Are We Reading the Web or Is the Web Reading Us?

You are probably used to seeing a time indicator for the length of a video on You Tube. After seeing the amount of time for a video, you likely make a decision about if or when you will view the video. Well, a similar time indicator is appearing on website articles and blog posts. I hadn’t noticed this until I read Ian O’Bryne’s blog post Tweaking Word Press to Scaffold and Empower Your Readers. O’Bryne described his process for making decisions about creating his blog and his decision to add a Reading Time indicator for his posts. This indicator gives the estimated amount of time it will take to read the post. Here is an image from one of Ian’s blog posts.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.09.22 AM

This idea of a reading time indicator is interesting to me. How is this time calculated? There are so many factors that can impact reading rate, and thus time – including interest in the topic, vocabulary difficulty, concept complexity, number and type of graphics. Let’s not forget the inherent distractions that are possible when reading online. My thoughts quickly led me to wonder, how would a reading time indicator impact children’s reading of the Web? Would children try to time themselves and attempt to beat a reading time that was likely calculated for adults. Those who work with children know where this is headed – less efficient reading and less emphasis on comprehension.

As I explored the idea of reading time, or time points, I found that in the business world, there is much emphasis placed on analyzing the reading habits of Web readers. Metrics or data about readers’ habits are collected and analyzed, then used to make the reading experience more optimal – meaning more engaging to the reader, thus leading to more interaction with the text. Essentially the Web is reading our reading habits and using that data to influence the reading experience.

So what does this mean for children and their Web reading experience? In a perfect world children would be reading websites designed specifically for them as readers. But the Internet is far from a perfect world, and children often read online articles written with adults in mind. It’s important for teachers to point out reading time indicators and to explain that these indicators are only a rough estimate and that there are lots of factors that can cause a person to read faster or slower than this suggested time. Above all, we must help students understand the influence of purpose. Before reading a web article, ask yourself questions such as

  • Why am I reading this article?
  • What do I hope to learn?
  • What do I plan to do with the information?
  • How closely do I need to read this article to meet my purpose?

When a reader answers these questions, then the reading time indicator becomes a guide, but not a number written in stone.

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