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This study explored differences that might exist in comprehension when students read digital and print texts. Ninety undergraduates read both digital and print versions of newspaper articles and book excerpts on topics of childhood ailments. Prior to reading texts in counterbalanced order, topic knowledge was assessed and students were asked to state medium preferences. After reading, students were asked to judge under which medium they comprehended best. Results demonstrated a clear preference for digital texts, and students typically predicted better comprehension when reading digitally. However, performance was not consistent with students’ preferences and outcome predictions. While there were no differences across mediums when students identified the main idea of the text, students recalled key points linked to the main idea and other relevant information better when engaged with print. No differences in reading outcomes or calibration were found for newspaper or book excerpts.
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The Journal of Experimental Education
ISSN: 0022-0973 (Print) 1940-0683 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vjxe20
Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading
Digital and Print Texts on Comprehension and
Calibration
Lauren M. Singer & Patricia A. Alexander
To cite this article: Lauren M. Singer & Patricia A. Alexander (2016): Reading Across Mediums:
Effects of Reading Digital and Print Texts on Comprehension and Calibration, The Journal of
Experimental Education, DOI: 10.1080/00220973.2016.1143794
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2016.1143794
Published online: 09 Mar 2016.
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Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading Digital and Print Texts
on Comprehension and Calibration
Lauren M. Singer and Patricia A. Alexander
University of Maryland, College Park, MD
ABSTRACT
This study explored differences that might exist in comprehension when
students read digital and print texts. Ninety undergraduates read both digital
and print versions of newspaper articles and book excerpts on topics of
childhood ailments. Prior to reading texts in counterbalanced order, topic
knowledge was assessed and students were asked to state medium
preferences. After reading, students were asked to judge under which
medium they comprehended best. Results demonstrated a clear preference
for digital texts, and students typically predicted better comprehension when
reading digitally. However, performance was not consistent with students
preferences and outcome predictions. While there were no differences across
mediums when students identied the main idea of the text, students
recalled key points linked to the main idea and other relevant information
better when engaged with print. No differences in reading outcomes or
calibration were found for newspaper or book excerpts.
KEYWORDS
Calibration; computers in
education; digital reading;
print reading; reading
comprehension
Reading across mediums: Effects of reading digital and print
Texts on comprehension and calibration
THE NATURE OF LITERACY is rapidly changing as new technologies enter peoples lives and their
learning environments (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008; diSessa, 2000; Dresang & McClelland,
1999; Spiro, DeSchryver, Hagerman, Morsink, & Thompson, 2015; Tyner, 2014). In the last 10 years, a
variety of novel text forms (e.g., multimedia books and tweets) and mediums for presenting such texts
(e.g., iPad and Kindle) have emerged, which may present new possibilities and new challenges for read-
ers (Alexander & Fox, 2004); that is, features of digital literacy, such as the ability to read and acquire
information from graphic representations (i.e., photovisual literacy; Eshet-Alkalai, 2004) and the ability
to navigate in the nonlinear medium of digital space successfully (i.e., branching literacy; Eshet-Alkalai
& Chajut, 2010) may afford new opportunities for text-based learning. Concomitantly, such digital
texts may place unique demands on readersskillful and strategic processing not typically associated
with the processing of printed text (Aferbach & Cho, 2009; Hartman, Morsink, & Zheng, 2010; Kings-
ley, 2011; Kuiper, 2007; Spires & Estes, 2002).
Whatever the processing affordances and demands, digital texts are inevitabilities in the lives of stu-
dents being educated in postindustrial societies (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010; Purcell, Heaps,
Buchanan, & Friedrich, 2013). For instance, Zickuhr, Rainie, Purcell, Madden, and Brenner (2012)
claimed that 43% of Americans and 48% of those between the ages of 18 and 29 read lengthy texts,
such as newspapers or books, digitally, and these percentages are expected to increase exponentially
CONTACT Lauren M. Singer lsinger@umd.edu Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology,
University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20906.
Color versions of one or more of the gures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/vjxe.
© 2016 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL EDUCATION
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(Stephens, 2014). Further, many international and national assessments of studentsliteracy are not
only being delivered digitally but are also including affordances that are more specic to digital media,
such as websites or links (Coiro, 2009; Coiro & Dobler, 2007; Leu, Coiro, Castek, Hartman, Henry, &
Reinking, 2008). Thus, the effects on studentscomprehension of these digital texts, vis-
a-vis print text,
demand systematic exploration. This study sought to more clearly articulate differences that might
exist in reading comprehension when mature readers access differing text types in digital and print
forms. In addition, we endeavored to explore the efcacy judgments that students make regarding their
text processing, as well as the degree to which these students are able to judge their comprehension
facility accurately across mediums (i.e., digital and print) and text types (i.e., newspapers and books).
