Brain Power for Reading Digital Texts – Part 2

In part one of this blog post I questioned the SAMR model and broached the idea that reading digital text is similar to reading print text, but actually is more complex.

The lowest level of the SAMR model is substitution – when we ask student to basically use similar processes to complete a task, but by using technology rather than paper. The premise is that substituting one for the other (word processing vs. paper and pencil for writing an essay) does little to change the process of completing the task and requires little additional and effort on the part of the learner, thus yielding little additional results in learning.

We are making some huge assumptions here when it comes to reading digital text, whether that’s an e-book, e-textbook, or website. Substitution implies that it’s an even trade – paper and pencil or typing notes in word document – as long as your keyboarding skills are proficient, you are basically using the same thinking processes. I am not so sure. Can a learner substitute an informational website for an informational book and expect to devote equal brain power to both, or does the integration of technology into the reading process change the thinking process?

Asking readers to find information on a website is fraught with challenges – everything from choosing a search engine (besides Google) to understanding search results, to evaluating the quality of the information on the website. Let’s not forget the myriad of distractions found in search results and on websites and the added bias of for-profit ventures vying for a reader’s attention and dollars. Sometimes it’s a wonder we can access quality information at all, yet alone make sense of this information.

Comprehending an informational websites takes so much more than making meaning from the text. A Web reader must be able to skillfully move from one link to the next, continually predicting where a link will lead and evaluating if, after clicking on the link, the information is useful and truthful.

We are in a transition time when it comes to literacy, and with print’s long history, people have much more experience with print text. Gaining information from a digital text adds a layer of complexity to a task, especially when a teacher or library media specialist teaches students how to use the tools embedded within a search engine, website, or e-book that support a reader’s meaning making.

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