Monday, July 28, 2008

Reading: Online Versus Hard Copy

This article appeared in the Sunday NY Times about literacy, digital versus print. (Note: I had originally found this in the Seattle Times which printed an abbreviated version of the article. I thought it better to print the article in its entirety. Apologies for any confusion.)

"Nadia checks her e-mail and peruses myyearbook.com, a social-networking site, reading messages or posting updates on her mood. She searches for music videos on YouTube and logs onto Gaia Online, a role-playing site where members fashion alternate identities as cutesy cartoon characters. But she spends most of her time on quizilla.com or fanfiction.net, reading and commenting on stories written by other users and based on books, television shows or movies.

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A's and B's at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Konyk said, "I'm just pleased that she reads something anymore."

Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among education policymakers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association."

Naturally, the question is, does it matter where kids read? I'm with Nadia's mom because I'm glad to see any reading done. That said, it's the ability to concentrate and follow through on one story or article that worries me. If kids are reading and jumping from story to story, maybe not finishing one of them then I wonder if they do that in their studies. That's where the real worry should fall.

Are students reading textbooks? If they are doing their homework, do they take the time to read a whole article or only skim to get one fact out of it? Beyond that, there's a trust between a reader and an author and that's how you develop your own taste and appreciation for writing.

From the article:

"Some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print-reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not."

"To date, there have been few large-scale appraisals of Web skills. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has developed a digital-literacy test known as iSkills that requires students to solve informational problems by searching for answers on the Web. About 80 colleges and a handful of high schools have administered the test so far.

But according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000 students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented "core functional levels" in Internet literacy."

On the other side:

"Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories. Often, they argue, writers on the Internet employ a cryptic argot that vexes teachers and parents.

Zigzagging through a cornucopia of words, pictures, video and sounds, they say, distracts more than strengthens readers. And many youths spend most of their time on the Internet playing games or sending messages, activities that involve minimal reading at best."

What does Nadia say?

"Nadia said she preferred reading stories online because "you could add your own character and twist it the way you want it to be."

"So like in the book somebody could die," she continued, "but you could make it so that person doesn't die or make it so like somebody else dies who you don't like."

Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted "Dieing Isn't Always Bad," about a girl who comes back to life as half-cat, half-human, on both fanfiction.net and quizilla.com.

Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. "No one's ever said you should read more books to get into college," she said."

That first sentence "twist the way you want it to be". How many of us read a book and didn't want a character to die? But that's the author's vision, not ours. I also love that title "Dieing Isn't Always Bad" because there's life after "dieing". Lastly, her statement about reading and college? I'm thinking she's spent no time in a counselor's office or her teachers have been silent on this topic.

Enter Zack, another teenager.

"It takes a long time to read a 400-page book," said Spiro of Michigan State. "In a tenth of the time," he said, the Internet allows a reader to "cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view."

Zachary Sims, the Greenwich, Conn., teenager, often stays awake until 2 or 3 in the morning reading articles about technology or politics — his two current passions — on up to 100 Web sites.

"On the Internet, you can hear from a bunch of people," said Zachary, who will attend Columbia University this fall. "They may not be pedigreed academics. They may be someone in their shed with a conspiracy theory. But you would weigh that."

Though he also likes to read books (earlier this year he finished, and loved, "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand), Zachary craves interaction with fellow readers on the Internet. "The Web is more about a conversation," he said. "Books are more one-way."

He makes some points here about listening to others. But then you have to always ask yourself; what is the source of this information (or opinion)? Am I continuing to read in order to find people who support MY opinion or am I really interested in others' opinions?

From the article:

"Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site (zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/) about a mythical species known as the "Pacific Northwest tree octopus." Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source."

This is the future for our children and they may be the last bridge between digital and print.

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