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Posts Tagged ‘reading

According to this TODAY article, an NLB survey revealed that 7% of 3,500 locals “did not read in the past year, whether it be books, e-books, online or print news articles, or magazines”.

That was the pretext for launching the National Reading Movement last year.

I have no objection to reading and enjoy the process. What I worry about is the narrow definition of what “reading” is and what the purposes of reading are.

From the examples of reading material, reading seems to focus on text. How about reading (interpreting) images and videos, particularly in non-book media?

Is the purpose of reading restricted to justifying the conventional function of libraries, e.g., lending books and promoting basic literacies?

How about promoting fluencies of different sorts of reading? Do readers think critically about what they read and watch? How do they discuss what they read and listen to?

If you do not consider these functions of libraries or examples of “reading”, lift your nose up from between those dusty pages and evaluate what is happening around you.

Libraries are more important than ever, but not just for the reasons of old. They are not just places to borrow books to read. They are spaces to self-define, learn independently and critically, and possibly find community.

Caution by dstrelau, on Flickr
Caution” (CC BY 2.0) by dstrelau

Last week I read this blog entry, Give a kid a computer…what does it do to her social life? It summarised a research paper that claimed to study how computers influenced social development and participation in school.

The paper might seem like a good read, until you realise its limitations. The blogger pointed these out:

A few caveats of these conclusions should be borne in mind. First, the study only lasted for one school year. Second, having a smart phone, with the constant access it affords, may yield different results. Third, children were given a computer, but not Internet access. Some kids had it anyway, but the more profound effects may come from online access.

The single year study is quite a feat even though a longer longitudinal study would have been better. The researchers were probably limited by schooling policies and processes like access to students and how students are grouped.

I am more critical of the other study design flaws.

My first response was: Computers only, really?

Phones are the tools, instruments, and platforms of choice among students. You can take away their computers, but you can only remove their phones from their cold dead hands. If you wanted to study the impact of a technology set that was key to social development and school participation, you should focus on the influence of the phone.

My second response was: Not consider Internet access, really?

That is like studying the impact of cars on air quality or travel stress by limiting the cars to a thimble of fuel. Much of what we do with computers and phones today requires being online. You can focus on what happens offline with these devices, but this is such a limited view. This is like saying you observe what happens in one minute out of every hour and claim to know what happens all day.

There might be a need to study the impact of, say a 1:1 programme, but this would likely happen in the larger context of Internet-enabled phone use. It does not make sense to silo study the impact of non-Internet computer use.

My third response on reading the abstract was: Self-reporting via surveys, really?

There is nothing wrong with surveying itself, particularly if the surveys were well-designed and valid. However, self-reporting is notoriously unreliable because participant memories are subject to time, contextual interpretation, emotion, and other confounding factors.

Given that the study was quasi-experimental, where were the other data collection methods to triangulate the findings? These methods include, but are not limited to, observations, interviews, focus groups, document analysis, video analysis, etc.

While my critique might sound harsh, this is the norm of academic review. If a study is to inform theory or practice, is must be rigorous enough stand up to logical and impartial critique.

There is no perfect study and on-the-ground situations can be difficult. But if the researchers do not manage the circumstances and design with better methods, then their readers should read critically with informed lenses. If the latter do not have them, this doctor offers this free prescription.

Today I share some tweets that begin a story on whether academic papers are read and I end the story with questions on teaching practice.

Last week I shared this STonline article.

It received quite a lot of attention judging from the Twitter conversations I had with people I had never met before.

One short conversation with one academic focused on an important aspect that the article brought up. If university faculty are appraised in ways that do not promote more open sharing or public discourse, then little will change.

For example, if more appraisal points are not awarded for getting grants that require data and publications to be more openly shared [example], faculty will maintain the status quo.

Several others focused on people not reading the articles they cite or not reading deeply enough.

It led me to tweet about the need to read pragmatically.

Given the disproportionately large volume of readings compared to the time for academic writing, it is pragmatic for academics to read selectively.

For the layperson and other academics reading outside their specializations, selective reading becomes the default method because they do not have the same depth of knowledge.

It is not as if you need to read everything; it is whether or not you read enough to make good sense or to raise a valid counterpoint.

I used my Twitter dashboard statistics to see if these academics walked the talk. Big assumption: People pause to read and click on what they are interested in. Since this was about academic papers not being read and since the people who responded (Twitter engagements) were academics, I am making an assumption that most were academics.

As of Mon, 13 Apr, 4pm Singapore time, my tweet had received 1,546 casual views and 99 engagements.

