INVESTIGATION AND ANALYSIS OF ONLINE
The increased use of online sources of information in schools has teachers, researchers, and other educators struggling to teach students better strategies for locating this information, as well as strategies to critically read and evaluate that which they find. In many schools today, computers are as commonplace as books as sources of information and learning, although a number of skeptics continue to doubt the effectiveness or use of computer-based media and online texts (Oppenheimer, 2003; Cuban, 2001). However, the proliferation of computers and schools’ continued investments in technology secure their position in most educational institutions. Related the field of literacy, and literacy research, there likewise exists conflicting evidence and justification for the use of computer-based texts, hypertexts, and online texts in reading education. Over the past decade, much of the work with online texts has either argued for the possibilities and potentials afforded by these new mediums, compared the new medium (computers) to the old (print texts), or attempted to justify a new and radical approach to teaching literacy. The differences between print and online texts are numerous and distinct. While print texts are often linear, and read through in a standard left-to-right orientation, hypertexts are often non-linear or multi-linear, and do not possess a front from which to begin or a back at which to end. While the reading path in a print text is often fixed and predictable, the path in a hypertext is random and unpredictable. Little opportunity exists for the reader to truly interact with a print text, while hypertexts offer multiple areas of
interactivity. The information within a given print text is contained, standardized, and usually verified, as opposed to a hypertext which is often just the opposite – unconstrained, multiplying, and occasionally a source of misinformation. Therefore it is logical to understand how the earliest research compared these to determine which allowed readers to gain more information. While few researchers are seeking to determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of each medium, still the basic questions of which affords greater gains for the reader is unanswered. Learning from text is vastly different from just a few years ago. Alexander and Jetton (2000) suggest that the level of information available makes it increasingly difficult to discern relevant from irrelevant information. Classroom research with students has shown that the reader’s attention is drawn to tangential information (Garner, Gillingham, & White, 1989; and Wade, 1992, as cited in Alexander and Jetton 2000). In the report Reading for Understanding: Toward an R & D program in Reading
Comprehension, published by the RAND Reading Study Group for the Office of Education Research and Improvement, Snow (2002) concluded that new technologies, such as the Internet “make large demands on individuals’ literacy skills; in some cases, this new technology requires readers to have novel literacy skills, and little is known about how to analyze or teach those skills” (p. 26). The evolving nature of literacy, brought about by continual technological change, has left literacy researchers searching for both theories and practices which address the complexities of learning to read on and with the Internet. Kress (2003) argues that it is no longer possible to think about literacy agrees that while literacy has always been linked to technological forces, never before have educators seen the number of envisionments of literacy developed in such a short period of time. The New London Group’s address of multi-literacies situates these changes in literacy within these multiple factors (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000). As texts have shifted from pages to screen, researchers (Reinking, 1998; Leu, 2000; Mayer, 1997; Kamil & Lane, 1998; Foltz, 1996; McEneaney, 2003) have
questioned the ability of pre-existing models and conceptualizations of reading and writing to apply to a radically new and interactive electronic medium. Can the skill sets, strategies, and practices which have been validated and used successfully with print texts be modified for use in online environments with online texts, or does the nature of the new medium require a dramatic reconceptualization of literate activities and literate practices to define reading success? Decades of research in reading strategy use, reading comprehension, metacognition, and hypertext can inform current research and offer some direction in adapting theory and practice to new literacy environments. There is still debate on whether the findings in one medium can even be comparedn to another medium. Is reading print text the same as reading online text? Isn’t reading reading? Or is the environment so vastly different, and factors such as motivation, interest, and skill so intertwined that any comparison between paper and screen is faulty? Some researchers, such as Mayer (1997), warn against transferring or generalizing findings from one medium to another. Other researchers, such as Leu, Kinzer, Corio, & Cammack (2004), believe that the differences between the print and online environments are so great that they cannot be compared well, with the newer technologies requiring new conceptualizations of both literacy and literate practices. Leu (1997) characterizes literacy as deictic, while Reinking (1998) situates literacy within a “post-typographic” world view. While Leu’s characterization focuses on the rapid and continual change that exists because of the ever-increasing pace of information and communication technologies, Reinking (1998) recognizes that these technologies are already dissolving the power of print, and revolutionizing the ways that literacy is practiced, recognized, and defined. In light of these changes in literacy, the significance for schooling and education
cannot be understated. A shift from page to screen yields a number of obstacles and
opportunities for teaching and learning in an environment of technological change and
rapid acceleration of information.