One adjustment I have had to make from high school to college has been homework. Sure, the numbers of hour I’ve had to study has increased, as well as my workload, but that has yet to be too great of a burden as of yet. No, I am talking about the way that I complete my homework. Six months ago, while in my high school classes, I never had to worry about submitting homework assignments online because it was all done through worksheets. Now I am doing Italian exercises online, creating my own website for my freshman seminar, taking an online class, and of course, posting on this blog. Now I purchase my textbooks online because they are cheaper and easier to access. The reliance on technology in college has made me wonder are there any learning benefits or detriments to using technology so much? I did some research to find out.
I came upon this article written by Rachel Grate. Grate lists three different reasons why reading print is better for you than reading through a screen. The first reason is that your reading comprehension is much improved when reading print (Grate 2014). Grate references an article from by Alison Flood about a study involving 50 people. All of the individuals were to read a short story from writer Elizabeth George, but half were to read through a Kindle and the other half by paper. The readers were then tested on what they had read.
Before I reveal the results of the study, it is important to note that it is difficult to say whether this study was a double blinded study. We do not know how the individuals were chosen to participate in this study. This means that confounding variables such as intelligence, level of higher education, and place of birth could still be at work in this study. We also do not know if the researchers conducting the study were blinded, meaning they can be biased in their findings. Lastly, truly great experiments usually have placebos. Unfortunately it would be impossible to have a placebo in this situation because you can not give somebody a fake Kindle or piece of print to read the story. Now, on to the results.
The readers who did not use print did not do as well as those who did read print when it came to placing 14 different plot points in the order that they occurred. The leader of the study, Anne Mangen, who represents Stavanger University located in Norway (Flood 2014), believes that a possible mechanism could be page flipping. When somebody is flipping through pages it helps them follow the story. If you are using a Kindle you swipe to flip the page, but it is not nearly the same as manually flipping a page yourself. Personally I do not take much weight to this study. The reasons I listed above, as well as the fact that is only has 50 people makes me hesitant to use this study as evidence.
Flood also references another study. 72 students in tenth grade, all from Norway, were given texts to read. Some were given the text in PDF form on a computer, while others were given text. The students were then tested on what they read, similarly to the above study. The results of this study were similar to the aforementioned study. The print readers performed better than the PDF readers. Now, just because this study shows a correlation between reading print rather than through a screen and grades does not mean this is a direct causation. As I said, all of the students were from Norway. Norway is a very, very smart country. They cannot represent the whole world due to their intelligence not representing the average Joe. In addition to that, there were only 72 students. The hypothesis that students do better reading print than computer simply cannot be backed up by these two studies. I would ask for a meta-analysis to be done. Until this is done, we do not know if the results were a false positive or were correct. More studies leads to a lesser probability that chance is the reason for the results. Even the best studies, like the one Andrew showed us about prayer and healing, suffer from chance. However, it was revealed the conclusion that prayer does help with healing was revealed to be a false positive as a meta-analysis was done. When we get more and more studies done on this topic we will have a more clear idea of whether homework should be done or shouldn’t be done through a computer.
I do not like the way in which either of these studies were conducted. Because of this I have decided to make up my own experiment. My study would have at least 10,000 individuals, randomly selected from different places from around the world. Similarly to the above studies, they would be given the same texts, with half reading a computer format and half reading a print format. The texts they would read would be in their appropriate language. This study would be a single blind study. I would not let the researchers conducting the study know whose test results were whose to ensure there were no hidden biases. As I said, a placebo is not possible in this experiment. If this study was done multiple times and got the same result of print readers having better test scores than screen readers, I think the hypothesis that reading print is better for you would have a ton of merit. However, my study can’t be the definitive conclusion on this topic. I would have to publish it and have it readily available for peer review. This is how science works best to find answers. By allowing my study to be peer reviewed, other scientists can find faults in my study that I would not have seen without their expertise.
Doing and reading homework online is an essential part of this generation’s college experience. It’s easier to administer, especially in huge lecture classes, as well as much more time efficient. I think the biggest takeaway from these two studies is that while there may be some merit to reading print rather than reading a screen, there needs to be more studies done with more people involved. Until then, I will continue to use my efficient computer to do my work.