On-screen reading

10 Oct 2013

Some research has focused on students preferences for either print or on-screen electronic reading. DERN has reported previously about students’ on-screen reading from research that identified a number of issues. The use of on-screen reading would appear to be emerging as the more dominant form of reading, with the increased usage of tablets and smartphones, than print reading. Some insights into the preferences and skills of students would be useful from a teaching perspective.

Research published recently focused on students preferences for either print or electronic reading, although the use of the term ‘on-screen reading’ here refers to the use of computer screens as opposed to tablets and smartphones. However, the results of a student survey are interesting in the report Screen reading habits among university students from the recent edition of the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology.

The research indicates that students prefer to read articles and papers in print formats rather than in electronic formats. Students rarely print the articles, for cost reasons and from environmental concerns, except when the article is important to their study.

A tension exists between print and electronic formats where students prefer to annotate articles on paper but texts are more easily accessible in electronic formats. The types of annotations that students wish to use include underlining, highlighting, commenting and making notes, although note taking often occurs on a separate piece of paper. However, students read more articles in electronic format than in print format but they find annotating electronic texts more difficult.

The research indicates that there is a clear need, in this transition stage of moving to electronic texts, for students to be taught how to read and annotate in electronic formats. Where teaching on-screen reading has occurred, the researchers noted that students were more confident reading and annotating in electronic formats. ‘Despite their preference for reading from paper, students are far more likely to read academic journals from a screen,’ suggest the researchers (p. 42) who also report that there is ‘increased student confidence and willingness to engage in screen reading after explicit instruction’ (p. 142).

Electronic formats also offered additional access to services such as dictionaries and thesauri leading to improved comprehension. However, students need to ‘overcome old reading habits related to traditional print-based texts,’ (p. 412) and to develop confidence with electronic texts ‘through familiarisation with the literacies required to perform successfully and autonomously in the academic environment’ (p. 412).

Screen reading habits among university students is a short and simple piece of research but it makes the important point that on-screen reading needs to be explicitly taught.

Research Report:

Vandenhoek, T. (2013). Screen reading habits among university students. International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, Vol. 9, Issue 2, 37-47. Retrieved from http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu/include/getdoc.php?id=5526&article=1614&mode=pdf

This article was first published on the Australian Council for Educational Research's Digital Education Research Network 2 (DERN) and is reproduced here in whole, courtesy of DERN.

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