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The evolution of reading in the age of digitisation: An integrative framework for reading research

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In the course of digitisation, the range of substrates for textual reading is being expanded to include a number of screen-based technologies and reading devices, such as e-readers (e.g. Kindle) and tablets (e.g. iPad). These technologies have distinctly different affordances than paper has. Given that textual reading is at the same time likely to remain important as a cultural practice, and is undergoing massive change as digital screens are supplementing paper – with the potential to replace it as the dominant substrate – there is an urgent need to investigate what effects such change might have on the reading of different kinds of texts, for different purposes. This article proposes the need for an integrative, transdisciplinary model of embodied, textual reading accounting for its psychological, ergonomic, technological, social, cultural and evolutionary aspects. The envisaged model aims to be partly explanatory, in the sense that it aligns and integrates existing knowledge, and partly exploratory, in the sense that it points to blank spots in our knowledge where further research is needed. The model will thus serve to guide the planning of such further research, and to make research more compatible and research outcomes more widely useable.
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The evolution of reading in the age of
digitization: an integrative framework for
reading research
Anne Mangen and Adriaan van der Weel
Abstract
In the course of digitisation, the range of substrates for
textual reading is being expanded to include a number
of screen-based technologies and reading devices, such
as e-readers (e.g. Kindle) and tablets (e.g. iPad). These
technologies have distinctly different affordances than
paper has. Given that textual reading is at the same
time likely to remain important as a cultural practice,
and is undergoing massive change as digital screens
are supplementing paper with the potential to re-
place it as the dominant substrate there is an urgent
need to investigate what effects such change might
have on the reading of different kinds of texts, for dif-
ferent purposes. This article proposes the need for an
integrative, transdisciplinary model of embodied, tex-
tual reading accounting for its psychological, ergo-
nomic, technological, social, cultural and evolutionary
aspects. The envisaged model aims to be partly explan-
atory, in the sense that it aligns and integrates existing
knowledge, and partly exploratory, in the sense that it
points to blank spots in our knowledge where further
research is needed. The model will thus serve to guide
the planning of such further research, and to make re-
search more compatible and research outcomes more
widely useable.
Key words: reading, research methods, comprehension,
multimodality, new literacy studies, pedagogy
Introduction: texts, literacies, digitisation
and (deep) reading
It is by now a cliché to claim that digital technologies
are redening reading and literacy in education and
learning. Digitisation has dislodged reading from its
natural place in the constellation of modalities and
media. The static, linear modality of written text (in-
cluding the book) is now supplemented by an
increasing complexity of multimodal, dynamic, and
interactive representations. The major changes in
reading practice over the last few decades have
caused a burgeoning interest in reading and literacy
research. This interest covers many schools of
thought and many new theoretical and methodologi-
cal approaches. In digital representations, the
modality of written text if present at all is taking
on different meaning-making roles.
When studying new literacy practices such as the use
of Flickr, blogs and Twitter, old, print-based terms
seem inadequate. Changes to the mediascapehave
prompted a broadening of core concepts such as text,
reading,and literacy.Paradigms such as New Liter-
acies Studies (and overlapping frameworks such as
Multiliteracies and Digital Literacies) redene text as
a multimodal intentional representation with pur-
poses and boundaries understood within a given so-
ciocultural domain.(OBrien and Scharber, 2008, p.
66) The concept of literacy is thus reframed and stud-
ied as a plural construct (for instance, Carrington and
Robinson, 2009; Coiro et al., 2014; Gillen, 2014; Mills,
2010, and see Rowsell and Pahl, 2015b for a compre-
hensive overview of key developments in literacy
studies overall). The New London Group considers lit-
eracy as multiple in nature (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000),
and the following denition of digital literacy is exem-
plary: We dene digital literacies as socially situated
practices supported by skills, strategies, and stances
that enable the representation and understanding of
ideas using a range of modalities enabled by digital
tools.(OBrien and Scharber, 2008, p. 67)
These paradigms and schools of literacy research ad-
dress key questions pertaining to digitisation, for
example: how do readers construct meaning from
multimodal representations (e.g. Jewitt, 2006; Jewitt
et al., 2009)? What are the (novel) literacy demands
for successful navigation online compared with in
print (e.g. Coiro, 2003; Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Coiro
et al., 2014)? How may education practitioners as well
as literacy scholars meet the expectations, needs and
expertise of digital natives, hence bridging the gap be-
tween so-called schooledand more often print-based
literacy practices and the increasingly inuential and
more typically digital out-of-schoolliteracy practices
(for a study of this potential tension or dissonance, see
for instance Dowdall, 2006)?
