Digital Readers are Windows into Reading Habit

Digital Readers are Windows into Reading Habit

So in the world of flipping things, here is one for you: “your e-(text)book is reading you” even more than you are reading it.

For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.

The value of making thinking public and collective knowledge via e-(text)books is something I find remarkable and valuable as have many of the teachers I’ve worked with on reading digitally.

But this articles shows how the companies behind the readers are  being harvested deep analytics about our reading habits. Putting aside the potential concerns there, I couldn’t help but wonder what if teachers were able to add this qualitative aspect to the classroom by harvesting data from student readers used to access (text)books.

  • What kind of insights would we gain from getting inside the minds of our readers quantitatively?
  • What data would be beneficial?
  • How beneficial would it be to see the data over a significant time and amount of books?
  • How could this benefit literacy? engagement? critical and creative thinking?
  • What would this mean for learning?
  • How would this benefit our instruction and curriculum?

In some ways, it feels dirty to think about reading and literacy from this lens. But I put aside my ol’ English teacher stubbornness when I starting thinking about how I’d want that data on my reading habits through the years: a quantitative look to compare with my qualitative one.

So I’m liking this for school if we could harvest this data because there is interesting potential when considering about how digital readers provide another window into our reading habits.

image “Readability on the iPad” from Wiertz

On “Books vs. screens: Which should your kids be reading?”

Sigh… Books vs. screens: Which should your kids be reading?  As much as I try to practice what I preach about my willingness to be disturbed, there is no question articles like this make it difficult.

Despite posing an interesting question in the title, the article makes it very clear it isn’t really a question: the “dumb” will go to the screen and the “deeply intellectual” will go to the book.

Fight! Stand up you defenders of books and fight. Do not go quietly into the night for our brains and our future depend on it!

Supported by the research of two scientist and the dismissal of multitasking, the critical argument in this article lies in the belief that those on a screen are too distracted to read and think deeply.


  1. Distractions occur whether digital or not digital. I don’t believe it is revolutionary to think that those with less distractions are able to read and think deeply. The key is instilling that habit of mind and creating contexts for this to occur in print, digital, and a combination of both.
  2. Students aren’t currently being taught hypertext reading, so their lack of reading skills in this area create a distracted state instead of a potentially richer cognitive state.

What bothers me most about this piece is the apple to oranges comparison: reading blurbs online versus reading literature. In fact, I can almost jump to the assumption that it is about those darn kids who spend all day “reading” their Facebook wall, their Twitter stream, and their curated feeds of blog posts.

Comparing Screen Time and Reading
“As we become too impatient to read complicated syntax, I wonder out loud about the capacity for handling the complexity of issues that are out there in life, with all their semicolons” (Wolf)

It reminds me of the arguments in my undergrad: nonfiction vs fiction, classic literature vs contemporary literature, movies vs texts, etc. These either/or arguments never amounted to much beyond philosophical waxing and further entrenchment of one’s mental model.

I digress — my memories distracted me.

My point is that I don’t see the value in comparing screen reading (in the context the author is alluding to in the article) to reading books as if to say it is an either/or argument. It simply isn’t!

I don’t hear a cry for termination of”books”. What I do hear and what I see as the real comparative study is reading books in print versus reading books in digital form. 

Somethings Never Change

Like my colleagues that said reading the newspaper and comic books (oops… graphic novels because THEY ACTUALLY HAVE VALUE NOW) dumbed our students down, there were those that pushed students to have a breadth and depth in reading skills that could be applied across genres instead of the elitist tone of “only one genre and context of reading has value.”

It seems somethings never change.

Reading Digitally Infographic

Reading Digitally Infographic

Our summer pilot “Reading Digitally” focused on exploring the world of ebooks and online reading.

The experience was quite engaging and powerful for those involved, and I highly recommend others host a similar experienceespecially if you are having discussions about ebooks, etextbooks, transliteracy, literacy, etc.

Without this experience, our perceptions and beliefs become the focus instead of our actual experience.