The view of reading comprehension that frames this study conveys the nature of comprehension as
an active, constructive, meaning-making process (Goldman, 2015; Graesser, 2007; Kintsch & Kintsch,
2005; McNamara, 2012) in which the reader, the text, and the activity play a central role (Alexander &
Jetton, 2002; Pearson, 2001). Moreover, consistent with Kintschs(1988) construction-integration
model of comprehension, readers are expected to form connections between their own prior knowl-
edge and the ideas expressed in or inferred by the text per se. Within this theoretical framework, there
is also an acknowledgment that the medium and type of text could well translate into differences in
text processing and comprehension performance.
The challenges and possibilities of reading digital and print texts
Our goals of understanding the effects of reading digital and print texts on studentscomprehension
and calibration were informed by prior research in this domain of inquiry (e.g., Noyes, Garland, &
Robbins, 2004; Sutherland-Smith, 2002; Zambarbieri & Carniglia, 2012). Within this literature, differ-
ences across mediums have been found in terms of speed of processing, text recall, and reading com-
prehension (e.g., Kerr & Symons, 2006; Mangen, Walgermo, & Brønnick, 2013). For instance, in a
study involving 72 Grade 10 students in Norway who read text digitally or in print, Mangen et al.
(2013) found that students who read print versions scored signicantly higher in reading comprehen-
sion than those who read digitally. Similarly, Kerr and Symons tested the recall of 60 Grade 5 students
in Canada who each read two passages, one digitally and one in print. What the resulting data indi-
cated was that participants recalled more from the print text than from the digital text. Further, a sur-
vey by Rideout, Foehr, and Roberts (2010) suggested that those who read in print reported that they
were less likely to multitask than when reading digitally.
Also of some concern, researchers have reported that even competent readers often treat texts as
authorless, decontextualized constructions (e.g., Fox, Dinsmore, & Alexander, 2007; Maggioni & Fox,
2009) and seemingly accept the veracity or truthfulness of whatever is encountered in text (Gross-
nickle, List, & Alexander, 2012). Such concerns may well be exacerbated by digital contexts in which
information can be particularly elusive and where inaccurate or misleading content seems unavoidable
and often unchallenged (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). Consequently, more effort may be required to
unearth relevant source data or to seek corroborating or conrming evidence within the vast universe
of digital information (Braasch, Bra
ten, Strømsø, Anmarkrud, & Ferguson, 2013).
Moreover, researchers have reported that repeated or intensive engagement in digital multitasking
may contribute to a more supercial processing of the text (Levine, Waite, & Bowman, 2007; Ophir,
Nass, & Wagner, 2009; Wallis, 2010). For instance, Liu et al. (2009) reported that when working on a
digital device, readers switched activities every 3 to 10 minutes. Therefore, these researchers argued
that it seemed improbable for these readers to engage in deep thought when they are switching so often
during the text processing. Even in those instances when readers are not switching activities, they may
be more apt to scan digital texts than to read them deeply (Rowlands et al., 2008; Wallis, 2010). It is
also conceivable that the very wealth of information that resides in the digital universe, combined with
the increasing speed and ease of access, may overwhelm intentions to process such digital content criti-
cally or analytically (Ophir et al., 2009; Wallis, 2010).
Alongside these aforementioned differences in readersprocessing of digital texts, there are visual
ergonomic characteristics of digital media that must also be entered into the comprehension calculus.
2L. M. SINGER AND P. A. ALEXANDER
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Specically, visual legibility of digital texts, basic to word processing and comprehension, is inuenced
by several factors, including text size, screen resolution, backlighting, and luminance contrast (Dillon
& Emurian, 1995; Lee, Ko, Shen, & Chao, 2011). And such factors can result in physical and perceptual
differences for digital versus print reading. For example, LCD computer screens, the most common
method of reading digitally, are found on most desktop, laptop, and handheld tablets such as an iPad.
Researchers have found that these screens might contribute to visual fatigue as a result of the lighting
source (e.g., Benedetto, Drai-Zerbib, Pedrotti, Tissier, & Baccino, 2013; Mangen et al., 2013). Further,
Garland and Noyes (2004) determined that other features of a LCD screen, such as its refresh rate, con-
trast levels, and uctuating light, can interfere with text recall.