These and other new reading and literacy research par-
adigms have been a necessary and welcome response
to the transformational nature of recent digital
developments. However, the very pluriformity of per-
spectives and approaches also threatens to obscure
the immense potential for collaboration and dialogue
across disciplines and paradigms. As Barton (2001)
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© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
Literacy Volume 00 Number 00 xxxx 2016 1
Literacy
has pointed out, literacy and New Literacy studies,
for example, are by now established as a powerful
research paradigm. Literacy research projects have
revealed the complex interactions between peers
involved in meaning construction from different media
and modalities, and provided insights into the poten-
tial uses of digital technologies in a variety of literacy
practices (see for instance Carrington and Robinson,
2009). However welcome this addition to the narrower
scope of more traditional reading and literacy studies
is, the descriptive ethnographic bent of the sociocul-
tural approach has had as a consequence that the ef-
fects over time of digitisation on the process of
encoding and decoding of meaning from verbal, writ-
ten text that is, textnarrowly dened have
remained largely unaddressed.
In an attempt to ll this and similar voids, to create
maximal opportunities for interdisciplinarity and to
account for the diachronic effects of digitisation on
reading, this article aims to present an integrative
framework for reading research. This framework
suggests the desirability of supplementing existing
research paradigms with an empirical theoretical
methodological approach, across substrates and their
affordances. Dening reading and literacy as (i)
human-technology interaction and (ii) as embodied
processes, the framework intends to facilitate interdis-
ciplinary, empirical investigations into aspects and di-
mensions of reading, some of which have hitherto been
largely ignored. More precisely, it invites closer
scrutiny of associations between ergonomics (sensori-
motor, haptic/tactile feedback), attention, perception,
cognitive and emotional processing at different levels,
as well as subjective experiential dimensions of
reading different kinds of texts for different purposes
(e.g. various literary genres, news reading and study
reading). Such interdisciplinary, empirical research
will enable precise, cross-validated measures of the im-
pact of digitisation, especially in educational contexts
in which reading remains central.
The changing nature and circumstances of
textual reading
During the past decades, not only have new multi-
modal forms of reading made their appearance, but
reading in the narrow sense, that is, of linear, written
texts has also undergone substantial changes, and is
now increasingly performed with digital screen tech-
nologies such as laptops, smart phones, tablets (e.g.
iPad) and e-readers (e.g. Kindle). As screens are replac-
ing paper as the main reading substrate, digitisation is
inuencing reading and literacy activities in pre-
schools and kindergartens as well as in elementary
schools and in higher education. The current transition
from paper to screen substrates invites reconsideration
of a number of fundamental questions of an empirical
nature, such as the following: What distinguishes
(textual) reading from the processingin multimodal
textsof other modalities, such as (still or moving) im-
ages or spoken words? Does the substrate (paper and
screens) affect cognitive outcomes such as recall and
comprehension? Does our reading experience differ
as a function of genre (say, a novel or a poem) or sub-
strate (print or a Kindle screen)? How does the concept
of literacy change along with the change of reading
substrate, for example, from knowing how to navigate
paper-based texts to knowing how to navigate the
multiplicity of ever-changing hardware and software
congurations involved in screen-based reading?
How does the growing digital infrastructure change
the social position of books and other texts and that
of reading in general?
