Against the backdrop of a relatively large body of research that clearly defines the challenges of skilled reading of print, we are now at the turning point, where much, and soon most, of students’ reading of both informational and narrative texts will occur in digital environments either apps, e-books, or online. (For links on the wiki on digital reading practices http://tinyurl.com/6mx6vwl).
Although literacy researchers know a lot about reading print, we are just embarking on research programs involving digital reading that will allow us to complement or supplant what is already known about reading print in general and reading-to-learn in particular. Leu and his colleagues (Leu & Kinzer, Leu, 2002, Leu et al., 2011) have aptly termed this relatively new phase of research deictic to acknowledge that these new digital literacies are elusive because they are so rapidly unfolding and evolving. Just when we start to figure out a particular digital context and tools that make it possible, and study them, the whole milieu changes.
Here, we discuss digital reading by first discussing the features of digital texts that distinguish them from print texts. We then use these differences to describe the literacy practices needed to read these texts. Finally, we use our description of these literacy practices to describe the use of apps designed to foster uses of these literacy practices.
1. Digital texts are often multimodal and increasingly more so. Print occurs with other media in creative juxtapositions, with accompanying links or navigation tools allowing readers to rapidly traverse modalities by linking to pictures, other graphics, and video. For example, Wesley Fryer’s e-book, Playing with Media http://www.speedofcreativity.org/ebook includes links and videos about uses of a wide range of different digital media in the classroom.
As noted, these multimodal texts still include print and require the skills necessary in reading print, but it is likely that the proportion of print text to other media texts will decrease significantly in the immediate future. The key design decisions in creating educational apps and online tools will be selecting the balance of modalities to best represent information, position ideas within a conceptual domain, and incorporate ways of engaging learners to maximize their comprehension.
2. Textoids are replacing longer printed discourse. In online textbooks or course systems, as well as in more recent standalone e-textbooks, the amount of longer print discourse is decreasing as pieces of text are written more concisely or condensed into segments. Originally, the term textoid was a negative one used to label short contrived texts used for comprehension tests. These little texts were considered to be ecologically invalid--that is, they occurred only in tests, not in the real world of texts, contained too much information, and were not logically or linguistically linked to any other texts. Now textoids are taking on a whole new life as integral reading bits presented to more flexibly introduce print with other media. Text messages are textoids, and sms texts can be multimodal textoids.
3. Portable texts on portable devices are replacing static, standalone texts. Up until now, students bought or rented textbooks and carried them back and forth to school. Even the typical online versions of these have been merely electronic duplications of the pages using, for example, the .pdf format. But with the more interactive digital reading and writing environments it is increasing likely that readers will assume writers’ stances, write responses to existing texts, or write texts in response to things they read, including peer texts and share their texts online.
The term portable text eludes a standard definition. Indeed Adobe’s portable document format, .pdf, embodies the original affordance. A document that previously took the form of a printed stack of pages could be turned into an electronic document, an image of the print document, that could be easily transported as a file. So a key part of the affordance of portable texts is being able to easily transport a text to others. But the complementary and more compelling affordance is that you can continue to change the document, edit it, embellish it, insert queries into it, annotate it and then send it on. The portable text is evolving as it “travels.”
These portable texts are already everywhere--look no further than texting. And look at how they appear and are elaborated upon and reconstructed in social networking. Portable texts, like the more commercially written counterparts, are usually textoids rather than longer discourse. But the fact that they are communally constructed, reconstructed, and shared is a huge contrast to static standalone texts that have prevailed for centuries.
The other affordance is that portable texts can be accessed and changed via portable devices (For an Infographic on uses of digital textbooks in the classroom
For an Infographic on iPads versus textbooks
4. Readers prefer to acquire news on their mobile devices over print newspapers. Readers also increasingly acquiring their news on their mobile devices, particularly iPads and iPhones. A survey http://tinyurl.com/7xcomxw found that 88% of users prefer the iPad over all mobile devices for consuming news (Fidler, 2012). For users 18 – 24 years old with iPads, 84% read news on their iPads for an average of 7.3 hours per week. 60% of all age-group iPad owners preferred reading news on their iPads over reading a print newspaper.
This shift in how readers, particularly younger readers, are acquiring the news suggests that as school-age students become young adults, that they will also be using their devices for news consumption rather than print newspapers, requiring new and different ways of processing information than is the case with print text.
5. Intertexts are becoming the nexus of meaning. With the increase in textoids and the portability of these texts, for example, short news summaries on an iPad or iPhone, previous theories and frameworks for how readers comprehend what they read will be turned upside down since those theories relate to reading extended print organized in artifacts like chapters and textbooks. In traditional notions of reading emphasis is placed on both the content and authority in single texts. An important framework that we discuss in our book with relation to digital reading, reading e-textbooks and texts in apps, is intertextuality and intermediality.