Yet another perceptual factor that might play into processing differences between digital and
printed text has to do with sequential versus continuous readingthat is, whether a reader must scroll
frequently between portions of text or whether reading progresses in a more uninterrupted fashion
(Proaps & Bliss, 2014). From the available research, there is evidence that frequent scrolling increases
the cognitive demands on readers and, thus, may negatively affect recall (W
astlund, 2007;W
astlund,
Reinikka, Norlander, & Archer, 2005). The inclusion of hyperlinked materials can also increase cogni-
tive demands when individuals are processing digital texts (DeStefano & LeFevre, 2007). Moreover,
print texts allows readers to see and feel the spatial extension and physical dimensions of the text, and
the material of the paper provides physical, tactile, and spatiotemporally xed cues to the length of the
passage (Mangen, 2006,2010; Sellen & Harper, 2002). In light of the potential for such scrolling or the
inclusion of hyperlinks to further complicate the processing of digital texts, we elected to control for
those factors in this investigation by ensuring that relevant text was fully available to readers without
scrolling and that no hyperlinked materials were incorporated. However, for practical reasons, the digi-
tal texts for this study were presented on LCD computer screens.
The visual ergonomic differences between digital and print texts notwithstanding, the story regard-
ing media is not one sided. In fact, potential benets for digital reading have been empirically docu-
mented (e.g., Arsham, 2002; Coiro et al., 2008; Loucky, 2005; Reeves, 2004). For one, strong
preferences for digital texts among individuals of varying ages have been reported (Prensky, 2013;
Reinking et al., 1998; Rideout et al., 2010). Such preferences stand as an indicator of the motivational
benets that might be accrued from reading digitally. In support of this contention, Zickuhr et al.
(2012) found that people who owned e-readers read on average twice as many books as those who read
only in print. When surveyed on why they preferred e-readers, participants reported that digital texts
provided speedier access and greater portability than print. The benets of accessibility and portability
have been noted in other studies across ages and settings for reading (Creel, 2008; Stephens, 2010;
Waycott & Kukulska-Hulme, 2003). Rideout et al. (2010) further documented that the amount of time
young people ages eight to 18 spend reading printed texts has decreased about 5 minutes between 1999
and 2009, suggesting a trend toward even more digital reading in the years to come.
Beyond self-reported preferences for digital texts, there is evidence that todays students perceive of
themselves as digital natives armed with the necessary skills to manage the demands of digital reading
(Palfrey & Glasser, 2013; Prensky, 2013). Such self-efcacy judgments would also seem to bode well for
studentsengagement with and learning from digital texts, and there is some evidence to support stu-
dentsself-judgments (Farah & Maybury, 2009; Housand & Housand, 2012; Koh, 2013). As a case in
point, Kerr and Symons (2006) determined that students in their study were able to navigate digital
passages more efciently than print versions. Further, Salmer
on and Garc
ıa, (2012) found that when
students read digital text that included hypertext, they were able to better integrate the material than
when reading the same material in print. Yet, there are others who question whether studentsjudg-
ments as to their online learning capabilities are as well developed as the notion of digital native sug-
gests (Fried, 2008; Kolikant, 2010).
Yet, another reason for more positive views of reading digitally pertains to the transfer of reading
processes, skills, and strategies that has been reported not just between digital and print media (Acker-
man & Goldsmith, 2011; Norman & Furnes, 2016; Noyes & Garland, 2008; Reinking, 1988) but also
between studentsreading and listening comprehension (Kendeou, Bohn-Gettler, White, & van den
Broek, 2008; Kendeou, van den Broek, White, & Lynch, 2007). For example, studies have concluded
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that comprehension skills are similar across different communication mediums (e.g., in print or audio-
visually; Kendeou et al., 2008). Further, adultsability to comprehend written language correlates
highly with their ability to comprehend spoken language (Gernsbacher, Varner, & Faust, 1990). Thus,
there is some expectation that the reading and comprehension processes of the college readers in this
investigation might well carry forward across digital and print mediums, especially given their familiar-
ity with reading digitally for academic purposes.