Almost a third of the engagements (32) were clicks on the screenshot, presumably to read the snippet more carefully. Only 11% (9 clicks) of the engagements were to open the actual article.

There is no guarantee that those who opened the article actually read it or read it all the way through. Whether they read it is partly a function of their persistence and whether the article was behind a paywall. If they read the article in its entirety, there is no guarantee that they understood it or got what was intended.

This is not an attack on academics. As a former academic, I understand what the stresses are and I also know how fragile egos can be.

This is a statement about how teachers handle readings. Teachers might assign readings as homework or use readings to flip their classrooms. Such efforts are likely to suffer from the same low returns and similar problems as the example I described above.

Instead of providing closed answers, I ask open questions.

  • Are the readings you want your learners to consume available to them unconditionally?
  • Why do you want your learners to read something before class? Do they understand why they need to read before class?
  • What scaffolds are you providing or what prior knowledge have you activated prior to the reading?
  • Must they read everything or is it enough that they read just enough?
  • What provisions have you made for those that cannot do the readings, do not wish to read, or do not benefit optimally from readings?
  • What assumptions are you making when requiring only readings?

Video source

Traditionalists who think that kids should only read from dead tree books and not be given interactive e-books before a certain age are bound to take joy in this book by Novak.

They will call this evidence of the effectiveness of not just books but also pictureless books. Victory!

But their confidence is misplaced. There are many forms of reading: For pleasure, for work, for study; skimming or in-depth; alone or in groups; being read to or reading on your own. They are not the same thing.

For me the video is evidence of connecting with kids. You can (and should) do that with any type of book.

And if video is the new text, what other sort of reading should we be promoting? Take a minute (or three) and see.

The WSJ wants you to know that “at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading with a book or e-book helps” your brain and reduces stress. But they would prefer that you read a book. Quietly. Or snuggle up with a newspaper perhaps?

I would argue that I have the same gains (and then some more) by dedicating at least 30 minutes of reading my Twitter stream or RSS feeds.

Here are the gains blow by blow.

Deepens empathy and provides pleasure
I am not sure how any book or e-resource actually deepens real empathy, but I find reading off my screens pleasurable. I take even greater pleasure in that I can hyper read to learn something more deeply or to explore more widely.

Heightens concentration
Being able to stay on task on a screen that produces an occasional pop-up and reading while balancing in careening public transport takes a lot of concentration. Dealing with a quick reply and then having the discipline to return to task is also a form of concentration.

Enhances comprehension, particularly of complex material and Enriches vocabulary
The fact that I can fact check and look for definitions online more easily than I can with a book definitely improves my comprehension and vocabulary.

Improves listening skills
I do not know how reading a book quietly to yourself does this. But I do know that my computing devices can read to me if my hands or eyes need to be elsewhere.

Reduces stress
It is certainly relaxing to be able to be able to read for a one 30-minute stretch. I do not mind if I get ten 3-minute moments of reading too.

So does the medium matter as long as I achieve the same gains?

More importantly, does the medium matter if I learn to read in a way that is more relevant?

It is not that I take pleasure in pointing out how the local press likes to make the worst of online trends, habits, or phenomena. It is that they do it with such regularity and without a balanced view that I have to point these things out.

A recent STonline headline reads Click. Scan. Search. Scroll: Deep reading is hit as our brain adapts to online scanning and skimming. The headlines points less to the fact that we might be adapting and more to deep reading (a newspaper perhaps?) taking a hit.

I do not know anyone who reads a newspaper from the first page to the last. I wonder how many people read an article deeply as a writer or editor might want.

Skimming is also something newspapers are designed to promote. The long columns and single line paragraphs are not accidents!

The sad thing is that our press has wide local reach and a fair share of conservative readers. These are the same readers who, whether they read deeply or skim, are not aware of alternative points of view. Alternatives published elsewhere at other papers like The internet isn’t harming our love of ‘deep reading’, it’s cultivating it.

These days we have no excuse for not being better informed. Not when the information is so readily available. It is human bias that holds us back, not the the technology.

These days we also have no excuse for ensuring our children are better educated when information is so readily available. In this case it is also fear, indifference, or inertia that holds us back.

I spotted this on Google+ recently.

I agree that it is important to read. But why does it have to be a book?

Insisting that reading be from a book ignores other media and other current forms of reading.

I also think that it is important to “read”. By this I mean activities like reading videos and reading people. This goes beyond consumption and moves to interpretation.

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