ResearchBlogging.orgA recent paper from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy came across my desktop yesterday called e-Reading and e-Responding: New Tools for the Next Generation of Readers.

In it, Lotta C. Larson describes her observation of 10 fifth-grade students who were given access to an e-reader containing two recent award-winning books, both by Christopher Paul Curtis: Bud, Not Buddy, and The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963.

She observed that at first they used the e-reader's highlighter function to mark passages that they thought they might be quizzed on. Once they realized they would not be tested on the literature, their use of the e-reader's tools shifted a bit:

They also highlighted funny, interesting, or unusual expressions such as "woop, zoop, sloop" and "the thing was positively alive with germs!" (from Bud, Not Buddy). Derogatory terms, including vulgar and insulting expressions-- "Shut the hell up and enjoy the damn cookies" (from The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963)--were also popular.

Students often used invented spellings, letter and number substitutions, and emoticons: "Poor him...he brought it on himself, 2 bad 4 u."

It is not clear to me that using twitter or txt msg shorthand (e.g. "2 bad 4 u") is a triumph of the e-reader.

More importantly, there are some important things missing in this paper. To start with, there is no description of the 10 children. Were they already avid readers? After using the e-books, they all indicated that in the future, they'd rather read e-books than dead-tree books, but how much did they like reading in the first place? What was their family background? Did their parents encourage reading? Read to them as kids? What was their socioeconomic background? Were they consistently surrounded by such technology throughout their childhoods, or was the e-reader a novelty?

There is also no control group of kids who were given those two books to read in dead-tree format. I haven't read either of those books but since they are both award winners, I wonder if the texts themselves are the thing that engaged the kids. In a recent conversation with the librarian at my former elementary school, one of those titles (Bud, Not Buddy) was mentioned as a favorite. Also, would the digital notes taken by the e-reader students be substantively different from pencil notes taken by dead-tree students?

She concludes:

Rosenblatt's (1938/1995) transactional theory of reader response explains that each reader breathes life into the text through personal meaning making and individual experiences. e-Books clearly offer new opportunities and extended possibilities for personal interpretation of and engagement with texts (Hancock,

2008; Larson, 2009).

eBooks may indeed offer new opportunities, but I totally fail to see how this study supports that statement. How are these kids' "individual experiences" or "engagement with texts" any different or improved by the use of an e-reader?

Forget "extended possibilities": I don't even see how this study even suggests that e-reading can be functionally equivalent to dead-tree reading, let alone functionally extended or improved.

I don't categorically deny the possibility that e-reading can be value-added. But first, I'd need to be convinced that it can at least be value-matched.

Larson, L. (2009). e-Reading and e-Responding: New Tools for the Next Generation of Readers Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53 (3), 255-258. DOI: 10.1598/JAAL.53.3.7