Reading on a digital platform


I read this article last night: Do Students Loose Depth in Digital Reading? I have read several similar articles about student learning gains when it comes to technology driven learning. As we move more and more toward digital learning, we are often looking at the pros and cons of this delivery. Certainly, we need to provide students with the technology skills to survive in a 21st century. Colleges and universities often deliver instruction online or use electronic texts and lacking experience with learning using this medium puts our students at risk. 

However, are we 'short-changing' our students by expecting them to build readinging skills through technology when the research seems to indicate students may loose depth of instruction.  It's more complicated than yes /no. Many studies indicate students have similar test scores whether they used digital or traditional learning materials. Yet,these same studies indicate that students spend less time reading using a technology driven device so the impact may be more on comprehension and higher order thinking. 

In non-academic reading, skimming text or spending less time reading allows for a person to read more information. But how do we combine what we know about reading on a computer screen with the needs to develop higher order critical thinking in students? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. 

Kathy Tracey



We often lack good questions. So many of us still ask questions that Google can answer in 30 seconds and with more detailed information or perspectives than we ever experienced. As we learn to ask questions that really dig into higher levels of learning, learners will begin to have more skills. 

"I need you to go learn about we can take that info and apply it to this existing problem ..... and I would like to see your solution to this so we can discuss your ideas with the ideas of others"

"Based on what the conflicts were between the North and South in the Civil war, find an area of conflict today that has similar issues ...."

"In any of your career aspirations, interview or research ways that either the procedure or logic found in (insert mathematical process) might be best applied."

I don't know if any of these above are really ideal questions or requests. I am still very much playing with the idea. I am finding that these kinds of prompts are engaging students to dig deeper into just regurgitating some set of paragraphs they find in a Google Search. 

Perhaps as we may set up similar types of questions for individual readings? Maybe start with a designed "Skim for gist" assignments follows up with questions that require a slower, more methodical reading? Perhaps even more complex questions follow this up and require learners to dig deeper into the inferences and external references given in a text? 

Just a few thoughts and questions that came up while reading the materials Kathy shared. 

Kathy, and others,

Thanks for posting this Kathy.

Posing the question as "Do students lose depth when they read digitally?" assumes an instructivist approach, that is, a formal education program with classes leading toward, in the case of this research, an academic degree program. It doesn't address an underlying question of instructivist vs constructivist teaching and learning, With a constructivist approach, teachers first find out from their students or learners what they want or think they need to know or to be able to do. Then the teaching and learning focuses on students building from what they already know or can do, their needs, goals, questions, or the problems they are wrestling with, to the new learning that will help them. With a constructivist approach I believe, it would not matter much if the format for reading was digital or hard copy. What might matter, however, is whether or not students pursued the learning alone, with a teacher's guidance, and/or with a peer learning group of those who had the same learning needs or goals. It might matter if the information they found in their online or library researches was accurate, and how they might know if it was. It might matter, if they were researching in order to do a presentation or write a paper, if it was unbiased or presented with a clearly stated bias, if it was logical, clear, concise and engaging.

In a formal academic context, such as the one whose research you mentioned, it might make a difference if students who were only accustomed to reading -- and not assessing the quality of the information from --  tweets, newsfeeds or Facebook posts, needed to make compelling arguments orally or in writing, including relevant examples, logical arguments, and citing credible sources. This, however, is not so much a question of digital vs. hard copy reading contexts as it is of whether or not the student has yet learned the critical reading and writing skills expected of academic pursuits. It is not a new problem. Community college four year college and university instructors complained about how their students lacked these skills well before the Internet was the ARPANET.

I wonder if there is a way to teach critical reading skills in the context of what students, college or pre-college, actually read on their portable digital devices. Ed Latham seems to have some ideas about that. Ed, have you developed some lesson plans -- HyperDocs, for example, that address that? Has anyone else?


David J. Rosen

Good day David and everyone. I have struggled to author a lesson plan in any way that works for even a majority of learners. Each idea works for some and I may have successes with different groups with each attempt I throw out there, but a good lesson that helps even most has been elusive to me thus far. 

However, I can point to a few tools and ideas that some learners have found success with. 