Especially because of the major implications for educa-
tion, a great deal of unease may currently be observed
about the rapidity and transformativity of changes in
reading practice associated with the change from pa-
per to digital substrates, and ndings from empirical
research are, so far, inconsistent (for an overview of ex-
tant empirical research from a range of disciplines, see
Baron, 2015). In a matter of a few decades, new reading
habits have become widespread. This change has trig-
gered vigorous debates about an assumed deteriora-
tion of reading and literacy skills overall, potentially
caused, and/or accelerated, by digitisation (e.g. Baron,
2015; Bauerlein, 2008; Carr, 2010; Wolf, 2007). The
point made is not so much that people are spending
less time reading (if anything, the reverse is probably
true), but that they are reading so very differently.
The deep reading practices that we had come to take
for granted after centuries of book culture (Van der
Weel, 2011) are supposedly being replaced by
shallower forms of reading (see also Baron, 2015; Carr,
2010).
One effect that has already been observed is that indi-
vidual and social attitudes to reading (and writing) are
changing. Screens are replacing books for leisure read-
ing (as well as for entertainment at large)
1
; digital
learning environments replace books for education,
even to the extent that in many countries entire iPad
schools have been founded; it is suggested from time
to time that, thanks to the ubiquity of keyboards,
children do not need to learn how to write by hand
anymore (Francis, 2008); and both at home and in pub-
lic the example of parents increasingly shows screen-
based behaviour (including the mediatisation of much
of their social life). As a result, children are becoming
less socialised in a book-based reading culture than
they used to be. This may be exacerbated by the fact
that the jostle for the consumers attention involves
the full range of modalities converging on the screen.
1
For example,, PwC cites global e-book turnover as having risen
from just over $2bn in 2009 to $11bn in 2014, predicting that it will
reach $19bn in 2018 (http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/global-enter-
tainment-media-outlook/segment-insights/consumer-and-educa-
tional-book-publishing.jhtml).
2An integrative framework for reading research
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
In this competition, textual reading may be experi-
enced as being intrinsically less immersive and requir-
ing a greater conscious effort at concentration than
gaming, listening or viewing. Even if such competition
is not in itself new, this perception gains new weight as
the competition is played out on a single playing eld:
that of the digital screen.
In these circumstances, reading research concerning
verbal texts takes on fresh urgency. First of all, the
effects of the current digital changes are poorly under-
stood. Empirical studies exist (notably, in cognitive
and educational psychology and cognitive neurosci-
ence), but differences in textual material, instruments,
measures, and in denition of key constructs make it
difcult to compare and synthesise ndings. It is easy
enough to establish that changes in reading practice
are taking place, and not even very difcult to
determine what it is that is changing. However, it is
much less clear if, and if so, how these changes might
be causally related to the adoption of digital technol-
ogy, or, most importantly, what the longer-term
sociocultural and cognitive effects of the changes in
reading practice might be.
In the meantime, the digital revolution is sparking a
greater awareness of the nature and signicance of
textuality and the extent to which human communica-
tion has become mediatised overall. In the mix of
modalities, textuality has so far remained central,
especially in an educational context. Indeed, while
the nature of our reading habits is changing, textual
reading will probably continue for the foreseeable
future to be an important cultural activity. Text has pe-
culiar strengths that set it apart from many other
means of communication. For example, language,
spoken as well as written, makes possible communica-
tion between different mental faculties; it could be
called the lingua franca of modalities (Piper, 2012, pp.
7778). Reading and writing are as yet indispensable
for formal learning in schools as well as for informal
and practical knowledge dissemination, and the same
goes for self-expression. But reading also remains an
important instrument for entertainment. Perhaps most
importantly, the linguistic objectication enabled by
writing/reading helps us to think (Clark, 2008; Goody
and Watt, 1963). Given the importance of reading in
the cultural evolution of human civilisation, any
changes brought about by the digitisation of reading
are likely to have tremendous cognitive, cultural and
social implications.
