Research shows that reading on a digital device demands a different kind of attention, knowledge and other skills from the students.

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow. —John Dewey

When we are online, we read differently. We are looking for keywords, we skim and scan, and we do not tend to read a webpage from top to bottom. It is easier to concentrate while reading in a book or printed copy. There are different explanations, one of them is that you often have another purpose of reading online. The purpose is often to find information quickly, like when you need to find an easy recipe or information about public transportation or surf around the internet, like when you’re shopping online – but in school we want the students (most of the time) to do deep work, reflect, evaluate and think critically.

The issue is that information isn’t knowledge. Of course, you can be bombarded with endless information, endless facts but if you can’t make sense of them, one fact is the same as any other fact. You can cruise on YouTube or on Google going ‘yuck’ and ‘wow’, but you’re not actually making sense of things…  —Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist from Oxford University

There are advantages and distractions connected to online reading, but if we teachers do not articulate the challenges and the good points together with the students, they will not be aware of them. And then all the advantages end up being distractions too. We need to demystify the purposes of reading. It is important to make it clear what we want the students to achieve from reading. To develop the students reading and comprehension skills. It is also important to include, teach as well as giving your students time to practice different reading strategies, so they learn how to read online. Digital texts come in different formats, and it is also our job to teach them about the different formats.

Here are some pieces of advice for reading online, which you can practice together with your students.

Before reading
  • The students think about what they want/need to learn from reading the text? For an example they could write down some questions for the text before reading.
  • Afterwards it is important to the find the right texts. Teach your students to search for the correct words and teach them to check up on the reliability of the text and the sender. They will have to skim the text and estimate if this text is relevant for their reading purpose.
While reading
  • Have a look at the text. There are often pictures and films attached to digital texts. Teach your students to assess if the films and pictures are supporting or distracting the reading purpose.
  • Take advantages of the digital device. Different programs and the internet give the students the opportunity to use educational aids, as the computer reading for them or to look up words very quickly.
  • There are also great possibilities for note taking, highlighting, copying and sharing when they read online.

After reading

  • Describe, and get more knowledge. Tell your students to verbalize, what they have just learned for an example in a mind map or in different ways of taking notes. And make them search for new texts on the internet.
  • Share knowledge. Digital devices give access to various programs and platforms where it is easy for your students to share and even publish their new knowledge and develop new knowledge in an online community. Like our students did in their e-Portfolios and blog posts.

Technology will not replace great teachers but technology in the hand of great teachers can be transformational.  —George Couros

By Camilla Højlund Hansen