Diigo - Although people may think of Diigo as simply a social bookmarking tool, there is so much collaborative teaching/learning power here that goes untapped. One can simply find their digital text that the learner is reading (Discrimination Example), add that article to the classroom Diigo group and then the fun starts. It may look like this: 

  1. Learner may be asked to first go through the document reading to get a simple understanding of what the article is saying. After reading through the article once, the learner must make a sticky on the document (it is a Diigo tool that allows a sort of personal conversation to occur within the document) that shares a brief summary of the contents using only 3-5 sentences in the summary. 
  2. Learner can then be asked to go through the document with the highlighter (another Diigo built in tool) and highlight facts, statements, phrases or sentences that support or were influential in the creation of their 3-5 sentence summary. 
  3. Now the teacher may step into the document (remember Diigo is a collaboration tool as well)  and add a few sticky notes near specific phrases or paragraphs that need further exploration. In our example here a teacher may ...
    1. After highlighting the heading Differences by Education, the teacher may ask the learner "Why did the author even include data about education levels? In what ways does this data support or detract from the theme or intent of the article?"
    2. In the 7th paragraph of the document, "Why was this paragraph included in this article? Highlight any parts of the paragraph you feel help support your position."
  4. Remember that the student went through and highlighted important information in #2 above? The learner can now use Diigo's "Show annotations list" and copy and paste that into a document. This gives almost an outline of the key features of the document the learner derived from the reading. This outline can be used a number of ways including an activity that asks them to write a new version of this article using only the items on their annotation list. Then they can go back into the article to compare and contrast the summary of their "important facts" with the author's work. "Were there key parts of this reading or the author's intent that you were not able to capture?" 
  5. Finally asking learners to synthesize would be a nice ending to this exploration. Maybe something like, "The center offered data on Race, Education, Age, Political Affiliation, and just a general data. If you look what the author wrote about each of these data lenses, please compose a response to the following prompt as you feel the author would have responded." Prompt: An agency has come forth offering much money and energy needed to "erase" the most common form of discrimination women face. Identify what that most common form would be and how it may be best approached. Remember your proposed actions have the intent to positively impact each data point, Race, Education, Age, Political Affiliation

Google Docs: Is there any surprise here that I would mention Google docs? Besides the ability for multiple people to collaborate well there are a number of other options available here. Sample Document

  1. Doing notes for research can be easy using the comment system in Docs. Simply highlight something you read and put in a comment or thought as you are reading. This helps learners jot down thoughts as they are reading instead of waiting until later and then forgetting what part of the writing they were thinking about. 
  2. Google Docs have tools that help as well:
    1. Highlight any word and go to Tools - Define to get explanation of words that are difficult. This is very helpful with more technical content that may have many unfamiliar words. No fumbling through a dictionary or worrying about how to spell a word to look it up. 
    2. Tools-Translate document can be a life saver for ESL. Sure the translation may be off, but if a learner can get a gist of what the content is in the first read through in their native language, it may make diving into the English meanings easier as each paragraph is tackled a second or third time through. 
    3. Size and type of font. I know that I read so much easier digitally today because I have tools I can use to alter the type of text and the size of text as I need. I can even alter the background highlight of the text or even the page color to better meet the needs of my eyes as the day progresses. 

These are just a couple things that come to mind, David. There are so many other tools I could mention here, but I have not had time to develop much around those tools. For example many digital sources have comments or discussion areas. This is especially true with blogs. I struggle to see exactly how, but I think studying the comments of others can be a wonderful study that could help with reading. I know I read Facebook posts every day and see people making comments that make me scratch my head and go back to read a linked document to find out how that person could possibly have come up with that comment. Nothing concrete here, but it just feels there is lots to work with in some way. 

What thoughts or experiences have other got in mind?


Welp, I don't think our learning should be "technology driven," period.   

Whether it's teacher-driven and instructivist or student-oriented and constructivist or constructionist (where students actually *make something* by using that knowledge they constructed), humans should be the drivers.

Kathy et al, I was struck by the suggestion that digital reading lacks depth. As David suggested and Ed and Susan support in one way or another, reading is reading. Period. Depth comes from inquiry, making connections, digging deeper into concepts, constructing knowledge, and more. Reading is a tool that can be used in many different ways, and readers will be drawn to it in different ways. As the article showed, students vary in reporting their preferences.

