Having moved over twenty times, books have been the one constant in my life: they offer the ability to travel to far corners of the world, to develop empathy, to escape from daily life, and most importantly, the opportunity to grow as a human being. Given my love of not just reading, but of books themselves, I was initially extremely reluctant to give up the tactile pleasures of reading a print book for an eReader. However, commuting for hours each day via public transportation while living overseas gradually convinced me that the convenience of reading online far outweighed what I missed about print literature. I could virtually carry an entire library in my Kindle, along with the numerous conveniences that come from that device.
Furthermore, as an educator, particularly as one who has taught on both the public university and community college level, I deeply appreciate the liberatory potential of eBooks, online literature, and open access texts: they truly level the proverbial playing field in that educational resources are available to all students, regardless of socio-economic background. This is the aspect of online literature that I think offers the most promise and potential.
In addition to the financial advantage of online literature, there are other scholarly advantages as well. For instance, the ability to instantly access the definitions of unfamiliar vocabulary, to view other frequently highlighted passages of a text, and to be able to click on a hyperlink that shows supplemental resources such as visual supplements to the text are among the most beneficial aspects of it.
Unfortunately, research has overwhelmingly shown a correlation between retention and medium: studies prove that students are generally able to retain more information when they read printed text versus digital text (c.f. the following recent post from two UMD professors: http://theconversation.com/the-enduring-power-of-print-for-learning-in-a-digital-world-84352). It is worth noting though that the researchers in this study recognize that there are times that the convenience of reading an eBook is paramount, and that students can be taught to slow down their reading of digital literature, which then increases their comprehension.
There is a saying in the military that “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I often think of this when I’m rushing through a reading assignment and risking sacrificing comprehension for speed. At those moments, I have to take a deep breath, refocus my attention, and more deliberately attend to the words in front of me. Perhaps the same can be done with our students and their online reading habits?
In a world where we are constantly forced into a binary dichotomy, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that we have to choose between print or digital literature. Why does it have to be an either/or proposition? Why can’t it be a both/and scenario? Both mediums have advantages and disadvantages to offer readers and students, so I reject the notion that one format is superior to the other. I think that it is more important to recognize their differences and use them to our personal and pedagogical advantage… (499)