Historically, intertextuality considers any print text as part of the larger sociocultural context--the social textuality, from which is was created. Each text is both the absorption of and the transformation of another (Kristeva, 1980). No reader interprets a single text without this broader social textuality and increasingly, readers are likely to change texts they encounter. In the case of reading digital textoids in apps or online, or hyperlinking to texts, linking from print texts to media, and using as-you-go note taking and annotation tools in apps, the notion of intermediality--intertextuality with print and other media, applies.
Understanding and learning are not simply the result of interacting with a single text, or even considering the text within the world of all texts that could have influenced it; rather, the construction of meaning happens from two sources, what Still & Worton (1990) called the double axis of intertexts: new texts enter the intertextual field via authors or via readers. With portable texts, the number of authors and readers could increase almost exponentially. So what a student learns and understands is more and more likely to be an intertextual composite rather than as something represented in a single text. Put more technically, an individual learner’s understanding in this multimodal space, is the integrative, and transformative construction she or he makes from all of the multimodal texts--print, visual, video--read in the learning space (an e-book, an online site, an experience across sites) and interjects into the textual field based on her or his total textual experience. The learning ramifications of this intermedial transformation are huge.
The days of delving into a single, linear text are not gone, but they are on the wane. The key to reading proficiently henceforth is more likely to be the ability to read intertextually, to integrate understanding, across web pages or sites, across e-textbook pages and media spaces, and to construct a new permanent representation via multimodal intertexts (van Meter & Firetto, 2008). Put another way, reading proficiently, during the actual intermedial reading is the ability to maintain a coherent multimodal intertextual loop (Hayes-Roth & Thorndyke, 1979; van Meter & Firetto, 2008) building on one’s knowledge and understanding, and organizing that knowledge, as one read from text to text across modalities. In the book we show how this proficiency is so new, and readers have so little practice at it, that it will need carefully planned support from knowledgeable teachers, especially given the wide range of design issues in new apps and other digital texts that might actually impede maintaining the loop.
6. Digital texts are situated and participatory. An important aspect of so-called new literacy studies (NLS) (Barton, 1994; Gee, 1996) is that reading, as well as writing and any other literate enactment, is a socially situated practice (Barton, 1994; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Gee, 1996) and is automatically linked to the social institutions and power relations that sustain it. A text, then, is both an artifact of a practice that created it and a dynamic component of a situated practice in which it is read. A chapter in a biology book represents officially approved, “scientifically based” research and accumulated knowledge synthesized and reported, in an officially approved and adopted textbook that is aligned to a school district’s standards.
These “official knowledge” texts (Apple, 1993) comprise the bulk of what has been the key artifact of school curricula--textbooks. In reading traditional textbooks, both teachers and students have implicitly agreed to one take on an immense, complex knowledge domain through one textual lens. Against the backdrop of this institutionalized notion of reading, depending on the teacher, the lesson structure, the social dynamics of collaborative groups and the purposes and activities aligned with the reading, the practice of reading a text can be a very rich experience that varies across settings. Digital reading, portable texts, and intermediality all question and critique the idea that officially represented knowledge is enough or even possible when learners-as-participants constantly construct new texts and modify existing texts even transforming printed renditions into multimodal forms.
7. e-book affordances enhance learning. There are also some digital affordances of e-books not available with print texts that can serve to enhance learning (Gleeson, 2012). Students can bookmark and highlight sections of a book for later reference and sharing with others. They can then annotate these highlighted sections to create a repository of these annotations as well as share these annotations with others. They can search a text for certain words or topics linked to outside reference texts such as Wikipedia, as well as look up word definitions. And, in using PDF files, they can share and store files using DropBox or Google Docs, as well as employ different annotation tools such as GoodReader or Notability to add comments or drawing on these PDF files.
Within 5 years, give or take, the features of digital texts and digital reading will be at the forefront of curriculum planning in school districts and, hopefully, factor strongly into how we assess students’ proficiencies in school. These features and the processes they engender will also be the topic of a lot of exciting research. We can’t wait and will plan to post a lot of it here or otherwise connect you with it.
Apple, M. W. (1993). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age. New York: Routledge.
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Fidler, R. (2012). Survey description: 2012 RJI Mobile Media News Consumption
Survey. Columbia, MO: Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, University of Missouri.
Retrieved July 19, 2012 from http://tinyurl.com/7xcomxw
Gleeson, M. (2012). iPads (or other devices) and literature circles – co-starring Edmodo. Mr. G Online. Retrieved April 7, 2012 from http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/04/03/ipads-and-literature-circles
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Leu, D. J., McVerry, G. W., O'Byrne, I., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett-Cacopardo, H., et al. (2011). The New literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1), 5-14.
Still, J., & Worton, M. (1990). Introduction. In M. Worton & J. Still (Eds.), Intertextuality: Theories and Practice (pp. 1-44). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
van Meter, P. N., & Firetto, C. (2008). Intertextuality and the study of new literacies. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear & L. D. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies (pp. 1079-1092)). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.