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Reading in Print and Reading on Screens

D-WRD Session notes

Reading can be an act of composition, too.


  • Mindful reading
  • Embodied reading
  • Deep contextual reading
  • Reading comprehension
  • Serendipitous reading
  • Multitasking
  • Linear & non-linear reading
  • Annotating texts
  • Memory
  • Reading as a social activity

We began by discussing some of the contexts for thinking about print and digital reading practices: cultural attitudes (tl;dr); market forces, including publishers’ and corporate efforts, with an emphasis on marketing “convenience,” versus, say, as Edward Evins pointed out, a pedagogy that focuses on complexity; new and emerging platforms for reading (typography, screen resolution, annotating); Louise Rosenblatt’s notion of “efferent” and “aesthetic” as different kinds of reading (from The Reader, the Text, the Poem); Deborah Brant’s “accumulation” of literacy practices and Daniel Keller’s “acceleration” of literacy practices and “foraging” as an emerging reading and literacy practice.

We then discussed “Why the Brain Prefers Paper” and possible classroom activities and projects that help to explore the current state of reading as a literacy practice:

  • Tricia Hermes assigned “Why the Brain Prefers Paper” in her class, for example, having half the class reading it on paper and the other half on a computer screen so that they could discuss the differences and trade-offs
  • Focusing on dialogic and reflective reading journals
  • WRD104 research projects that focus on claims made for both print and digital reading
  • Finding ways to support slow, deep, mindful, recursive, critical, and rhetorical reading practices, including text recall, annotating, comprehension, memory, and the role of serendipity and serendipitous reading.

Reading can be an act of composition, too.

“Creating Mindful Readers in First-Year Composition Courses
A Strategy to Facilitate Transfer”
Ellen C. Carillo

This article argues for the importance of teaching reading in first-year composition courses within a metacognitive framework called mindful reading. Crucial for developing more comprehensive literacy practices that students can transfer into other courses and contexts, this framework encourages students to actively reflect on a range of reading practices in order to become more knowledgeable and deliberate about how they read. This work is intended to prepare students to successfully engage with the range of complex texts they will encounter throughout their postsecondary academic careers and beyond.

Cultural attitudes

Market forces

But a funny thing happened on the way to the e-book revolution: students decided to stay with print. E-book adoption among college students has remained consistently, almost puzzlingly low. Studies currently show that about 3 percent of college students are purchasing e-books. (WSJ: “Should College Students Be Forced To Buy E-Books?”)

What is the purpose of college (again)?

Accumulation (Brandt) and Acceleration (Keller)

From Chasing Literacy: Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration (my bolding):

Acceleration occurs in two related ways. First, in the smaller sense, literacy technologies and practices tend toward speed. That is, they aim to achieve some end faster. Second, in the large sense, literacies can accelerate: appearing, changing, merging with other literacies, or fading at a faster rate. For instances of literacies appearing, one must only think of the fact that MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter all arrived within a three-year span, 2003–2006, and quickly became popular literacy practices. A form of literacy can rise to importance and fall out of practice in a short amount of time. 

For instance, knowing how to use hypertext markup language (HTML code) was an important aspect of electronic literacy in the 1990s, but is now fading. Some teachers may recall developing pedagogies around multiuser domains (MUDs), Second Life, and MySpace; these, too, have largely faded. An established form of literacy may remain but in an altered form. E-mail was a dominant form of electronic communication in various life domains, but has lost most of its social use to Facebook and texting, leaving it to fulfill the more formal communication needs of business and education. As literacies remain, they change: web browsers have moved from multiple windows to multiple tabs for multitasking purposes and continuously offer extensions to control more of the online experience; Facebook continues to update its functions and appearance; and cell phones have added keyboards for faster texting, application software (apps) for specific tasks, and speech recognition and activation software (e.g., Siri for the iPhone).

A significant effect of accumulation and acceleration is that what counts as effective reading and writing becomes a moving target—over time and from context to context. People in various situations must keep up with the latest changes, whether they involve using Facebook for social purposes, employing social media for workplace goals, or learning the latest course management software. Literacies are increasingly tied to contexts that value and reinforce speed and brevity. Much has been written to disparage “fast literacies” such as text messaging and multitasking, with the implied or openly stated conclusion that education should provide a bulwark against these anti-intellectual practices (Carr 2010; Edmundson 2004; Faigley 2006). I respond to some of these criticisms throughout the book and articulate a nuanced, productive relationship between “slower” and “faster” forms of literacy. If we take accumulation and acceleration as defining features of contemporary literacy, then a goal for educators should include helping students gain versatile, dexterous approaches to both reading and writing so they are prepared to navigate a wide range of ever-changing literacy contexts.


red-rectangle Daniel Keller: Chasing Literacy : Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration.
E-Book via DePaul Library:

red-rectangle Jabr, The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

red-rectangle Jabr, Why the Brain Prefers Paper

red-rectangle Baron, Naomi. “How Do We Approach Texts?”
_____. Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

Carillo, Eileen. “Creating Mindful Readers in First-Year Composition Courses: A Strategy to Facilitate Transfer.”
Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. 16 2016: 9-22

red-rectangle Mangen et al., Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension.

Faris & Selber, E-Book Issues in Composition: A Partial Assessment and Perspective for Teachers.

Terje Hillesund, Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper.

Maria Konnikova, Being a Better Online Reader.

David Mikics: Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. (E-Book via DePaul Library.)

Mueller and Oppenheimer, The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.

Thomas Newkirk, The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement

M. Julee Tanner, Digital vs. Print: Reading Comprehension and the Future of the Book 

FYW Print & Digital Literacy Projects

Annotating texts

Linear & non-linear reading

“Kids These Days & Paper Textbooks”
Via Brandon Keim — links to research articles:

“Only four percent of the population studied opted to use an e-textbook. The print version is still greatly preferred by college students.”

“Although the present student cohort is the most technologically savvy to ever enter universities, students do not prefer e-books over textbooks regardless of their gender, computer use or comfort with computers.”

“Textbook use and reading assigned readings were unrelated to their choice to use an e-book. When available, students chose to use the printed book; however, when the e-book was the only format available, they used it.”

“Generally, both users and non-users of e-books prefer to use the printed version of textbooks especially if the text is continuously used.”

(“Kid these days”)