After the Page: Digital Reading Practices and New Media Technology in the Writing Classroom

Abstract (in English): 

A significant pedagogical challenge emerging from the recent shift from print to digital-media formats is the need to develop and maintain critical reading strategies for online literary analysis. Because traditional approaches to literature and professional writing were developed to engage different genres of print-based texts, today’s university educators find it pointedly lacking when applied to digital reading environments. This discrepancy appears simultaneously at both a practical and cognitive level. Students reading electronic texts, studies show, are more likely to avoid active note-taking, highlighting key passages or comparing multiple works (Barry, 2012; Gold, 2012). As a result, higher levels of comprehension, including remembering crucial premises and text-specific-terminologies, are adversely affected. Speaking to the difficulty of building critical analyses in electronic formats, one researcher feels “[l]iterary criticism in the academy has reached a crisis point, and what we mean by ‘reading’ stands at the center of the storm” (Freedman, 2015). Responding to this issue and the growing concern over declining academic literacy levels it brings to the Humanities, this paper surveys contemporary theories of reading and analysis in the post-print, digital era before outlining a specific methodology for how writing programs can incorporate new procedures for interpreting and assessing texts distributed electronically. To these ends, the paper critically examines the recent development and increased classroom use of computer assisted text analysis (CATA) software to improve readerly engagement with online and electronic texts. Looking at several specific applications and plug- ins like NowComment and Ponder in standard use today, one key focus will emphasize the growing critical interest among instructors and learners to feature tasks and assignments that combine text annotation and commentary with the aims of social media. Further attention, as I will argue, can then be offered to determine the role these tools might play in the revision of literary scholarship. Based on findings from a pilot study investigating levels of student engagement with digital texts verses print texts, this project situates theories of critical writing within students’ real life reading practices, ranging from simple attempts to master PDFs effectively on personal devices to more complex multimedia, multiscreen interactivity.

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Jane Lausten