Do e-readers help or hinder students?

First aired on On The Island (03/06/2013)

At the University of Victoria's Congress 2013, an annual gathering of humanities and social sciences, there's been some positive discussion about the impact of e-readers and tablets on teaching strategies for high school students. Dr. James Nahachewsky is an Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria and conducts research on new literacy studies, including the advent of e-books and e-readers. He was part of a team invited to observe and converse with grade nine and ten students at Victoria's Westshore Centre for Learning, as e-readers were utilized in their English classes. 

"I liken it to the opportunity to talk to Plato 2,000 years ago when writing was coming into vogue," Nahachewsky said in a recent interview with Gregor Craigie for On The Island. "It's just a tremendously exciting and challenging time to be a teacher and a student right now in terms of communication technologies and the changes that they're affecting."

book-vs-ebook-240.jpgAccording to Nahachewsky, the surveyed students built upon previous, print reading strategies using e-readers but also engaged more with their digital interface. As "millennials," he argued that these students are generally quite adept working with digital and handheld technologies and often felt compelled to activate digital dictionaries and search functions while reading. The end result found  students who self-identified as poor or reluctant readers before, expressed such comfort with e-readers that they upgraded their status to "good readers."

"What really came into play was the very social aspect of using e-readers in the classroom," Nahachewsky said. "It just allowed an opportunity for teachers and students to interrogate themselves as learners and readers and co-author that space. And in that interrogation of themselves, as readers, they also got a sense of future possibilities for themselves in their learning.

"This is one of the key things that we, as educators at the University of Victoria, are looking at," Nahachewsky continued. "What are the implications of these technologies to students' literacy? What kind of interactions does this imply?"

When asked if e-readers might have a downside, Nahavhewsky allowed that the tablets, with their bells and whistles, can be distracting for "deep reading" that print texts often provide. He said that there's something about paper that researchers are still trying to understand on a cognitive and social level. In the end though, he and his team are optimistic about what their research has yielded so far when it comes to how all readers process the written word in this ever-changing technological landscape. 

"There's also an exceptional ability among successful readers in print to have that fluidity and fluency amongst a variety of media," Nahachewsky said. "So, if you can provide that opportunity for students in high schools to build their competency and effectiveness, as readers of print and multi-modalities, that's what's going to serve them really well, as lifelong readers."

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