At the same time, there has perhaps never been suf-
cient awareness of the cultural and social signicance
of reading. At the turn of the 20th century when almost
complete literacy was achieved in the West (Vincent,
1993), and literacy became the norm for successful so-
cial participation, we reached the apex of our reading
culture. After this, the textual nature of contemporary
human culture has in fact tended to be simply taken
for granted. To be sure, reading has been understood
to be important in the sense that it enables participa-
tion in a literate society. However, the importance of
reading to the nature of contemporary society clearly
needs to be reviewed. This necessitates a better under-
standing of what reading is and does, of the cognitive
and emotional effects of reading on the individual
reader as well as how reading and changes in reading
practice affect our functioning as a society. For exam-
ple, that an understanding of the signicance of long-
form reading is only emerging as it is no longer self-
evidently the norm needs to be taken as an indication
that we have not been sufciently aware of major
changes as they are taking place.
The need for an integrative,
transdisciplinary framework
Due in large measure to digitisation, there has been in-
creasing attention for reading research recently. To
begin with, reading is studied from many practical
and disciplinary perspectives, for example, as a histor-
ical practice (Cavallo and Chartier, 1999; Piper, 2012),
as a sociocultural practice (Barton et al., 2000; Street,
2005), as a phenomenological experience (Heap, 1977;
Rose, 2011; Rowsell, 2014), as a cognitive process
(Duffy and Israel, 2009; Kintsch, 1998; Tapiero, 2007)
and as a neuropsychological process (Dehaene, 2009;
Wolf, 2007). Additionally, an increasing amount of re-
search is comparing textual reading in print and on
screen, focusing on, for example, effects of display
technologies on visual ergonomics (Benedetto et al.,
2013; Siegenthaler et al., 2011; Siegenthaler et al.,
2012), effects of the interface on (meta)cognitive
(Ackerman and Goldsmith, 2011; Ackerman and
Lauterman, 2012; Kretzschmar et al., 2013; Mangen
et al., 2013; Margolin et al., 2013) and emotional
(Mangen and Kuiken, 2014) aspects of reading and ex-
ploring the new demands of online reading and digital
literacy as mentioned earlier (Leu et al., 2013).
Hence, by nature, reading research is inherently multi-
disciplinary. However, the extensive multidisciplinarity
has also had the natural effect of not fostering optimal
coherence. There has not been much collaboration and
dialogue across disciplines and paradigms. Despite
calls for increasing interdisciplinary research and
multi-method approaches (particularly bridging the
humanities natural sciences divide), scientists doing
experiment-based research (e.g. psychology and neuro-
science) tend to shy away from predominantly qualita-
tive research domains (e.g. media/reading history,
pedagogy, literary studies and sociology), and reading
research in domains such as cognitive and perceptual
psychology continue to map the psychological pro-
cesses involved in reading without reference to the
larger, contextual dimensions. Most research in literacy
studies now focuses primarily on sociocultural aspects
of reading and literacy while downplaying lower-level
psychological aspects. Rarely are psychological (or
Literacy Volume 00 Number 00 xxxx 2016 3
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
neuroscientic) and sociocultural aspects of reading
considered under the same aegis.
The current digitisation adds urgency to the need to
promote greater coherence between research efforts.
The transition of reading from paper to screens may
enable transforming a dispersed multidisciplinary
eld with disciplinary and sub-disciplinary paradigms
existing side by side into a truly transdisciplinary one
(Østreng, 2009; Samuels, 2009), in which theoretical
perspectives and models from different disciplines
are applied, bottom-up, to shared research questions.
It was this felt need for a more coherent approach to
reading research that led to the instigation of the E-
READ (Evolution of Reading in the Age of Digitiza-
tion) initiative, awarded a COST
2
network subsidy in
2014, chaired and co-chaired, respectively, by the au-
thors of the current article. A main objective of E-
READ is to bring about crucial synergies between the
science and scholarship of reading, and actors, sectors
and stakeholders outside of academia (e.g. practi-
tioners, educators, the book trade, librarians, engineer-
ing and design and literacy promoters). An innovative,
transdisciplinary approach to reading, spanning the
natural sciences social sciences arts and humanities,
will enable a bottom-up mapping of the effects of
digitisation by means of multimethod empirical re-
search. By involving educational practitioners
(teachers and educators) as stakeholders in scientic
development, we ensure that research projects are in-
formed both by their needs and by their expertise.
