What is the future of reading

The future of reading - or: What is the increasing number of digital offers doing to readers?

TÜBINGEN. Reading on paper or digitally on the screen? In a joint statement, more than 130 researchers point out that the question of what is better cannot be answered across the board.

The digital pact for schools is rolling in, accompanied by the latent expectation that the coming financial boost could help catapult schools into the future - or at least the present. For what future the schools will actually have to prepare their protégés for, it is hardly foreseeable. Digitization is developing with unprecedented speed. Even serious forecasts are based on fluctuating foundations.

With regard to society and individuals, looking into the future is made more difficult by the structure of the political and media discourse. Utopians and dystopians seem to be irreconcilable towards each other. It is difficult to make a differentiated point of view heard, as the discussion about the fine dust limit values ​​has shown not least.

A future-oriented institution like the school has to deal with fundamental questions in this situation too - for example when reading: What is the increasing number of digital offers doing to the readers? How should children learn to read today? Will printed media on paper really soon become obsolete? Questions that have only been updated once in Germany due to the digital pact and that have been dealt with by over 100 scientists who have joined forces in the European network E-Read (Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitization) for four years. In the so-called Stavanger Declaration, which more than 130 of them have signed, they summarize the findings of their work.

The Tübingen psychologist Yvonne Kammerer co-signed the declaration. "For understanding and remembering long factual texts, it makes a difference whether they are printed out or read on the screen," she emphasizes. When reading long informational texts, the paper is superior to the screen, as studies have shown that measured the memory performance and text comprehension of test subjects. This applies above all under time pressure.

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When reading narrative texts, on the other hand, it doesn't seem to make any difference which medium is used for reading. "If we want to know which medium is advantageous for the reader, we always have to look at the boundary conditions, for example the length and type of reading task and the specific design of a text," says Kammerer

With narrative texts, one has to understand less word for word. It's about understanding the story. "Such texts are usually not read on the PC, but comfortably on the sofa with the e-reader."

Kammerer sees an advantage for reading in the development of handy devices such as tablets and e-readers: “We can tap, zoom and move things. This may play a role in reading comprehension. A book can be turned back and forth and you have the pages in your hand. This haptic orientation is more difficult on the screen without a touch function. This is a problem especially with long texts that require a lot of scrolling. "

If the digital preparation and presentation of texts is tailored precisely to the preferences and needs of a user, understanding could even benefit. If this is not the case, however, most readers overestimated their own understanding of the text. Basically, texts on the screen are read more quickly. Screen readers tended to read more superficially and more quickly and to scan Internet texts rather than “skim through” them instead of reading linearly line by line. “That has something to do with the wealth of information that is available on the Internet,” says Yvonne Kammerer. Never before has so much been read as it is today, and texts have never been available so quickly.

Beyond conscious reading comprehension, the researchers' study results indicated that reading texts of appropriate length and difficulty in students can help consolidate qualities such as concentration, patience and discipline. In addition, reading provides emotional and aesthetic experiences and improves language skills. However, such effects would not occur if text was scanned over the air.

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For Yvonne Kammerer, one thing is particularly important, regardless of whether a text is on the screen, on the tablet or on paper: "We have to practice reading and teach effective reading strategies." This also applies to the so-called digital natives. Contrary to expectations about their behavior, the negative effects of screen reading compared to paper reading would have increased overall, regardless of age group and previous experience with digital living environments.

Overall, the signatories of the Stavanger Declaration advocate caution when introducing digital technologies in education. In today's hybrid reading environment, both print and digital media offer different advantages. It is important for teachers to think carefully about which media are suitable for which purpose and to make their students aware of when it is better to use a book and when to use a tablet or smartphone.

Those responsible must be aware that the quick and indiscriminate exchange of print media, paper and pencil is not neutral. If the digitization in schools were not accompanied by carefully developed learning tools and learning strategies, the digitization of schools could in fact cause a setback for the reading skills of students and their ability to think critically. In Yvonne Kammerer's view, information and media skills should be further trained in a targeted manner, because, according to the psychologist: "Critical and reflective handling is often lacking: comparing, evaluating and reading information in an understanding-oriented manner." (Zab, pm)

• The Stavanger Declaration in full

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