Wednesday, January 04, 2012

eBooks can damage your reading?

Two things collided and I thought it was worth noting.

Kindle by ...-Wink-...
Kindle, a photo by ...-Wink-... on Flickr.
First, I caught a short chunk of a programme very late on Radio 4 (or possibly the World service). I think it was a business programme and they were talking about Amazon. Among other things, they were saying what a smart move (for Amazon at least) the Kindle was and, almost as a throw away, they stated that Amazon were now selling more eBooks than paper books!

I was surprised by this, especially since (in my opinion) many eBook editions are too pricey - I have even seen paperback versions of a book on sale in Amazon for a lower price than the eBook. How does that make sense?

While this was still fizzing around the back of my mind, I came across this blog: Why Books Are Better than e-Books for Children. The article asserts that if parents read eBooks with their children, it "...may actually impede our child’s ability to learn". If true, this would be worrying. The post referred to research from Temple University: Traditional books provide more positive parent-child interaction according to Temple, Erickson researchers. (It is worth noting that while the blog post is dated 28 December 2011, the research is dated 2006 - and five years is a very long time in the world of tech!)

Despite it's age, a couple of the points the research raises are interesting. One of its findings is related to the way eBooks can read the text to you:
'"It turned out that reading electronic books became a behaviorally oriented, slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story, relating it to the their child's life, or even talking about the book's pictures or text," Parish-Morris said. "Parents were under the impression that when you are sitting down with a book, you are supposed to read it," she added.  "But what was happening with the e-books is that reading was not even part of the process, probably because these books literally read the story to the child.  So parents are not needed.  The book makes commands and tells the child what to do; it encourages them to play games and reads to the child, so parents are essentially replaced by this battery-operated machine."'
This is an important point but it seems to me that this is no different from the story tapes we used to play for our children. They were not, of course, a substitute for reading to our children but they were a supplement. For example, it was while reading to my children at bedtime that I discovered Mr Tumnus has an Irish accent and (later on) that Aragorn sounds a bit like Clint Eastwood! But there were times when story tapes were invaluable, for example when we were going long journeys in a car. So I would argue that the problem here is not eBooks per se, but rather the way they are used.

The New York Times blog goes on to suggest, "Readers with an e-reader were focused on the device, not the story." I can see this would be an issue but probably only while the devices were new and novel. I remember having to teach people how to use the back button and hyperlinks on the first web browser but now the focus is on how to use the information accessed rather than the means of accessing it. If it is true that eBooks are outselling paper books, I think we can safely say that that we are well past they days of them being novel (pun intended) devices.

I am less than concerned therefore by the issues raised in the New York Times blog. It seems to me like another example that shows the truth of the phrase "It's not the tech, it's the teach". If the focus is on the reading and the parent child interaction, I suspect it makes no nevermind whether you use an eBook or a pBook!

I suspect though that this is worth further investigation. I must have a look for some more up-to-date research.


John O'Neill said...

Interesting points here. I would certainly emphasise your point regarding 5 years being a very long time in tech, as both development in Kindle and of course iPad demonstrates. eBooks like The Elements on iPad offer a level of interaction, which can be social too, which provides a level of enrichment of experience and understanding which the 2006 research referred to was not in a position to consider. Not sure if you will have caught BBC 1's recent Imagine programme on the book and the eBook, some really interesting views in this area expressed. One point I liked was the comment that to focus on the instrument for communicating information, ie book or eBook , was to focus on the wrong issue, the focus should be on the quality, integrity and value of the information.
It may also be worth noting that the benefits of digital for those with various learning difficulties, may make reading with mother/ father a more fruitful experience.

Mosher said...

I've seen the pricing issue before. Heck I've seen ebooks being sold for more than the *hardback* version.

My main gripe isn't with Amazon's pricing per se, but with the government's decision that for some bizarre reason an ebook attracts VAT whereas a regular book doesn't.

I admit I'm new to the ebook idea as anything more than a novelty as I don't really have a device suitable for reading them on. It's great being able to pull out my mobile and plough through "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" when I'm stuck somewhere, but it's not the best medium for a long reading session. I'm intending to try it more seriously when I get my tablet sometime soon.

I don't see how a different medium can make the effectiveness of reading better or worse, but from a personal point of view I just prefer the "feel" of a real book compared to holding something electronic. Agreed, though, that research is long out of date and could be relating to low-resolution, hard-to-read screens, for instance.

David said...

Hello Mr O'Neill

I'm ashamed to say that not only did I not see the BBC programme, I didn't even know it existed! Sounds interesting. ...and I hadn't thought of the additional needs issues. Thanks.

Hello Mr Mosher

You need to get yourself a tablet. Reading from a phone is doable but painful. Reading from a tablet device really works. And now that Android devices are nearly as good as the iPad you could get a second class experience instead of a third class experience. :-) {Just messing with you!} The VAT thing is daft but getting them to remove a tax in the current climate seems as likely as getting you to buy an Apple product!

As for eBook verses pBook - I still like having the physical paper based object but have found I have read significantly more eBooks than pBooks in the last year.

Kenneth... said...

HNY David.
I was curious about the source of the evidence from the Temple Times online and tried to find a published paper that the article was based on. Unfortunately this article appears to be selected extracts from a paper presented at a conference but that the presentation never manifested itself as a published paper. So it's impossible to validate the claims or to find out what 'e-book' they used in their research.

I'm confused as to how an e-book or p-book can modify parent's reading behaviour. Surely these books don't specify how the parent should read to their child. They don't tell you what accents to adopt for different characters, or questions to ask at appropriate points, or tangents and asides to make at appropriate points in the text.

I have colleagues that specialise in picture books research and I'm amazed at the variety of paper books that children can experience/read. Looking at the shelf I see books of different sizes and pages and covers and images and structure. There isn't one size of paper book that is best so why do the Temple 'researchers' think that there's a unifying concept of the ebook. When I read the quote about the ebook reading to a child and them playing games i'm reminded of 'Arthur's Teacher Troubles' which displayed text and a voice read the text and then the child could click on various parts of the picture to see the animation. This is obviously not the ebooks of the kindle generation.

I wonder if someone claimed that paperbacks damage children's reading rather than hardbacks?

David said...

Hello Kenneth

The points you raise more or less echo my concerns with the NYTimes blog post and in part prompted my post here. I too tried to chase up the original paper but couldn't find it. My feeling is, the blog writer at NYTimes had decided what they wanted to say and then looked for evidence to back it up - something I would never do... obviously. :-) The fact that they could only find a five year-old press release says a lot.

Reading around the press release suggests they were looking at "toy" type devices such as LeapFrog rather than dedicated readers such as the Kindle.

Via facebook, one of our retired librarians referred me to "Are Ebooks Any Good?" by Guernsey, Lisa in School Library Journal, v57 n6 p28-32 Jun 2011 though the focus of that research is on whether picture eBooks are a good investment for elementary school libraries rather than on parent/child reading experiences, but it is more up-to-date and you can at least read the full paper. I think there is the potential for some interesting research on eBooks and the development of early reading skills. For example, does a school like Cedars in Greenock, with it's 1-to-1 iPad project use the iPads to develop early reading skills, do they still use books and reading schemes or do they use some sort of blended approach?

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