Practitioners provide ongoing input to the research
agenda by identifying knowledge gaps in their eld,
for example, urgent questions such as whether it
makes a difference if students read different types of
material in print or on computers, or whether it makes
a difference for childrens story engagement if they
read them in print picture books or as iPad apps
(Flewitt et al., 2014; Kucirkova, 2014; Kucirkova et al.,
2014; Merchant, 2015).
As initiators of E-READ, we propose the need for a
transdisciplinary model of reading in order to facilitate
the more coherent approach to research that we advo-
cate. This model would serve as a common frame of
reference, both for interpreting existing research and
for embarking on future research. Rather than to
replace existing models, it is intended to serve as an
overarching integrative framework capable of
encompassing existing models that already success-
fully capture specic aspects of reading. The frame-
work must be technologically and culturally agnostic,
in the sense that it should be able to accommodate
different technologies and sociocultural circumstances
diachronically and synchronically. So in asking what
reading is fundamentally, the framework can at the
same time abstract from and account for technological
and cultural variation.
Reading is a historically and culturally contingent
practice. It has taken centuries for our current textual
literacy to evolve. That is to say that the social signi-
cance of reading is culturally dependent. Indeed, the
digital developments are once again drawing attention
to its contingent nature over time. Deep reading may
have become the implicit norm that education strives
to attain, but it is increasingly clear that this is not a
natural, given norm: My concern,says Baron, is
that deep reading and rereading, uninterrupted
reading, and tackling longer texts are seen by fewer
and fewer people as part of what it means to read.
(Baron, 2015, pp. 230231) We need to understand
how such norms evolve in order to improve our under-
standing of the signicance of the move from paper to
screen, and of the signicance of reading in todays so-
ciety. Even if reading is an evolving, historically and
culturally contingent practice, it may be that certain
characteristics of the type of reading that we have
evolved (but which may be at risk of being lost in read-
ings further evolution) are thought to be worth
keeping.
The proposed framework sketched below is intended
to provide an integrative conceptual point of departure
from which to engage in empirical research on the
digitisation of text reading. As such, it should enable
the development of transdisciplinary paradigms in
which hypotheses can be tested and effects of
digitisation on text reading can be measured. Devised
from a bottom-up approach to reading as human
technology interaction, the framework would need to
facilitate empirical research combining experimental
paradigms from, for example, psychology and neuro-
science, with historically and socioculturally oriented
approaches presently more common in literacy stud-
ies. The framework should also be dynamic, to be
improved iteratively on the basis of empirical research.
Importantly, apart from the recognition that reading is
a vital sociocultural (and thus historically contingent)
practice, the framework is based on two theoretical as-
sumptions: (a) Reading is interaction with a
technology/device with specic interface affordances
and (b) Cognition, hence reading, is embodied it en-
tails physical (in particular, manual/haptic) interaction
with a device (e.g. tablet; e-reader; book). These as-
sumptions provide a theoretical backdrop and a
minimal common denominator across the levels and
dimensions of the framework. This ensures a degree
of internally coherent and consistent epistemology
resting on empirically testable claims and enables, in
turn, coherent and accumulative scientic progress
based on empirical research ndings. The proposed
framework should point the way to interdisciplinary
empirical research and support the development and
ongoing renement of a number of metrics to assess
the effect of digitisation on reading. It is thus intended
2
COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is the
longest-running European framework supporting international co-
operation among researchers, engineers and scholars across Europe
(http://www.cost.eu/about_cost).
4An integrative framework for reading research
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
to stimulate and facilitate correlational studies as well
as experimental and longitudinal research allowing
stronger causal inference.
a. Reading is humantechnology interaction
It is the merit of historians such as Goody and Watt
(1963), Havelock (1981, 1986) and Ong (1982) to
have emphasised the technological nature of writ-
ten language. Entailed in the present conceptualisa-
tion of what we readis therefore not only the
text itself but also the material and technical fea-
tures of the device or technology presenting or
displaying the text. When new technologies appear
and begin to replace older ones, the transition to
novel interfaces may make us aware of the particu-
larities of the old ones because different technolo-
gies, according to Haas (1996), are materially con-
gured in profoundly different ways(p. 226).
