Slidecast - What's wrong with online reading (short)


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Slidecast version of the short (50 min) version my "What's Wrong with Online Reading" presentation. Audio recorded during a Nov 2011 guest lecture. Unfortunately, some of the vocal commentary for the last dozen slides was lost.

This talk discusses how a wide range of research in web usability, psychology, education, and communication theory provides corroborating evidence that on-line reading is transforming cognition, learning, and the very nature of knowledge in some disturbing ways.

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Slidecast - What's wrong with online reading (short)

  1. 1. tl;dr orWhat’swrongwithonlinereading? ead g?
  2. 2. Discuss how recent research in webusability, psychology, physiology, cognitivescience,science political science media studies science, studies,and education provides a great deal ofcorroborating evidence thatonline reading is notnearly as g y good as it seems
  3. 3. In fact, the evidence convinces methat is dth t it i downright i htdangerousfor our cognitive powersandfor the future of democratic society society.
  4. 4. Five ThingsWrongwith onlinereading di
  5. 5. Comprehension p
  6. 6. Readingstudies
  7. 7. “young people scan online pages veryrapidly ( y especially) and click p y (boys p y)extensively on hyperlinks – rather thanreading sequentially … they tend tomove rapidly from page to page,spending little time reading ordigesting information.”I. Rowlands and D. Nicholas, Information Behavior of the Researcher of the Future (2008)
  8. 8. “our empirical study seems to indicate … that hypertext degrades the q yp g quality y of reader’s engagement during reading. reading ”David S. Miall and Teresa Dobson, “Reading hypertext and the experience of literature,” Journal of Digital Information 2 (2001)
  9. 9. “hypertext presentation resulted in a lower comprehension p p performance.”Rouet et al, “Effects of online reading on popular science comprehension,” Science Communication 25 (2) 2003.
  10. 10. Readers with low domain knowledge comprehend significantly better with p g y highly coherent texts (books). Readers with high domain knowledge comprehend significantly better with low coherent texts (i.e., hypertext).L. Salmeron et al, “Reading Strategies and Hypertext Comprehension,” Discourse Processess 40 (2005)
  11. 11. “the net total effect of the web is actually to reduce learning compared y g p to print presentation.”Eveland and Dunwoody, “An investigation of elaboration and selective scanning as mediators of learning from the web versus print,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 46 (1) 2002.
  12. 12. In a longitudinal study comparing digital literacy in 2002 and 2009 across generations: Improvements in technical li I i h i l literacy amongst the older cohorts h ld h Big decreases in tasks requiring creative and critical thinking amongst younger cohorts“For the“F th more critical and creative skills … iti l d ti killexperience and exposure to [online]information seem t hi f ti to have a negative effect ti ff ton the user’s performance.”Eshet‐Alkalai, “Changes over time in Digital Literacy,” CyberPsychology & Behavior 12 (6) 2009
  13. 13. Both user control theory and structural isomorphism theory ( (communication/learning theories) g ) predicted that reading comprehension g p would be improved online in comparison to p p print.Eveland and Dunwoody, “User Control and Structural Isomorphism or Disorientation and Cognitive Load,” Communication Research 28 (1) 2001.
  14. 14. didn’t thi happen?did ’t this h ?
  15. 15. ScanningScanning
  16. 16. Usability experts have observedthat over past 5-6 yearsthe nature of web usagehas dramatically changed.
  17. 17. Most web usage hasswitched from Surfing toInformation Foraging 18
  18. 18. Information fI f i foragers (informavores) are seeking very specific prey
  19. 19. Information foragersrely on search enginesto get to the “information patch information patch”Because search engines make it easy to f d patches, h k find hforagers will spend little time looking for prey.According to Information Foraging Theory: Kvalue Expected value of knowledge Ctime Cost (in time) to gain knowledge
  20. 20. As informavores,we are “hard-wired” hard-wiredto prefer quick findingand processing of information information.
  21. 21. is this important?
  22. 22. Because…Becauseof the empirical data on howthe web is used.
  23. 23. long do you spend viewingyour average web page?
