Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

students and their Kindles

Via Nick Carr, a really interesting forthcoming paper on how students read using the Kindle DX. Some findings:

• Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office. 
• The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students’ paper-based reading than their computer-based reading. 
• Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes. 
• With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.
• A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article’s illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material. 
• The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

One of the study’s authors “predicts that over time software will help address some of these issues.” Here’s hoping! — but I have a feeling, based on my own experiences, that this is going to be a tough technological nut to crack.


  • Thanks, Alan! I'll have to look more closely at the paper but this is wonderful stuff.

    In fact, this is exactly the kind of research, I'd argue, that we need in order to understand how the internet has changed our reading and writing - studying habits rather than brain scans. And exactly the kind of research Nick Carr needed to look at before he wrote The Shallows. Oh well.

    Of course, it's incredibly hard to do logistically as I discovered while trying to do something like it myself this semester. Hard to follow people around and see what they do. I guess understanding reading habits also needs a re-invention of methods.

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