Screens have different inherent properties and
affordances than print on paper (for the concept of
affordances, see Gibson, 1977; Van der Weel, 2011).
The shift from paper-based to screen-based reading
entails, for example, new multimodal capabilities, a
loss of xity and material integrity and a replace-
ment of the sensorimotor, ergonomic and audiovi-
sual affordances of paper with those of different
kinds of screen interfaces. To what extent and in
what ways such changes may affect (study as well
as leisure) reading are empirical questions sug-
gested and accommodated by the present
framework.
b. Reading is embodied
In the aptly titled book Reading and the Body,
McLaughlin observes how reading is typically con-
sidered an act of consciousness and that: literary
theory has tacitly framed the act of reading within
a simple body/mind dualism, ignoring the eyes
and hands, the postures and habits of reading,
and denying any connection between the transcen-
dent life of the reading mind and the immanent life
of the body.(Mc Laughlin, 2015, p. 1) Whereas lit-
erary scholars with a few exceptions
3
may have
largely ignored the embodied nature of reading, lit-
eracy scholars have acknowledged the role of the
body in literacy practices. The editors of the
Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies state in the in-
troduction that literacy practices are vernacular,
networked and embodied(Rowsell and Pahl,
2015a, p. 3). Kress has called for increased aware-
ness of the bodily nature of meaning making:
Forms of imagination are inseparable from the ma-
terial characteristics of modes, from their shaping
in a societys history and from their consequent in-
teraction with the sensoriness, the sensuousness, of
our bodies. Introducing a concern with materiality
and the senses into representation brings the
longstanding separation in Western thinking of
mind and body into severe question, and therefore
challenges the reication and consequent separation
of cognition, affect and emotion. (Kress, 2003, p. 171;
emphases added)
The added emphases are meant to indicate the neces-
sity of teaming up with psychologists and neuroscien-
tists studying the close associations between the
human sensory modalities and the surrounding mate-
rial world. The transition from reading on paper to
reading on screens reveals the role of the body in
reading and literacy as a common research interest.
Studying young readersengagement with narra-
tives on paper and screen, Margaret Mackey has a
sectioninherbooktitledHands(Mackey, 2002).
With many of the new media, she observes, we
are changing the role of hands:
Hands assist, direct and sustain attention, that
vital yet often fragile element of reading. []
We need to ask whether the activity of the hands
is simply a supercial accompaniment of our
current arrangements of reading, whether the
role of the hands is conned to the aesthetics of
the tactile elements of reading, or whether the
use of the hands engages the brain in ways that play
a constitutive role in the reading process.(Mackey,
2002, p. 112; emphasis added)
In a recent study of iPad apps in kindergarten, Mer-
chant (2015) nds that the body and, in particular,
thehandsarefundamentalwhenusingiPadapps
for story-reading with young children, and that
the haptics of the iPad interface makes a crucial dif-
ference for meaning making,theexperienceofthe
stories, for navigation through the text, and for
how the texts are shared overall. (Merchant, 2015)
Nevertheless, according to Rowsell, the balance is
still in favour of studying aspects of literacy at a
far remove from the actual bodily reader: there
has been signicant research and writings on liter-
acy and the everyday and literacy as a social, lived
practice [], but there is much less research on
how literacy is experienced perceptually or as an
embodied experience.(Rowsell, 2014, p. 118)
These observations from literacy studies motivate
our suggestion that the changing role of the body
in digital reading may serve as a catalyst bringing
together socioculturally-oriented literacy research
with paradigms from natural science disciplines,
most obviously addressing the physiological and er-
gonomic aspects of reading. Mackeysaptconjecture
about the role of haptics in cognition is evidenced
3
For example, Littau (2006) Theories of Reading:Books,Bodies and Bib-
liomania, Malden, MA, Polity Press, and Dames (2007) The Physiology
of the Novel:Reading,Neural Science,and the Form of Victorian Fiction,
Oxford University Press.