  24. 24. 25% of all web pagesare displayed for less than p yfour seconds!Weinreich et al, “Off the Beaten Tracks: Exploring Three Aspects of Web Navigation”, IW3C2 2006
  25. 25. 52% of all visitsare shorter thanten seconds!Only about 11% are visited formore than 2 minutes.Weinreich et al, “Off the Beaten Tracks: Exploring Three Aspects of Web Navigation”, IW3C2 2006
  26. 26. Weinreich et al, “Off the Beaten Tracks: Exploring Three Aspects of Web Navigation”, IW3C2 2006
  27. 27. “users most often spent p approximately 10 seconds viewing those documents that they eventually h h ll identified as relevant and also those that they eventually did not mark as relevant.”Diane Kelly and Nicholas J. Belkin, “Reading Time, Scrolling and Interaction: Exploring Implicit Sources for User Preferences for Relevance Feedback”, Proceedings of the 24th annual international ACM SIGIR conference on Research and development in information retrieval (2001)
  28. 28. Server-record analysishints that these studies actuallyover state the average stay time g y(i.e., actual average stay is even briefer).WHY?
  29. 29. Because adult sites appear to be the largest single category of web g y site (with email a close second)...… and on average the stay time foradult and email requestsis significantly longerthanth non-adult and non-email requests. d lt d il t
  30. 30. For most pages with an average amount of text p g g(600 words), users will only take the time toread at best about a quarter, or, more likely, afifth of the text.
  31. 31. Areacademicsanydifferent?
  32. 32. In a very interesting study comparing the y g y p g time spent reading a paper-based academic article and the on-line equivalent, the researchers f h found that d h “a “ very l large proportion i of [online] full-text views full text were extremely brief and possibly cursory.”David Nicholas et al, “Viewing and reading behavior in a virtual environment”, ASLIB Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 60 (2008)
  33. 33. Average reading times for 10+ page p g g p g printed academic paper varied between 22 to 45 minutes based on the discipline. Average reading times for on-line version averaged about 74 seconds. Yet academics reported that they spent between 5-15 minutes reading the online version (even though they didn’t).David Nicholas et al, “Viewing and reading behavior in a virtual environment”, ASLIB Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 60 (2008)
  34. 34. Average for academics: 74 seconds g Average for students: 100 seconds Average for life science academics: 112 s Average for business academics: 60 s Average for computer science academics: 55 s Research-university faculty spent longer than teaching university teaching-university faculty.David Nicholas et al, “Viewing and reading behavior in a virtual environment”, ASLIB Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 60 (2008)
  35. 35. Study examining stay times for ScienceDirectarticles: 38 seconds on averageStudy comparing reading of academic papers oncomputer monitor versus paper:Paper readers: 80% progressed past first pageand spent 50% of time on p g 2-n p pagesOnline readers: Almost no one progressed pastfirst page and those that did spent only 17% oftime on pages 2-nNicholas, D. et al, “Viewing and reading behaviour in a virtual environment.” Perspectives 60.3 (2008).Huntington, P. et al, "Website Usage Metrics: A Re‐Assessment of Session Data." Information Processing & Management 44.1 (2008).
  36. 36. is this happening?
  37. 37. SCANNING
  38. 38. The vast majority of j yweb pages are scannedand not read d t dbyb most users t
  39. 39. The focus on usability this decadehas succeeded in achievingbroad acceptance of conventionsin the design of web sites
  40. 40. Eye-tracking stud es ye t ac g studies
  41. 41. The Poynter Institute, Poynter EyeTrack07: A study of print and online news reading (2007)
  42. 42. The Poynter Institute, Poynter EyeTrack07: A study of print and online news reading (2007)
  43. 43. WeW are only able to see l blthings clearly and in focusin the fovea
  44. 44. Word Skipping: Implications Eye movements in reading are characterized by short periods of steadiness (fixations) followed by fast movements (saccades). Saccades are needed to bring new information into the centre of the visual field where acuity is best; fixations are required to recognized words. … Some words are q g fixated more than once, some are initially not fixated but immediately afterwards regressed to, and some are not fixated at all.Marc Brysbaert and Francoise Vitu, “Word Skipping: Implications for Theories of Eye Movement Control in Reading,” Eye Guidance in Reading and Scene Perception (Elsevier Science, 1998)
  45. 45. Results of an eye-tracking experiment eye trackingin which subjects were being testedfor which text layout was easier to read;notice that even when subjectswere being asked to read, very little reading(i.e., fixations – shown as circles)was actually done
  46. 46. Nielsen Group, “F‐Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content,” (April 17, 2006)
  47. 47.