Following up a bit on what others have said, instruction by any name has to appeal to students. I hate to bring up learning preferences again, but that has something to do with it. I teach a lot online and otherwise, with content accessed digitally. Yet, in blended classes, I find that many teachers come to sessions with piles of printed materials despite my appeal that they save their poor programs some $ by reading digitally. "Nope, I can't do that. I get exhausted. I have to print everything." I can't "see" that happening in strictly online classes, of course, but I hear comments dropped about how folks couldn't complete assignments because their printer failed or the resource didn't allow printing. There has to be a generational divide playing a role here as well. I can't for a minute consider that digital reading lacks depth. Instead, the reader may lack depth and little access to mentoring to help develop that aspect. Of course, I'll probably argue with my own position next week! :)

I believe in technology integrated and technology rich instruction. Our students need to survive in a digital /technology driven world. Yet, the research is very clear on how we read online versus how we read on paper. Our eyes scan the pages differently. (Perhaps this can be related to the design of webpages versus the design of print pieces.)  As educators, how do we move our students toward the depth of reading needed to be critical of the materials presented?

So many times, I think students make the mistake that if they are learning online and at a computer, they don't take notes. It's a mindset difference - and perhaps an expectation difference. How do you teach students to slow down when reading online to build the depth needed to be a crictical thinker? In print material, students can annotate a page and highlight text. There are some tech tools that allow for similar actions on a webpage, but I think that teaching students to take notes on what they read online is one suggestion. 

How do you teach note-taking when technology is an essential tool in teaching and learning. 



Kathy, I wonder if one might use Google Slides to help with note taking. In Slides, you can alter the page dimensions to be just like a piece of paper (8.5" x 11"). If we put in a page of text to read on each slide, Google Slides has a Speaker's Notes section under each "page". If we wish to review the notes of each page before a learner can continue, there are tools within slides that would help us set that up. In this way, the learner focuses on just one page to take notes on, jots down what is important to him or her and then we can look that over to discuss things we see in their note taking efforts. Hopefully when presented with the next page, we see growth a bit in the notes and this one page at a time all within the same slide document can be very helpful in chunking things out. Best of all, we can print just the notes when the student is done so he or she has their own study guide :) 


Good idea, Ed. If the dimensions of digital reading pose a problems for some, they could also just copy and paste into Word, using the dimensions they prefer, assuming they use MS Office or similar word processing apps. I know that the ol' Command+ or Control + increases the size of fonts, which might make things easier, too.

So I just learned how to 'snap' on my computer screen for my laptop. Basically, I can now have two windows open, right next to each other. I know this is not a new concept for many people - but I can read documents / websites and take notes simultaniously. This had made my research one step easier. I love the idea of the google slides -and with the way technology is advancing to meet the needs of users - it's a good way to blend both technology rich instruction and deeper learning. (It doesn't hurt that google is great for collaboration as well.)


i think reading on digital platforms is the future. There is no way to stop this development.

When you write here:
"So many times, I think students make the mistake that if they are learning online and at a computer, they don't [need to] take notes."

The main problem is here, that there exist different types of learners in general.
 - the visual learners:
tactics- give them charts, graphics etc.
- the auditory learners:
tactics- give them a chance to hear and repeat what they read
- the reading/writing learners:
tactics- let them write things down ( why using two tabs on a screen? - they could use a screen for reading and write notes on a peace of paper )
- the kinestic learners:
tactics- they learn best by doing

I'm using onlnie documents for a while and you can find a list of best flipbook wordpess plugins on my private blog
With these flipbooks its possible to reach almost all types of learners. Its possible to integrate video, audio, info graphics, chart and more.

Moreover the online documents look almost like real books or magazines.



Hello Christina,

Could you share with us some links to good examples of flipbooks -- yours and others -- whose audience is adult basic skills (inclusing ESOL/ESL) learners, or possibly teachers of adult basic skills learners?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology Group


Hello Mr. DJ Rosen,

i got the idea to use this when i did some research and found this video:

"The Hotspot Editor"

i'm still working things out with the editor and how to integrate links, audio and video.

here are examples how it could look (just to get an idea)

Worksheets - ESOL UK

Diagnostic Assessment Material ESOL Entry 1 - Excellence Gateway

Can you imagine these flipbooks in combination with audio and video inside without using extern TV or Radio?





