Reading in a Participatory Culture

Earlier this week, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye: Students May Be Reading Plenty, but Not for Class

Turns out, a new study found students are reading a lot more than we thought. But, 40% of that reading is done on social media (and often during class).

Of course, some might argue that social media is not “real” reading. Though, that kind of thinking fails to recognize the cultural shifts that social media has brought. Students are now reading in a participatory culture.

On the one hand, social media is creating new literacies. On the other hand, there is legitimate concern that this type of reading is negatively impacting the skills that more traditional reading practices develop. What is this doing to vocabulary development and reading comprehension skills? What effect is this having on academic learning. Anecdotally, I would say a lot. And we know that literacy skills have dropped among college graduates.

So what can we do to broaden students’ reading habits? I see this as a golden opportunity for college and university librarians to step up to the plate and start promoting recreational reading. I know that a growing number of academic libraries are running reading programs and hosting book clubs with great success. However, I think those programs are primarily attracting the students who are already avid readers.

What about the students who limit their reading to Facebook statuses? Well, interactive fiction is one approach (see my previous post). Here are some other creative ideas:


Install book booths around campus. Students can freely exchange books whenever they want (and I bet there are students on campus who could build them). How cool is that?


Host a Twitter Storytelling Festival. Have you heard about this? Students contribute 140 lines that collectively form a larger story. This will get them excited about reading and writing. It also makes a great class project.









Start a Fan Fiction Club. Books, movies, video games, whatever… Fanfic-ers are readers and writers.


Start a ‘Chapter a Day’ program. Post Project Gutenberg works bit by bit on your Facebook page.

The giant Galligantua and the wicked old magician transform the duke’s daughter into a white hind.
From The Project Gutenberg eBook, English Fairy Tales, by Flora Annie Steel, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham


3 thoughts on “Reading in a Participatory Culture

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