  48. 48. Notice Red areas show only first two words in headlines are scannedNielsen Group, “Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion,” (June 12, 2006)
  49. 49. More recent research showsUse s ead only the stUsers read o ly t e firsteleven charactersof an online h dli f li headline(forget about the body text).More recent research shows …12345678901Nielsen Group, “First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye,” (April 6, 2009)
  50. 50. “The human brainis in the earlystages of reading,…
  51. 51. … but it has a long evolutionary past inadapting cognitive t it f swift d ti iti traits for iftprocessing and responses to audiovisualcues.” ”Grabe et al, “Informing Citizens: How people with Different Levels of Education process Television, Newspaper, and Web News,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 53 (1) 2009.
  52. 52. Reading is unnatural unnatural,but scanning is not.Humans are hard-wiredto excel at fast scanning
  53. 53. We have fooled ourselvesinto thinking we are readingwhen consuming web pages, g p g ,in reality,we most often are not reading, g,and indeed,we are often blithelyunaware that we are not reading.
  54. 54. Selectivity
  55. 55. Selectivity fS l ti it refers to users tc oos g select gchoosing/selectingwhat they read/view.
  56. 56. What could be wrong withthe freedom to choose … your o r reading material?
  57. 57. Online readers then to bevery much more selective(they can choose toread/ignore) th paper d/i ) thanreaders.readers
  58. 58. Excessive selectivity is yassociated with a varietyof negative outcomes:
  59. 59. Decreased news awarenessD dDecreased political knowledgeand participationDecreased diversity of opinion y pand higher political polarization
  60. 60. Online selectivity isnarrowing scholarship
  61. 61. “Collectively, the models presentedillustrate thatill t t th t as j journal archives came l hionline … citations became moreconcentrated within fewer articles ” articles. “by enabling scientists to quickly by reach and converge with prevailing opinion, electronic ili i i l t i journals hasten scientific consensus”James A Evans, “Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship,” Science 321 (July 18, 2008)
  62. 62. Power Law Distributionrules the web (and more). http://www.congo‐‐of‐networks/figure‐7‐4.gif p g g g
  63. 63.‐10133.html
  64. 64. Whether you look at the web yas a whole or any subsection within it(blogs, political sites, sports sites, etc) you(bl liti l it t it t )see power law distributions.
  65. 65. Google have anything to do with selectivity?
  66. 66. Google search and res lt pages resultaccount for almosta quarter of all pages f ll Weinreich et al, “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Usage”, ACM Transactions on the Web (February 2008)
  67. 67. It facilitates the quickscanning and foragingbehavior of contemporaryweb usage.
  68. 68. Google is so good that … g g75% of users stick to first page of SERP50% of users click on 1st choice20% of users click on 2nd choiceMajority behavior if not clicking on first two choices?Reformulate searchNielsen + Loranger, Prioritizing Web usability, 2006
  69. 69. “Students in this study seemed to yhave a great deal of confidencein their abilities to distinguish gthe good sites from the bad.” Yet “Students are also not consistently able t diff i t tl bl to differentiate ti t between advertising and fact.” Graham and Metaxis, “Of Course it’s true; I saw it on the Internet,” Communications of the ACM (2003)
  70. 70. “Overall only about 1 in 6 searchers … Overallcan consistently distinguish betweenpaid and unpaid results ” results.Pew Internet and American Life Project, “Search Engine Users,” (2005)
  71. 71. Remember scanning behavior!
