5 Ways to Improve Students’ Online Reading Comprehension

Students prefer print to reading online. At least that’s what the research has found. I think most librarians can confirm this anecdotally.

Is anybody asking why? Because its implications are problematic.

We know that online reading comprehension requires a separate set of skills than print-based reading comprehension; skills such as interpreting, critically evaluating and then synthesizing multiple modes of information.

Online reading comprehension becomes even more critical as students enter college and are required to locate, evaluate, synthesize and communicate information stemming from online resources. That of course, is the basis for information literacy.

Students’ current preferences for print suggests that their online reading comprehension skills are underdeveloped. This is not surprising considering that schools have been very slow to adapt to 21st century learning — and many still equate 21st century skills with technology skills.

Add to that the misinterpretation of what a digital native is (yes, being born into a digital age makes you a digital native in a sense, but not necessarily a digitally literate native) and you can see we have a problem. A BIG problem that ultimately is hurting students’ abilities to function as information and digital literates in both college and career.

So what can we do to nurture the development of students’ online reading comprehension skills? Here are 5 ways librarians can tackle the problem:

  1. Transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is storytelling across multiple media platforms, exercising multiple literacies. Librarians can support online reading comprehension by promoting the reading of transmedia stories in the library, and collaborating with teachers to integrate transmedia stories into the classroom. See my previous posts here and here to learn more.
  2. Maker activities. Maker activities, especially of the digital variety, support online reading comprehension as students locate, evaluate and learn how to synthesize multiple digital elements together to communicate messages within their local or global communities. Transmedia storytelling can serve as an inspiration for maker activities.
  3. Digital games. Strategy (e.g. Minecraft, SimCity) and role playing (e.g. World of Warcraft) games, in particular, help develop the types of problem solving skills that are inherent in digital and information literacies. In that way, digital games are also good for supporting online reading comprehension skills. Librarians can provide access to digital games and game play in the library, and collaborate with teachers to bring digital games into the classroom to promote multiple literacies.
  4. WebQuests. WebQuests use elements of gamification to help students develop online research skills — and online reading comprehension skills along the way. WebQuests that are presented with a storytelling narrative (e.g. scenario-based, fantasy-based) motivate students to solve online information problems in an authentic context. Librarians can use WebQuests for library instruction, or just as easily integrate them into classroom-based lessons.
  5. Alternative research assignments. Research assignments that utilize social media (e.g. blogs, wikis) or share-able tools (e.g. infographics) support the full gamut of online reading comprehension skills – locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information. Librarians play an important role in advocating for and articulating the value of alternatives to the traditional research paper.
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10 Digital Games Every Library Needs

The word has gotten out that gaming is a great way to draw teens (especially boys) into the library, and maybe…just maybe get them hooked on a book. International Games Day @ your library is proof of that. That’s the carrot and stick approach to reading. While I’m sure that approach has had some success, it’s the games themselves that are valuable tools for developing 21st century literacies and learning — something all libraries should be fully supporting.

I personally developed an enthusiasm for digital games as a literacy and learning tool in a Games and Simulations course I took awhile back. That course also gave me the incentive to explore games, and as I began to play, I began to recognize the literacy-rich environments that encompass games. Now, I play games more frequently, and have even encouraged my daughter to play more games (she enjoys Minecraft). I’m pretty sure her problem solving and strategic thinking skills have improved as a result. Problem solving and strategic thinking are broad skills that serve as a foundation for many academic areas, including math, science, critical literacy, and yes, even information literacy.

So, in my opinion, digital games should have a prominent place in every library (public, school and academic), and librarians should encourage gameplay in the same way they have always encouraged reading.

Here are 10 games that I think belong in every library (enjoy exploring them!):

  1. Minecraft 
  2. Portal 2
  3. Sid Meier’s Civilization
  4. Myst
  5. Tengami
  6. Colossal Cave Adventure  (one of the first text adventure games, now available on iOS and Android)
  7. Inanimate Alice (transmedia storytelling)
  8. Ticket to Ride (online adaptation)
  9. Gone Home
  10. The Stanley Parable