“Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast…”

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)

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5 thoughts on ““Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast…”

  1. Amazing post and great image! I love everything you have to say here and completely agree. The study you posted is very interesting. I find I skim more when reading on my computer versus print pages, but on the flip side, I fall asleep more while reading print than I do digital, due to the blue light on the computer/phone.
    Here is hoping we never have to choose just one way of reading!

    1. I agree with what you say about digital books being beneficial due to the factor that we are able to quickly look up terms. This actually makes reading less time consuming, and encourages the reader to actually search up the definition of the term since it is simplified and ready for them, rather than just review the context and try to understand the definition until they are later able to have access to the definition. I myself find that when reading from digital editions, I am more encouraged to search up a term since it is simpler and already ready to search up, however with the physical books, I find myself noting down the words but not necessarily looking them up until later on, if I find that I truly need to understand this word in order to further proceed with the reading.

  2. Thank you, I appreciate the research you completed prior to this entry. It was informative and interesting to see that there are studies that show such results in online-vs-text reading. From a objective standpoint, I also agree that schools or universities should incorporate both sources of reading rather than one over the other; a transition from printed to online text would help assist others in utilizing advancing technology more for example.
    Having said that, however, I personally feel that reading printed text first would be preferred despite the financial or accessible advantages. It seems harder to concentration on online reading when there are other sources that could distract you from reading when using Internet sources. I hope that a solution will present itself in the future that may counteract this concern but until then, I hope for an open way of thinking towards reading as well.

  3. I completely relate to your conclusion in that we should not have to feel like we have to choose between the printed or the digital. Though often times, it does feel that way when you are a college student on a budget, sadly. (However, that’s what libraries are for, right? Thank goodness they no longer charge for entry to some as they did in the good ole days!) I think that it would be wise to remind ourselves that digitization isn’t simply just e-books, but as you said there are also visual supplements such as graphs, maps, etc. As someone who wasn’t born here, I definitely have needed visuals to texts growing up and they allowed me to shape the words on the pages a lot more easily.

  4. I read the linked article in your post – empirical evidence that student performance improves when using a print medium over digital could have significant implications for technology education. How do we reconcile this information (of course, we would need additional studies to cement these findings) with the continued movement toward technology in the classroom? Perhaps a path forward would be to continue the use of physical texts as the main source of instruction while maintaining digital tools for supplemental projects and assignments.

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