Monday, April 14, 2014

Watch for that Asterisk

"Students Reading E-Books Are Losing Out, Study Suggests."

That’s the headline in the New York Times, at least. And, like many headlines, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, a small and admittedly limited study at West Chester University in Pennsylvania found that children remembered less from reading ebooks than they remembered reading traditionally printed books. But there appears to be a lot more meaning embedded in the study than the headline and lede suppose.

What appears to be most revealing in this study (and I have to say appears since the NYT coverage is skint and the research and presentation themselves are behind a paywall) is that it’s the type of ebook that is damaging comprehension, not necessarily ebooks themselves, so watch it if you see this paper or this NYT link presented with the trumpeted headline without that ever-important asterisk.
Here’s what the NYT says:

They advise parents and teachers to look for e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the text, rather than those that offer only distractions; that promote interactions that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming; that provide supports for making text-based inferences or understanding difficult vocabulary; and that locate interactions on the same page as the text display, rather than on a separate screen.

They found that e-books which incorporated in-book games and other “rich” media elements were distracting students from reading, not that ebooks themselves were damaging to reading comprehension. The authors of the study cite another in which “children spent 43 percent of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded in the e-books rather than reading the text.

Other studies haven’t found a significant comprehension gap between ebooks and traditional books. In “Tablet vs. Paper: The Effect on Learners’ Reading Performance,” a study performed in Turkey in 2011, researchers discovered “there was no significant difference between the groups in reading speed or the level of reading comprehension.”

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