I considered e-book options for my upcoming introductory lit. classes, but I chose a physical book instead, primarily because of the difficulty of teaching and practicing close reading using digital devices that can impede sustained focus.
When we’re online, nothing has our undivided attention, not for long.
Browsing on our smart phones and tablets doesn’t engage our minds the way that close critical reading does. Recent research bears this out: Studies conducted by neuroscientists in collaboration with Michigan State literature professor Natalie Phillips reveal that “close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it” (ctd. Thompson and Vendatam).
Similarly, studies of note-taking by researchers at Princeton and UCLA demonstrate that students who wrote their notes longhand rather than typing them “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who took notes with their laptops” (ctd. in May).
Despite the cognitive benefits of reading offline and putting pen to paper, using those older technologies in the classroom may seem like a step backward. So as the semester approaches, I find myself grappling with how to convey to students the value of putting away their phones. To begin with, I’ll talk about the research I’ve mentioned here.
May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientificamerican.com. Scientific American, Inc., 4 June 2014. Web. 8 Aug. 2014
Thompson, Helen and Shankar Vendatam. “A Lively Mind: Your Brain on Jane Austen.” Narr. Shankar Vendantam. Morning Edition. Nat’l Public Radio, 9 Oct. 2012. NPR.org. Web. 8 Aug. 2014.