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Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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1.3 Ebooks are killing reading

It is not just writing that is being sharped by new ways of content sharing. Reading on and with screens has changed what it means to read for pleasure and for learning. When it comes to reading textbooks or online information, the access to digital texts has been harnessed by many schools worldwide. Unlike print textbooks, learning material accessed on the computer can be connected to teachers’ online environments where they can check on their individual dashboard as well as the whole classroom’s progress, provide personalised feedback and access ready made or tailored content. When students access information online for learning purposes, they need to develop critical literacy skills to differentiate what is real and what is fake information, and how to trust sources. The iFuCO project involved research groups from three Finnish and two Chilean universities, led by the University of Turku in Finland. It focused on 11–13-year-olds in Finland and explicit teaching of online enquiry skills. The students were taught how to search for information, how to evaluate and how to synthesise it. Interestingly, this teaching happened through videos, designed by the researchers, and proved to be very successful.

But what about reading for pleasure? Some academics who study children’s literature and literacy voiced the concern that children’s reading of stories digitally impacts negatively on their reading experience. Other scholars argue that the format doesn’t matter, that it is all about the content, the story, that needs to deeply engage readers. There are two key things to remember as you think about this. First, think of the design of the digital text format. Ask yourself: are there many ‘bells and whistles’ in the form of interactive features, hyperlinks or advertisements taking the reader’s attention away from the content? If the answer is yes, then it is unlikely that it will support the readers’ comprehension of the text but instead take them to other experiences. Second, ask yourself whether the digital format offers something that a print format couldn’t. For example, while print books can be customised by readers physically marking their pages or choosing the next story as in the Choose Your Own Adventure series, digital books can be personalised with information about the reader’s real-time progress of reading, the reader’s photograph or voice-over. In addition, Goodreaders personaliser recommendations provide recommendations for millions of books, together with readers’ evaluations. There are places where the reader chooses the path or where responses to quiz questions determine the path.

Before you read the next section, ask yourself: what is the added value and what is the value lost with reading digitally?

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Figure 3 How is reading on screen different from reading on paper?