  72. 72. Usability analyst Jakob Nielsen calls it: y yGoogle gGullibility Nielsen Group, “User Skills Improving, But Only Slightly,”‐skills.html (Feb 4, 2008)
  73. 73. Michel’s 1911 iron law of oligarchy is a political theorythat t t that ll forms of organization will eventuallyth t states th t all f f i ti ill t lland inevitably develop into oligarchies.My iron l law of googlearchy states that all f f l h h ll forms of search- f hoptimized web-based information will eventually andinevitably develop into oligarchies in which a small y p gnumber of sites absolutely dominate the discourse on anygiven subject.
  74. 74. Environment i
  75. 75. Some studies say that datacenters account forbetween 1.2 to 2.0 percent of the electricityconsumed in the United States.By some estimates, if you were to view datacentersas an industry unto themselves, U.S. datacenterswould be approaching the top five industries interms of energy use.‐us/magazine/
  76. 76. US data centers thus produce higher g p g gasemissions than the countries of Argentinaand the Netherlands.Even worse, these numbers did notinclude Google’s power usage. Google s usage
  77. 77. Q: How much does it take to power a Google data center?A: Its none of your business. Google considers power usage to be a trade secret
  78. 78. One O estimate: i Every time y search Google y could y you g you power an 11-watt light bulb for an hour.‐center‐power‐consumption‐global‐warming‐will‐the‐web‐crash
  79. 79. These numbers did not include data center power usage.Moberg et al, "Screening environmental life cycle assessment of printed, web based and tablet e‐paper newspaper," Reports from the KTH Centre for Sustainable Communications, 2007
  80. 80. Cognitive impairmentC g iti i i t
  81. 81. This is the key one …but is still under-studied
  82. 82. Is liI online reading diactually changing ourcognitive abilities, blperhaps for the worse?
  83. 83. There have been some claimsthat in fact the new media environmentis making us smarter. g
  84. 84. These claims are mainly founded on ythe Flynn Effect(Q(IQ test scores have been rising 3-5 points g p per decade since 1930s) This growth has however been in scores below the median, not above it. Sundet et al, “The end of the Flynn effect?” Intelligence 32 (2004)
  85. 85. Recent research indicates Flynn Effect has reversed intheth past d t decade. d Sundet et al, “The end of the Flynn effect?” Intelligence 32 (2004) Teasdale and Owen, “Secular declines in cognitive test scores: A reversal of the Flynn Effect” Intelligence 36 (2008) ( ) Teasdale and Owen, “A long‐term rise and recent decline in intelligence test performance: The Flynn Effect in reverse”  Intelligence 39 (2005)
  86. 86. Recent brain researchhas focused on the brain’s plasticity.
  87. 87. That is, the brain can change isradically due to novel stimuli
  88. 88. Neuroscientists have found that thebrain appears to rewire itself significantlyafter prolonged internet usage p g gandthat brain ti it forth t b i activity f paper reading dichanges after internet usage.
  89. 89. Like McLuhan arguedin his “Narcissus as Narcosis” paper,accepting new t h l i means we ti technologiesundergo displacement in our perceptions
  90. 90. At this point,the cognitive scienceis stillnot clear enoughfor us to knowwhether the adoptionof online scanningresultsin irreversible changesin our brain’s ability brain sto readin a traditional way way.
  91. 91. Recap: pFive ThingsWrongwith onlinereading
  92. 92. Poor comprehensionTooT much scanning h iInformation SelectivityEnvironmentally unsoundCognitive impairment
  93. 93. should we do?
  94. 94. Is this just nostalgiafor a bygone age?
  95. 95. Am I just the equivalentof another steamlocomotive nut?
  96. 96. Consider theConcordeC d
  97. 97. Consider theFreeway
  98. 98. “If we are building a transportation system to serve the automobile, theSpadina Expressway would be a good place to start But if we are start.building a transportation system to serve people, the SpadinaExpressway is a good place to stop.” Ontario Premier Davis
  99. 99. should we do?
  100. 100. Leisure paper-based reading paper based still remains one of the strongest correlates of post- secondary success.Gallik, “Do they read for pleasure? Recreational reading habits of college students,” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 42 (1999)Kaiser Family Foundation, Generation M (2005)