For years, the debate has raged, but research hasn’t been able to prove one way or another if we retain information better when we’ve read it from a physical page – in a book, magazine or newspaper– than when we’ve read it online, with a tablet, mobile device or other screen.
And hopefully it never will, with ‘screen time’ such a big part of our lives. Computers and mobile devices are versatile and make information more accessible, so striking a balance between children’s appetite for information and their ability to digest it is crucial for primary, secondary, and even tertiary educators.
So, is the page mightier than the screen? Should we choose one over the other, or can we still find balance?
Page or Screen?
Leading researchers believe that there is a tangible relationship between text written on a physical page and the way the brain responds to and retains what is written on that page. Studies in the early 2000s indicated that students performed better in exams when they had studied the information for tests from textbooks and other printed sources. However, a 2013 survey by the UK National Literacy Trust found that over 52% of students aged 8–16 preferred reading on electronic devices, and only 32% preferred print. In fact, research indicates the next generation of students are reading well on digital devices.
In reality, banishing the screen is a near-impossible task. With students issued laptops at all ages, and doing more of their research and homework online, the screens are here to stay whether they’re helping or not.
So, the question becomes: How can educators deploy screen time for best effect?
Technology in the Classroom
Implementing simple strategies like giving students extra time to familiarize themselves with the devices they’ll be using before reading texts mean they won’t be distracted by functionality while trying to concentrate.
Screens and e-readers should be used in the same way as printed text – one device per student, not one shared among a group. This way, students will be more easily immersed in learning – without the distraction of tussling with a neighbor over ownership.
Although it can be both a blessing and a curse, connecting devices to the internet allows for more collaboration, enabling students to compare how their fellow pupils are engaging with a text. For example, sharing information online (for example, by allowing students to see which passages in a text their peers have highlighted, or by making students’ digital annotations visible to their classmates) can help the whole class to improve their understanding of a text.
This should be balanced with an emphasis on the importance of each student developing their own understanding, so teachers need to keep track of their progress by continuing to ask questions of individual students.
The future success of ‘digital natives’ using devices more frequently in their learning will rest in the same place it always has done – in the quality of the materials, in the ways educators implement them and in the way students are nurtured to use them effectively.
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