Another Defensive Post About e-Reading

Another Defensive Post About e-Reading

various e-book readers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disclaimer: As an administrator in a district where we have provided iPads for all students, I always feel a bit defensive about articles and research studies that are quick to dismiss e-reading in lieu of traditional books. This is especially true when I am quoted in one of the articles.

Caitlin Dewey produced another take on the merits of e-reading in yesterday's Washington Post in her article titled "Why you might want to ditch your e-reader and go back to traditional books."Dewey's piece highlights a study out of Italy that was highlighted in the Guardian this week where 50 people were asked to read a short story, half of the group on a Kindle and the other half out of a book. The findings here were that the overwhelming majority of the participants who read on the Kindle remembered less of the story than those who read it from a book.

As is usually the case with these types of studies, I have some questions I need answered to help me understand the findings of this study:

  • How many of these Kindle readers had done reading electronically before?
  • What was the mindset of these people about reading electronically?

The fact of the matter is that only two of the Kindle readers had experience reading on the Kindle, a fact that this story seemed comfortable glossing over. I am a bit at a loss as to how such a significant matter can be considered insignificant. It seems straightforward to me that people tend to perform better in an environment in which they are more comfortable. I am wondering when I will see a study done with a group of people who consider themselves strong e-readers and face them off with a group of "luddites."

Here's my key takeaway from this article:

"Anne Mangen, the lead author of the new Kindle study, says more research will be needed to determine which devices should be used for what content and which populations benefit from each. It’s also unclear to what extent readers’ own attitudes affect their comprehension; one line of research posits that, as iPads and Kindles become more mainstream, people will approach text on those devices a little more thoughtfully."

I am left with the same conclusion that I had back in April when I wroteA Rant On Reading Online vs. Reading Paper.

Why is it that as we seek the best way to accomplish a task, we cling to the false belief that we are going to find one right answer? Personally, I love reading online and the fact that I can click on hyperlinks, bookmark key points/articles, and interact with others interested in the same topic/novel. Am I distracted or adding a level of interaction to this task that was not possible for previous generations of readers?

Of course, the answer here is that sometimes I am distracted and less productive and other times I am able to utilize the online resources in a way that adds greater depth to my experience. My main problem with the alarmists who would prefer that all students read paperbound texts is that they deny these students opportunities to experience the power of Interactive reading, as well as the chance to find their own individual sense of balance in this area. We need to embrace the struggle that is part of this and have meaningful conversations to guide our own learning and the learning of our children.

Denying these opportunities benefits no one!

cross-posted at

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at