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The Paperless Student - Skills and Confidence Reading on Screen


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Presented at ALT-C 2014, University of Warwick, 1-3 September 2014. Paper 592. The Paperless Student: The impact of an intervention addressing digital study competencies. Matt Cornock and Blayn Parkinson, University of York, UK. Do we make too many assumptions about students' confidence and competence with digital literacy? Are the problems reading on screen based on technology or behaviours? What approaches can we use to support students and help them realise new skills to engage with digital documents? This paper aims to address these questions drawing upon survey and small scale feedback from the website.

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The Paperless Student - Skills and Confidence Reading on Screen

  1. 1. The Paperless Student The impact of an intervention addressing digital study competencies. Presented at ALT-C, 2 September 2014. Matt Cornock, ELDT Blayn Parkinson, HYMS University of York, UK
  2. 2. Context From a sampling of first year students, nearly all owned a laptop. Many owned other devices such as tablets and smartphones. This is a pattern seen across higher education (Champagne, 2013; Chen & Denoyelles, 2013). We see them use these devices in class, we presume they are comfortable with using them for educational purposes: reading text, annotation, collaboration. However, are these assumptions well-founded?
  3. 3. Staff problems reading on screen  eye strain  blurring of text  small screen size  annotation  physical discomfort  concentration Website feedback form
  4. 4. Student problems reading on screen  focus and attention  annotation  changing formatting  file management Website feedback form
  5. 5. on screen than on paper “ less effective reading habits ” Ackerman & Lauterman (2012:1817)
  6. 6. Just technological reasons Ackerman & Lauterman (2012) and Wästlund et al. (2005) both suggest that difficulties with technology may be down to cognitive load, rather than the quality of the device or technological issues. Drawing upon survey data with first year students, we looked at perceived confidence with reading on screen against other factors.
  7. 7. Student lack of confidence with IT 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Generally with IT Internet Word PowerPoint Reading on Screen Not confident
  8. 8. Very weak correlations, if any However, not statistically significant comparing lack of confidence reading on screen against other IT confidence, device ownership or whether in education in previous year
  9. 9. What other evidence? Drawing upon Ackerman & Lauterman (2012), can we interpret the site statistics as further suggestions of users difficulties with reading on screen being based in user behaviour rather than technological flaw?
  10. 10. Most popular pages Page title Hits Aug 2013-Aug 2014 Getting at your Kindle Notes (and Highlights) 5954 GMail Text Size 5122 Home 1722 Adobe Reader PDF Annotation 1225 Full-screen modes 972 Software to help focus 690 Word Annotation 488 Browser Text Size 410 Tablets / eReaders Annotation 364 Annotation 269 Open Office / Libra Office 266 Choosing a device to bring to university 260 PDFs on mobile devices 248 Site stats collected 18 Aug 2014
  11. 11. What could you do Link to the site at for all new students. Recognise that reading on screen, interacting with digital documents and digital note-taking require additional skills in order to overcome the perceived accepted norm of technical limitations. Solutions to these skills gaps or confidence gaps may not be known, hence the importance of discussing concepts like digital annotation, full screen modes and assistive technology for all users.
  12. 12. Conclusion Reading on screen problems affect a wide range of users with a range of confidence with IT and different devices. Content on the site that looks at focusing attention appears popular and may imply a connection with theories that support difficulty with reading on screen is down to user behaviour rather than problems with the technology.
  13. 13. @blaynparkinson @mattcornock See Cornock & Parkinson (2013) for project background; online presentation at
  14. 14. References Ackerman, R. & Lauterman, T. (2012). Taking reading comprehension exams on screen or on paper? A metacognitive analysis of learning texts under time pressure. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28, 1816-1828. Champagne, M. V. (2013). 'Student use of mobile devices in course evaluation: a longitudinal study', Educational Research and Evaluation, Vol. 19, No. 7, pp. 636-646. Chen, B. and Denoyelles, A. (2013). 'Exploring Students' Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education' [online], Educase Review Online. Available at (accessed 10 April 2014). Cornock, M. and Parkinson, B. (2013). Encouraging use of digital resources: responding to student feedback about problems of reading on screen. Presentation at the 3rd Annual Higher York eLearning Conference, 4 June 2013, York St John University. Available at Wästlund, E., Reinikka, H., Norlander, T., & Archer, T. (2005). Effects of VDT and paper presentation on consumption and production of information: Psychological and physiological factors. Computers in Human Behaviour, 21, 377–394.