Literacy Volume 00 Number 00 xxxx 2016 5
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
by empirical, experiment-based research in cognitive
neuroscience, particularly in the paradigm called
embodied cognition.
4
Print books and the substrate of paper lend an obvious
physicality to individual texts, while e-books are not
tangible volumes and are differently touched, held,
carried and navigated. The haptic feedback of a touch
screen is different from a paper book, and the implica-
tions of such interactions warrant empirical investiga-
tions. Studies in experimental psychology and neuro-
science show that object manipulation provides
spatial information which is crucial for building coher-
ent mental representations of the manipulated object.
Such ndings motivate a theoretical reorientation
allowing more precise and in-depth empirical investi-
gations of associations between sensory modalities in
reading as well as in other skills (notably, writing)
(Mangen and Velay, 2010; Velay and Longcamp, 2013)
than before.
Towards a multidimensional framework for
reading research
Building on these two fundamental tenets that read-
ing is a humantechnology interaction, and that read-
ing is an embodied act the proposed framework
should capture the multidimensionality of reading,
and allow focused, in-depth exploration. The frame-
work denes reading along the following dimensions:
Ergonomic dimension: reading is a physical, multi-
sensory engagement with a device;
Attentional/perceptual dimension: reading is allo-
cation of attentional resources; perceptual
processing;
Cognitive dimension: reading is cognitive, linguistic
processing;
Emotional dimension: reading is, potentially, an
emotionally impactful experience;
Phenomenological dimension: reading is a person-
ally meaningful activity;
Sociocultural dimension: reading is a socioculturally
(and ideologically) appraised and historically con-
tingent activity with sociocultural implications;
Culturalevolutionary dimension: reading is an
exocerebral extension of the brain (Bartra, 2014) de-
veloped under pressure of the increasing informa-
tional demands of an ever more sophisticated
cultural habitat.
Together these dimensions provide an integrative con-
ceptual and theoretical framework for the study of
reading. This framework can then be used for the em-
pirical testing of hypotheses about the effects of
digitisation on reading across these dimensions. For in-
stance, for studying literary reading on e-readers and
tablets, the framework should enable a combination
of qualitative measures of subjective, rst-person expe-
riences with objective and quantitative measures from
a third-person perspective. The framework would thus
facilitate combining paradigms from, for example,
neurophysiology and neuropsychology with histori-
cally and culturally oriented approaches more typical
of the arts and humanities, allowing in-depth studies
of how reading, for emotional engagement as well as
for information and learning, is transformed by
digitisation.
This proposed framework should enable ne-tuned
measures of a number of potentially mediating vari-
ables pertaining to, for example, the following:
Substrate: paper vs screen-based reading devices
(e.g. e-readers, tablets, computer screens and smart
phones), audiovisual features and haptic/tactile
feedback;
Interface characteristics (e.g. one or two-page dis-
play, page turning, thickness, weight and
bendable/exible screens);
Text: length, type of text (e.g. genre and complexity:
narrative, expository), layout and structuring;
Levels of comprehension: from surface (word and
sentence) to deep inferential comprehension;
Time of recall: short-term vs long-term memory;
Readers: age, socio-cultural background, gender, ex-
pert level (e.g. students, children vs adults, women
vs men, beginning vs advanced and digital native
vs digital immigrant);
Motivation and purpose of reading (e.g. study,
leisure, contemplation, light entertainment and
news).
The accompanying diagrams (Figures 13) aim to visu-
alise the conceptual framework as described earlier,
taking into account all of the dimensions and vari-
ables mentioned. Pragmatically, the visualisation rec-
ognises three stages in the reading process: (1) prepa-
ration, (2) the act of reading itself and (3) the effects
of reading. We emphatically intend both the frame-
work and its visualisation as working concepts to
be improved iteratively on the basis of empirical
research.