Two Important Notes

1. It is important to note that our experience was not one where we brought together “edtech” folks. In fact, a number of those part of the process were not vested in edtech and this is something I find most valuable with any pilot I establish.

2. We used iPads for a variety of reasons, but it is the device that offers the greatest potential in the area of eBook readers with the combination tablet experience. Our explorations of other readers lacked critical functionality (at the time) as both an eBook reader and tablet.

The Infographic

Click Reading Digitally Infographic for a pdf of the infographic that looks at our data gained at the end of the experience.


Who are You as a Reader?

If you have shifted a significant portion of your reading digitally, I would love to know “Who are you (becoming) as a reader?” now that you are on a device. I’ve been asking myself this question since I shifted most my reading to the iPad plus wondering “Is it different than who I was prior to the iPad?”.

Reflecting upon these led me to seeing just how different I’ve become as a reader, just how much I’ve evolved.

After two plus months of using the iPad in our Reading Digitally pilot, I wanted to hear from our teachers what they felt and thought. So,  I asked them to communicate their thoughts on our graffiti wall based upon this “Who are you as a reader on the iPad?”


Who They Are as Readers on the iPad?

  • I am a hungrier reader
  • I am a more curious reader
  • I am a more organized reader
  • I am an on the go reader
  • I am a more of a critical thinker
  • I am a more engaged and focused reader
  • I am a questionner
  • I am more comfortable with my lack of knowledge while reading because I can easily remedy it
  • I’ve become more curious
  • I am a curious reader
  • I am a (literacy is) whenever, where ever, whatever reader
  • I have become the queen of “random” and useful trivia
Pretty impressive!
What if this was the reality for all our students? all of our teachers?

Evaluating eBooks, ePubs, and Book Apps

One of our core discussions during our Reading Digitally Pilot has been “How do we evaluate the effectiveness of eBooks, ePubs, and Book Apps” to ensure we are focused on enhancement and transformation — what we’ve established as “What does the iPad do to enhance or transform learning, teaching, literacies, and the Cs: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, and curation”.

Our Draft Evaluation List

  1. Does it provide for new possibilities beyond what it could if it was on paper?
  2. Does it create a lasting impression and transferability?
  3. Does it enhance what they do, show, demonstrate, and can do — product is key; “words are words”
  4. Does it promote pause and process in thinking?
  5. Does it expand the adjacent possible?
  6. Does it engage learners in the development of transliteracy and literacies?
  7. Does it engage our habits of reading both linear and non-linear?
  8. Does it promote and leverage interactive, social and collaborative capabilities?
  9. Does this do to enhance learning beyond what could traditionally be done?
  10. Does this change the way we interact with texts and technology? 
  11. Does it promote linear (logic & predictability) and non-linear thinking
  12. Does it promote sustained engagement and interaction?
  13. Does “it expand and enhance the traditional reading experience?” (this came across Twitter and added a nice touch)

There is some overlap on these and could be pared down, but it does keep the focus on a mere replacement of print for digital. I’m impressed by this draft, and I am anxious to do the same with students.

What is missing? What is not needed? How would you shape the above?

What Did We Do With It?

The night before, I assigned each person to take our brainstorm session on what types of ePubs could be created in the classroom or area served (library, PD Center, administration) and select one that they’d like to construct. This allowed us to do the following:

  1. Pitch our idea to the group
  2. Gather feedback on the idea based upon the criteria we developed
  3. Reshape our idea
  4. Experience the development of our ePubs and share

It also allowed us to discuss the eBooks we read as part of our summer reading. Interestingly, we did not have the update to the Kindle app that allowed the sharing to social media as this would have extended point number 9.

Form follows Function or Form and Function as One

Finally, there was a nice discussion about form follows function versus form and function as one.  Initially, a teacher said form follows function should be part of how we evaluate and many of us agreed. However, another teacher brought up Form and Function as One, which had us give pause. We did come to any conclusion on this, but it is worth revisiting.

What do you think?

(Image: (im)possible – 282/365, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (2.0) image from morberg’s photostream)