Page vs Screen: Technology in the Classroom isn’t Hobson’s Choice!

12 May

CiPQ5hgWEAAm-2RIt seems to me that in any class I teach there are three distinct groups of students: one consisting of enthusiastic adopters of digital technologies; a second group of those comfortable enough with the technology, but rather less gung-ho about it; and finally a group which struggles with anything to do with a device, and is all at sea. I gave my grade 8 English class a writing task the other day, and told them they could submit digitally, or on paper. A large group reached immediately for their devices, but some put their tablets to one side, and took out pen and paper. Likewise, when it comes to reading, most of my students have a textbook, but a few use eBooks downloaded on their kindles.

This is, I believe, exactly what it should be. The introduction of technology in the classroom should never amount to an all or nothing affair. The research on the effects of reading and writing on page and screen is by no means conclusive, and with something as important as reading and writing, I believe we should be very cautious about any change. On the other hand so much reading and writing is done on devices these days, we would be ill-advised to ignore it. My common sense, unscientific intuition is that both page and screen form important modalities for literacy practices, and that we need to cultivate good habits in both.

I try to give my students opportunities throughout the year to read and write on page and screen. This has some obvious advantages. When my students are writing in Google docs I can view and comment in real-time, as the writing is happening. This allows me to engage with the process of writing in ways which are more constrained on paper. But I do worry that writing on paper may well be developing other skill sets, such as fore-planning, which screen writing might be eroding. So I make sure that we do writing on paper as well. And sometimes I give them a choice. I have to admit that this is all hope and pray for the best – I have no idea what I am doing. But I do hope that by mixing things up sufficiently, hit and miss tactics will result in more hits than misses.

The time has come to start developing a comprehensive notion of what it means to read or write on the screen, and how to teach good habits towards hypertextual reading and screen writing. here are some initial thoughts:

  • Reading Hypertext is about scanning for information and synthesising ideas from hyperlinked sources, so students need to be given tasks which call for them to browse rapidly to find relevant information, and need to have these skills scaffolded. How do you evaluate what is relevant and valid? How do you go about assessing what it is you need to find: what is your question? How do you go about assessing where to find this?
  • Reading the page is more about following a narrative or train of thought and understanding how the argument is structured. This can be practised through more searching “comprehension” style exercises.
  • Screen Writing is less about setting out your thoughts before you begin writing, planning the structure of your argument; it does afford a more exploratory style. You need a more recursive writing strategy in which you interrogate what you have written to reveal the argument that is emerging from the words. These habits can be practised.
  • Page Writing, because the ability to edit is constrained, needs more thorough planning, and a sense of the structure of your narrative or argument before you begin writing, or recursive drafting.

At the moment very little work is being done in developing ways of teaching and assessing these different modalities. I suspect language teachers are largely winging it, as I am, but we do need to start addressing these issues before we lose a generation to bad page and screen habits!


8 responses to “Page vs Screen: Technology in the Classroom isn’t Hobson’s Choice!

  1. surfer

    May 23, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I think there is a lot of naïve push of technology. And often done versus a scarecrow.

    One example is calculators: scientific were VERY QUICKLY allowed into high school sciences where there often was arduous arithmetic [I am old enough to remember log tables still being taught, but no one used them…calcs caught on immediately.]

    However in algebra and calculus, calculatores weren’t allowed. Heck they weren’t even disallowed. They were just irrelevant! You don’t really DO detailed arithmetic in the manner of chemistry in an algebra or calculus [and you still don’t…at the college level]. You do algebraic manipulations. So what happened is the people pushing calculators had to actually push IN calculationaly complex problems to justify the use of calculators. This even though the key CONCEPTS are better understood with pen and paper writing out polynomials. [p.s. check out the interesting failure of the AP calculus BC calculator experiment in the early 80s.]

    So people who don’t really understand (conceptually or pedagogically) sciences, math, or device use are pushing “tech”. And I have been seeing this stuff since the 80s.

    When something works, it will come in pretty easily from a bottom up standpoint. Look at how athletic coaches use their phones for quick videos to help technique. Nobody had to require them to do so. And they will mix it into their overall work.

    Beware the top down. If something is was the way to go, it ought to be bubbling up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dorian Love

      May 24, 2016 at 9:44 am

      Top down never works because teaching is so reliant on context! Besides which administrators seem often to have very hazy ideas about what goes on in a classroom! My little dig!


  2. roseyreider

    May 12, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Thanks for following me, I am just a social and heart style blogger.
    I do not have much time at the moment for blogging but love it when I do. Just want to get the masters’ done with then I can go back to the blogging.

    Just also remembered someone else you should look up it is Craig Blewett a prof at UKZN. He has just done his Doctorate on The @tivated Classroom and come up with his own model for IT use in the classroom.

    I think you would enjoy his approach to IT in the classroom. I am also going to tell him about your blog. He unfortunately is away for our conference but we are going to have a prerecorded slot and some live Q & A time with him at the end of his slot.

    Nice chatting keep sharing.



    • Dorian Love

      May 12, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Good luck with your masters, by the way! 🙂


  3. roseyreider

    May 12, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Hi Dorian,

    Really enjoyed this article. Thank you.
    I am busy with my masters and am researching Grade 8 reading habits and motivation re reading for pleasure and what effects/influences the use of a reading book platform (like Goodreads)will have on their reading. So your observations and comments were interesting. You should look up the research done by Margaret Merga, an australian research and teacher – it is very interesting re online use and reading.

    I am sorry to harp on about it but I have asked you, more than once before, if you would consider speaking at our Library Conference. We are having one this year in Bloemfontein and I would really like you to present to the teachers and librarians that are coming.

    You have some great ideas, thoughts and practices and one of your blog posts could easily be come a presentation.

    Please give it some serious thought.

    My contact details are or 0834101936

    Many thanks and keep on blogging I really enjoy your thoughts & writing.


    • Dorian Love

      May 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Hi Rosey,

      I will look up Margaret Merga! Thanks for the tip. Marj Brown was just telling me you’d contacted her, and I’m afraid your invite slipped through the cracks. I have just finished my Masters report and it grew to PhD size by the end so my mind became like a sieve, I’m afraid! I feel very bad about not replying! It comes during our exams, and I run the report system so I am very busy at that time, so I will have to disappoint you, I’m afraid.

      Many thanks for the kind words, and hopefully one day we will meet! All the best



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