver instruction. All of my scholars did all of their reading on the computers, either from DOS programs I created or from the Internet. I have used this data in my Masters work and in my PhD work. My comments are anecdotal and not based on classic research strategy. I did one or two research projects, but they are minor.
What I do know about reading is that it has to be modeled. As a parent I read to my children and in front of them, too. They see me reading and children imitate their parents. The same holds true in the class. No matter what age our scholars are we should read to them. We should also read when they read. Now does it really matter what we read? As a teacher, it does. We all have a curriculum to get through be it English, math, science, history, physical education, health, foreign languages, art, music. In the end we seem to read to collect information more than not. Even when we read a novel we are reading to learn about ourselves in a classic text to self mode. Another interesting phenomenon that dates itself back to Socrates is how one generation belittles the following generation, worries about he youth, questions their intelligence and more. Ironically Man has continued to become progressively smarter and to adapt to new situations and opportunities. In short Man has survived quite well, in spite of these foreboding thoughts.
In a recent Literacy Debate article in the NYTimes by Motoko Rich, the value of reading on the Internet is being evaluated. I wonder about the criteria of the assessment and who is making it based on what rubric. Essentially I see old values made by an older generation judging the next generation's methods of learning, in this case reading. We have had these value judgments each and every generation back to Socrates when he lamented the youth and writing. I am reminded of my grandmother's lament over my mom's love of the radio, and my mom's lamenting my love of the television, just as I lament my children's use of the Internet. Maybe we all should just lighten up and realize each generation succeeds the next admirably. It is up to each generation to adapt to how it will survive, learn, and in this case read, in order to gather information. I am also not concerned as I have seen my daughters teach and they are better than I am. I have seen new teachers come into schools and do very very well, better than we did. We are in fine shape.
A couple of things I noticed about this article and the debate is the tactile love of holding a book. Fine for some, but not for all. Does that really matter? Now some of the things I hate about books are the weight, the poor font choice, the size of the font, and the color of the pages. With the computer, I can change the colors, the font sizes and styles. Some like digits other like atoms, does it matter as long as we are reading? Consider the evolution of the columns of print. Many years ago, print went from margin to margin. We have discovered over time and research column width is an important issue in reading habits as we have seen in the evolution of newspapers and magazines and their constant struggle with column width. During the early years of webpage development the issue of column width became important as screens got wider and screen resolution was so varied. bad design was to have text go from screen edge to screen edge. Hence the development of tables for columns, blockquote, and the ul code in HTML.
Michael Agger addresses this issue in a funny piece he calls Lazy Eyes for Slate. He uses a variety of publishing tools and hypertext links. These hypertext links are perhaps one of the reasons I love reading on the Internet, I can go to another place and gather more information relevant to my understanding the reading I started reading. Is speed reading really that important or is it about the content? I believe we may be different kinds of readers now and from the previous generation. We certainly read more kinds of genre than before. We have access to more media online.
Then there is the classic argument: "Reading from paper versus screens: a critical review of the empirical literature" an article posited by Andrew Dillon in 1992. That's sixteen years ago and look at what has happened in that time. Consider what people younger than 16 are doing with the digits and the toys associated with the digital age. We have come a long long way since this ancient research. Now this brings me to one of my favorite quotes from a movie. The movie is MIB, Men in Black. The scene has "J" (Will Smith) and "K" (Tommy Lee Jones) sitting on a bench after J has just encountered aliens for the first time and he is asked to join or not join the MIB. K speaks these lines:
1500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was the center of the Universe.After reading Dillon's 1992 paper, the MIB lines rang out. Ted Nelson's quote of 1987 from the paper was even more prescient: "the question is not can we do everything on screens, but when will we, how will we and how can we make it great? This is an article of faith - its simple obviousness defies argument." As we see more and more print media adopt a digital presence, books become ebooks, and the Library of Congress almost digitized; reading will change and so will we, otherwise we won't survive and that is a ridiculous notion. As I look around my classroom, I see it happening with the cellphones my scholars have and what they can do with those machines. Nelson's words haunt me as I watch it happen right in front of me.
500 years ago everyone knew the Earth was flat.
15 minutes ago you knew people were alone on this planet.
Imagine what you will know tomorrow.
So it isn't a matter of print or electronic, it is how are we growing? How are we adapting to our new environment? Yes, reading has taken on a new dimension and it isn't about us, it is about them, the next generation.