Cathy and others,

You wrote, "So many times, I think students make the mistake that if they are learning online and at a computer, they don't [need to] take notes. It's a mindset difference - and perhaps an expectation difference. How do you teach students to slow down when reading online to build the depth needed to be a critical thinker? In print material, students can annotate a pa[g]e and highight text. There are some tech tools that allow for similar actions on a webpage, but I think that teaching students to take notes on what they read online is one way suggestion."

I agree that note taking is one of the more important study skills, and believe that study skills are essential to deep reading in an academic, and in some professional and other work environments. Study skills like note taking have to be learned. I learned them from teachers in high school, on my own in college, and from a study skills book I discovered as an adult professional. Good note taking requires being familiar with good note taking strategies and practicing them.  Some study skills are the same in the digital age as in the pre-digital age; however, with digital devices there are also new opportunities, and new digital skills to teach.

Several years ago I attended an international Wikimedia conference that happened to be across the river from where I live. The Wikimedia Foundation is the organization that, under Jimmy Wales' leadership, created the Wikipedia. At one point in the day I was in a large lecture hall. On the stage were three of the world's top digital archivists, each of whom led an expensive and large-scale international digital archiving project. My eyes and ears were glued to the stage. I noticed, however, that I was the only person who didn't have a laptop open, that all the other participants were keyboarding away. I wondered if they were taking notes, reading their email, doing homework, or what; they didn't appear to be listening, but were focused instead on some kind of writing. After the lecture, I asked a couple of people who hadn't closed their laptops yet what they had been typing, if they had been taking notes, for example. One showed me. She had dozens of pages of notes: there were the speakers' direct quotes, or paraphrases of what they had said. There were citations. There were questions, and more. I was astonished. I asked one of them, how on earth she had been able to write all that in one hour. The other note taker laughed and said, "No you don't understand. All of us were taking notes together on a wiki." Some apparently specialized in looking things up that the lecturers had said; some were more interested in paraphrasing what they had said, or their direct quotes. Many added their own questions for further study. So, in the digital age, some note-taking has become a peer-learning effort. I mention this example because we aren't limited to teaching study skills only in the ways that I -- and perhaps you -- learned them. Maybe we could introduce a wiki, a Google doc or another collaborative writing tool that students already use, and teach them how to use it for group note-taking skills on shared reading assignments. 

David J. Rosen


Collaborative note-taking! Now here is the exciting pedagogical power of technology at work. Thanks for this great example David. Imagine the opportunities this opens up for adult students. They are learning about note-taking from peers, through modelling and active participation (some may be hesitant contributors at first). They are beginning to develop some very in-depth questions, thoughts and insights based on the varied thoughts and ideas of others. They are modelling an activity performed by specialists in a specific field (This is how researchers/archivists/historians learn!). Very importantly, the power differential between knowing and not knowing (and teacher-student) starts to disappear as they participate in this collective process. I would love to read a collection of these barrier-breaking ideas for teaching with technology. Has anyone come across something like this?

I am also thinking about the initial question regarding reading depth that got this great conversation started, and want to suggest that we also consider context and purpose when deciding whether it’s better to use pen and paper or a digital activity. In my own work, I save pen and paper for the reading and thinking that needs my attention the most. In fact, I find myself setting up a bit of a reading routine that could consider the time of day I read (in the am), where I do that reading (in a comfy chair) and how (with a coffee!). I’m not simply referring to taking a break and reading for pleasure, but I tend to do take this approach when reading a book chapter or paper that is vitally important to my own work and learning. It’s the stuff I want to think about for a few days after reading, and I need to make a tactile connection to the text that pen and paper permit. Perhaps by exploring our own reading, thinking and note-taking routines with our students, we can include the consideration of context and purpose so they can make important choices about the tools they use. 

Christine Pinsent-Johnson

Christine, I appreciate your bringing up the under-emphasized importance of having "the power differential between knowing and not knowing (and teacher-student)"  disappear in good instruction. The shift from "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side" or even to "ghost on the side" (my term) has been an important one. Digital tools have really contributed to that shift, thankfully. However, as you further noted, we need to consider context and purpose when evaluating the depth elicited by digital or handheld sources. Why not provide guidance for using both? What might that guidance look like? Hmmm.... Can we teach readers to add more depth to their digital reading, if required, by helping them implement note-taking and other techniques as have been discussed here? I wonder what students would recommend? Leecy