- the nostalgic feel of paper;
- the freedom to be independent from a device that needs recharging;
- the inflated costs makes that enhances a book’s emotional worth;
- the joy of stumbling across a ‘gem’ in a library via ‘book binder shopping’;
- the ability to share a text multiple times with friends, family and colleagues;
- the fun of reading annotations written by many previous borrowers.
Researchers of printed text point to scientific studies that they claim proves greater retention levels, enhanced comprehension and present a pathway towards more authentic engagement than an ebook: “Whether they realize it or not, many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper.” (Jabr, 2013).
Yet, digitally reproduced / produced narratives are gaining greater acceptance amongst consumers as their quality and features evolve: “In the U.S., e-books currently make up between 15 and 20 percent of all trade book sales.” (Jabr, 2013). The interactivity and flexibility provide astonishing experiences that no print book could ever replicate. For instance, Touch Press has released an ebook on gems and jewels. A user can rotate, zoom and in some cases view a 3D rendered image. The visuals are connected to textual information, enhancing the experience. The blending of traditional printed and digital texts has augmented learning and the acquisition of knowledge (Walsh, 2013).
But this synergy may come at a price. Even though a tactile relationship remains, although in a different format, ebooks may promote a culture of scanning (digital tunnel vision) rather than ‘deep’ meaningful reading (Jabr, 2013). A reader using an ebook is able to search for a particular word or phrase, thereby skimming (power browsing) through most of the text: “When reading on screens, people seem less inclined to engage in what psychologists call metacognitive learning regulation.” (Jabr, 2013). Another concern is that the brain’s neural processes are ‘wired’ differently when it comes to reading paper books and ebooks. Studies, based upon Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), indicated remembering is more likely to occur via reading a paper book. There is also a concern that those who read illuminated screens over prolonged periods of time are more prone to blurred vision, headaches and tiredness (Jabr, 2013 articulates these affects as computer vision syndrome).
The synergy of old and new textual formats has led to multitasking, whereby a reader of an ebook is often distracted by links (multimedia…) embedded in the text. Thus, cognitive continuity and deep thought may be disrupted when a reader’s attention is constantly drawn to another cognitive activity.
Teachers need to be aware of what makes a good ebook (Walsh, 2013). A criteria for this process is necessary just as it is when teachers make decisions regarding what constitutes a good paper book.
Perhaps students in junior years should have limited exposure to e-literature, allowing time for their neural networks to develop. As they proceed through school, students can then be further immersed into the more complex and challenging synergies of the new and old. One thing is a surety, ebooks will come to dominate classrooms – it is incumbent that teachers guide and assist students through this synergetic evolution.
- Jabr, F. (2013) The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American, April 11. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/
- Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).