Reading in a digital age

Encouraging reading in the digital age

More students are getting the vast majority of their information online. But is it negatively effecting their ability to engage with reading on an emotional and critical level? Studies in the US found that 85% of students are more likely to multitask when reading digitally, as opposed to just 26% when reading print.

With the negative effects of multitasking well-known, perhaps we need to consider how our students consume content? Or at least be aware of the effects it can have.

If we are going to encourage our students to form a lifelong, emotional connection with literature, we need to understand how the content they consume affects the way students learn. After all, for students to go on to study at university — ever-vital in an increasingly intelligence-driven economy — critical, thoughtful reading is an essential skill.

Because of this, we need to understand what we can do as teachers to make the path to reading as a passion as clear as possible.

What does the research say?

Throughout history, people have been worried that technological advances would lead to the end of all knowledge and creativity — from Plato to the luddites. The same questions are being asked today. But ultimately, technology has always led to greater knowledge.

With this in mind, let’s consider what the research says regarding how reading has been affected in the digital age, and what it suggests we should do as teachers to encourage our students to become interested in literature.

Research by Naomi S. Baron in 2017 found that 87% of teachers think that “today’s digital technologies are creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans”. The same research also revealed that 86% of teachers assess that “today’s students are too ‘plugged in’ to digital technologies and need more time away from them”. It’s not just teachers either. Just this week, the culture secretary has called for more schools to ban mobile phones. But are we as teachers not understanding that the way in which young people acquire knowledge has changed?

Regardless of whether you think students are too plugged in, there are solutions — some of which involve the use of digital technology. The important thing is to encourage reading in all forms. Whether that be political blogs or Victorian literature, the important thing is that our students are engaging with written content consistently, and on a deep level.

Ways to encourage your students to read

There are many ways to encourage you students to engage with reading — from primary school, all the way through to A-levels, it is never too late to help your students foster a passion. It may be worth considering recommending works like comics, popular fiction and story books — or even blogs. Not only are they highly engaging, works such as these can often be the entry point into canonical literature.

Another way to develop a passion from a minor interest in books is by setting up reading groups in your school. Tools like BackChannel Chat allow you to create discussion online, which you can also engage with — creating entertaining, consistent feedback loops.

It is also worth encouraging engagement with platforms such as GoodReads, which has thousands of lists of recommended books filtered by genre. For students with an interest in a particular form of literature — such as science fiction or fantasy fiction — it allows for easy to digest further reading on that particular topic.

Social media gets a lot of bad press, especially when it comes to creating distractions. But it can help your students become more engaged with reading. With so many authors and publishers being active on Twitter, there is a reasonable chance that your student could start up a discussion with the creators of the books they are engaged with.

Having that personal connection to one author is what drives most literature lovers to become engaged early in life. But today, there is an even greater chance to get really close to the authors that they love. Obviously, not every writer will reply. But for those who do, it will have a huge impact on the lives of readers — particularly developing ones like your students.

Technology doesn’t have to be the scourge on reading print literature — it can be the driver.

How the digital age can drive student reading

With technology comes new approaches to teaching. One of the main drivers of change is the increasing number of startups and apps that provide new solutions to age-old problems.

One of the biggest problems today is getting kids access to the books they want. With libraries closing down and schools cutting back on equipment, acquiring books can be expensive for students — especially for kids at the bottom of the economic ladder.

A potential solution to access to books are education apps like Epic! Though it is primarily a consumer brand, it can also be used to encourage kids (particularly those under 12) to read —especially for those without large economic resources.

Essentially, the app is what Netflix is to television, but with books — and focused entirely on children. With interactive content, as well as thousands of books, it is a digital platform that actively encourages kids to read. Best of all, it’s free to use for teachers in the classroom. Digital technology can have a positive impact in getting students to read. But there are some indications that it is actually print that is making great strides forward.

Back to the future

One of the most surprising trends over the past few years has been the resurgence of print book sales. According to data from 2016, ebook sales dropped by 4%, whilst print books sales actually increased by 7%. With the world going online, it is perhaps surprising to see. You might expect that it is being driven by older generations, but this doesn’t appear to be the case.

In fact, it is young people who are engaging with print. A 2013 survey by Voxburner found that 62% of 16-24 year olds preferred print to ebooks. Other research suggests that 4 in 5 young people prefer reading print to online. So whilst the world is discussing the potential of AR and VR, young people appear to be pushing in the opposite direction. 86% of teachers may think that students are too plugged in, but it actually appears that young people do recognise the benefits of print.

Whatever platform or mode your students read from, it is important to encourage a genuine love of the written word. For their future, for the countries future, and for your personal job satisfaction, it is not only desirable, it is essential.

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