Is Online Reading Comprehension a different ball game?

Is Online Reading Comprehension a different ball game?

Recently I was invited by Victoria Risko, current President of the International Reading Association, to contribute, as a guest blogger, to her Presidential Blog. She was very interested in what I had to say, as a teacher and researcher, about Digital Literacy or Online Reading Comprehension. My blog post came online on April, 4. You can read it online or you can read it here. Looking forward to you comments.

Is Online Reading Comprehension a different ballgame? Challenges for language teachers.

As a language teacher I get a bit nervous reading the 2009 Position statement of the International Reading Association “ To become fully literate in today’s world, students must become proficient in the new literacies of 21st-century technologies. As a result, literacy educators have a responsibility to effectively integrate these new technologies into the curriculum, preparing students for the literacy future they deserve ” I don’t really know what they are talking about and what I have to do.

In the research literature we find that students do not have the skills to understand and use properly digital information. PISA says in the PISA 2009 Results: Students On Line: Digital Technologies and Performance that, “ on average among 15-year-olds who have grown up in a “wired” world, 18% have serious difficulties navigating through the digital environment, which means that these students may find it difficult completing their studies and, later on, looking and applying for work, filling out forms to pay their taxes (…) . And in some countries these percentages are much larger” The thing that’s puzzles me here is that in some countries the level of offline reading comprehension (reading texts on paper) is much higher than the level of online reading comprehension, while in other countries it’s the other way around. So online and offline literacy seem to be a different ballgame. This means that we, as literacy teachers have to know what’s the difference and what we can do about it.

But what are we talking about? A lot of terms are coming up frequently: 21st century skills, new literacies, digital literacy, ICT literacy, media literacy, … It is getting confusing. Dough Belshaw wrote a very interesting thesis / dissertation on Digital Literacy in which he says that the concept of digital literacy differs considerably in different parts of the world and is very ambiguous. I agree with Donna Alvermann when she says ” Yet theorizing the role of these online literacies and the implications they may have for classroom teachers, teacher educators, and researchers whose work is focused at the middle and high school level is rarely a topic of discussion in practitioner journals, or at least in the ones I read on a regular basis.”

And we know that educational change doesn’t happen overnight. We, teachers, will only change our practices if we know what online reading comprehension is, why change is necessary, and what the obstacles and challenges are. For instance, in the Netherlands, nothing happens. In the attainment goals on literacy in education on all levels, digital literacy or online reading comprehension isn’t mentioned at all. There is only some mentioning of being ICT literate or using information skills, which is a very broad term, not related to literacy specifically and ‘ so 20th century ’. While tasks are digital and even the testing is online nowadays. How about other countries? Tell me.

The nice thing is that in the autumn of my professional life – I have been in education for over 30 years – I wanted to have a new challenge. I can see the rapid changes in the way people communicate in the 21st century. I also see that education is not ready to deal with these changes. Education didn’t step into the 21st century yet. So, I looked for grants and got a few. So I started a PhD research on Digital Literacy for two days a week. I will work as a language teacher for 50% of my time at Helen Parkhurst, and be a researcher for the other 50% at the University of Twente. I love combining both.

Studying Digital Literacy, new literacies and such, I decided to narrow things down, so I could better focus on the things I think a literacy teacher needs to know. Digital Literacy is to broad a concept for me, I want to look at Online Reading Comprehension.

I want to share two insights with you and give you something to read. 
First thing is what I learned from Julie Coiro, Donald Leu and a lot of their colleagues is that for online reading comprehension and new literacies in general one needs some new skills (like dealing with linked texts), but also many of the old (offline) reading skills and strategies, but in more complex ways. Coiro, Leu et all are looking at ways to assess these online reading skills by building a new assessment tool ORCA ( Online Reading Comprehension Assessment ) , and also looking at ways to teach online reading comprehension in the TICA Research Project ( Teaching Internet Comprehension to adolescents ) . They have written a lot of interesting articles on both subjects and edited a book that gives insight in recent research.
The second thing I want to share is what Rouet, Lowe, and Schnotz say about Understanding Multimedia Documents. They have edited a very interesting book in which they give an overview on research on this topic. It complements the handbook, mentioned earlier. One insight that helped me to get things more in perspective is looking at online reading comprehension as a complex interaction between individual, context and document characteristics. We know that we have many (1) new text genres (websites, blogs. ..), we know that’s there are (2) new skills and strategies involved and (3) the communicative tasks inside and outside schools are getting very ‘digital’.

I think here lays the challenge for the language teacher. Spend more time on different tasks students have to deal with, not only offline texts, work with the new skills and strategies we have to use in modern times and look at new text genres (work with blogs, websites ect ) This is a great challenge, but we have to learn a lot more about what it is and how to implement this in the classroom. And the researchers have to make new knowledge more accessible.
This means that we (and I’m in both teams now, language teacher and researcher) have share much more with each other. We have to leave the unclear terms behind us and focus on online reading comprehension. We have to listen to Donna Alvermann who says “ is rarely a topic of discussion in practitioner journals, or at least in the ones I read on a regular basis” and make some change here.
If we know what it is and what we can do, it’s a challenge. Otherwise it the new change we have to make. And then we don’t do it. I will be glad to participate.

Coiro, J. L. (2011). Predicting Reading Comprehension on the Internet: Contributions of Offline Reading Skills, Online Reading Skills, and Prior Knowledge. Journal of Literacy Research, 1–42.
Coiro, J. L., & Kennedy, C. (2011). The Online Reading Comprehension Assessment (ORCA) Project: Preparing Students For Common Core Standards and 21st Century Literacies. Internal Publication The ORCA Project New Literacies Research Team.
Coiro, J. L., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (2008). Handbook of Research on New Literacies. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Banerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y., & O Neil, M. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension. In A. Berger, L. Rush, & J. Eakle (Eds.), Secondary school reading and writing: What research reveals for classroom practices. Chicago, IL: NCTE/NCRLL.
Rouet, J.-F., Lowe, R., & Schnotz, W. (2008). Understanding Multimedia Documents. (J.-F. Rouet, R. Lowe, & W. Schnotz, Eds.). Boston, MA: Springer US.

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