The framework as outlined earlier should aid research
in a variety of ways. In the rst place, it should im-
prove our understanding of what reading is funda-
mentally, how it actually works as a process and which
human faculties are involved. Secondly, it should help
explain better the effect of reading on the individual
brain. For as we have seen, it is not just reading per
se that changes the way we think; so does the substrate
4
Research in the embodied cognition paradigm has shown that the
neurophysiological and neuropsychological processes involved in
perception, sensorimotor action, and cognition are more closely re-
lated than hitherto acknowledged (Calvo and Gomila, 2008;
Chemero, 2009; Shapiro, 2010). Cognition takes place not only in a
representation-processing or symbol-processing unit (Clark, 1997,
2008), but fundamentally in the perceptual and motor systems
(Calvo and Gomila, 2008). Theories of embodiment have received in-
creasing empirical support from behavioural and neuroscientic
studies (for an overview, see Kiefer and Barsalou, 2011).
6An integrative framework for reading research
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
from which we read. Examples of questions to be ad-
dressed are as follows: Do the permanence and physi-
cality of the print book facilitate readersawareness of
where they are within the book and, by extension,
within the text? Does this impact more general reading
comprehension? What are the educational implications
of replacing paper with screens for the reading of dif-
ferent kinds of texts in different literacy contexts (e.g.
multiple text reading, literary text reading, reading
long vs short texts, reading and note-taking, hypertext
reading vs linear text reading and computer/laptop
reading vs tablet reading)?
Next, the framework should help explain better the
relationship between technology and culture at
large. How do technologies shape our reading prac-
tices? What is the role of the substrate? Does a dig-
ital reading environment differ fundamentally from
a paper one? Which are likely social effects of the
current transition from paper to screen reading?
Following on from this, the frameworkshistorical
awareness (implied in its sociocultural dimension)
should help explain better the effect of a change
of reading technology on society. In her book Proust
and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf (2007, p. 26) points
out that understanding the origins of a new pro-
cess [i.e., reading] helps us see []how it works.
Understanding how it works, in turn, helps us
know what we possess and what we need to pre-
serve. Now that we are coming to the end of the
Order of the Book(Van der Weel, 2011), precisely
the same goes for the digitisation of that process.
The historical dimension, by indeed help(ing) us
know what we possess and what we need to pre-
serveshould offer guidance in underpinning gov-
ernment literacy policies, reading education and so
on. On a meta level, nally, the framework should
help improve the coherence between disciplinary
perspectives; it should help improve the coherence
between individual research projects; it should help
to harmonise (international) research agendas and
so improve the efcient use of research resources.
It is also likely to serve as a basis for further re-
search by drawing attention to the white spots in
our current knowledge. Lastly, it should help evalu-
ate research proposals.
Concluding perspective
The transition of reading from paper-based to
screen-based devices provides an urgent occasion
as well as an excellent opportunity to conceptualise
reading, bottom-up, accommodating the full range
of complexities of texts, substrates, technologies
and reading processes and outcomes. Such a
reconceptualisation also has important implications
for teachers and teacher educators. The integrative
framework is fundamentally informed by their
input in the form of identication of knowledge
gaps and new research questions emerging with
technological developments. The scientic progress
of E-READ, which is continually fed by ongoing re-
ciprocal consultation with all stakeholders, in turn
leads to research outcomes that are made available
to all categories of end users, including educational
practitioners. The wide spectrum of disciplinary
contributions this demands mandates a radical kind
of transdisciplinarity, entailing in particular in-
creased theoreticalmethodological collaboration be-
tween scientists doing experiment-based research
and scholars from the arts & humanities. The multi-
dimensional framework of reading proposed here
Figure 1: Preparation for reading
Figure 2: The act of reading
Figure 3: Effects of reading
Literacy Volume 00 Number 00 xxxx 2016 7
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
should facilitate such transdisciplinary collaboration.
Last, but far from least, we hope that the framework
will foster recognition of the importance of reading
as an activity thatso farremains uniquely human
and has been more deeply constitutive of our cul-
ture than we generally recognise.
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CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Anne Mangen, The National Centre for Reading
Education and Research, University of
Stavanger, NO-4036 Stavanger, Norway.
e-mail: anne.mangen@uis.no
Literacy Volume 00 Number 00 xxxx 2016 9
© 2016 The Authors. Literacy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of United Kingdom Literacy Association.
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