Lingering issues
In light of the burgeoning presence of digital reading and the growing literature that explores the proc-
essing of digital texts in comparison to their print counterparts, there are signicant questions that
merit systematic examination. While Ackerman and Goldsmith (2011) found differences in memory,
comprehension, and calibration across mediums when reading expository texts by similar-aged read-
ers, many relevant questions remain unanswered. Although their work examined calibration when
reading in digital and print forms, it failed to address a critical variable, text type. Further, Ackerman
and Goldsmiths(2011) study used multiple-choice questions assessing memory and understanding of
the text as their measure of comprehension. Our study design assesses comprehension through three
levels of short-construction questions, eliminating an individuals ability to guess or memorize on com-
prehension assessment. Further, we crafted a more advanced study design that accounts for individual
prior knowledge of the passage being read. Our design also deliberately controlled for scrolling, a navi-
gation issue commonly associated with digital reading, by limiting the passage length. Not only is
scrolling controlled for in our study, but the texts were presented as a reader would see them outside of
the controlled setting (i.e., a newspaper passage in the exact layout they would see it on a news website),
whereas Ackerman and Goldsmiths(2011) digital passages were presented in a word document.
For one, it is not apparent whether studentsexpressed preferences for digital or print text would vary
as a consequence of the type of material to be processed. For instance, there are some who might contend
that college students, the focus of this investigation, would voice a preference for the reading of newspa-
pers versus book excerpts in print rather than digitally (De Waal, Sch
onbach, & Lauf, 2005). But the pat-
tern in voiced preferences by text type largely remains an open question within the literature.
What is also unresolved within this expanding literature is whether studentsjudgments as to their
comprehension abilities under digital and print conditions (i.e., their efcacy judgments) would hold
up when compared to actual comprehension performance. This contrast between predicted and actual
performance is what has been called calibration (Alexander, 2013; Fischhoff, Slavic, & Lichtenstein,
1977; Glenberg, Sanocki, Epstein, & Morris, 1987). Overall, the calibration of children and youth for a
range of academic tasks and subject-matter domains has often been found wanting (Chen & Zimmer-
man, 2007; Hacker, Bol, & Bahbahani, 2008; Pajares & Miller, 1997), suggesting that students are not
particularly astute in critically judging their learning or level of performance.
While acknowledging that the past decades of metacomprehension research have not painted the
most attering picture of calibration among learners (Dunlosky & Lipko, 2007), including college stu-
dents (Winne & Jamieson-Noel, 2002; Winne, Jamieson-Noel, & Muis, 2002), there remains the possi-
bility that the students in the current investigation will be better attuned to their ability to comprehend
under differing mediums than has typically been reported. As with prior research (Ackerman & Gold-
smith, 2011; Butler, 1998; Graham & Harris, 1989; Lin, Moore, & Zabrucky, 2001), we considered cali-
bration in relation to undergraduatesposttask predictions as to the medium (i.e., digital versus print)
in which they had performed best and then compared those predictions to their actual performance.
What was different in this instance was that the students had the opportunity to gauge their compre-
hension under both medium conditions with comparable reading content before rendering judgments.
Further, participants had the opportunity to respond to comprehension questions that varied in speci-
city (e.g., main idea versus key points). Thus, we wanted to ascertain whether these task features
would translate into better calibration for these mature readers.
Another area that merits exploration is the role the text type plays in comprehension and calibration
abilities. Research suggests that different preferences for digital or print text arise as a consequence of
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the type of material processed (e.g., Creel, 2008; Waycott & Kukulska-Hulme, 2003). Further, the read-
ing framework report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (National Assessment
Governing Board, 2013) indicates that reading behaviors, such as making sense of sentences and para-
graphs and recognizing and using features of text, can vary in relation to text type. As a result, NAEP
includes two broad categories of text type in its reading assessment: literary texts (such as book
excerpts) and informational texts (such as newspaper articles). In addition, newspapers have been spe-
cically referenced in the literature with regard to medium preferences, with some indication that indi-
viduals prefer to read the newspaper in print as opposed to digitally (De Waal et al., 2005). Book
excerpts, similar to segments of textbook chapters, were thus selected as the alternative text type in this
study due to their growing presence in college classrooms (Jenkins, Kelley, Clinton, McWilliams, &
Pitts-Wiley, 2013; Schoenbach, Greenleaf, & Murphy, 2012).
The reading comprehension task used in this study had participants respond to three short-con-
struction questions immediately after reading a passage. We elected to assess comprehension using
short-construction questions in light of positive evidence regarding the merits of this format, such as
its broader applicability and the richer information garnered from generated versus selected response
formats like multiple-choice items (Pearson & Hamm, 2005). Further, short-construction questions
eliminate random guessing as a response option (Burton, 2001). In addition, well-known national
assessments such as the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP; National Center for Edu-
cation Statistics, 2013) and the Stanford Achievement Tests (SAT-9; Traxler, 2000), as well as a number
of statewide reading tests, have long used short-construction questions to delve deeper into students
reading comprehension (Sarroub & Pearson, 1998). Thus, given the aforementioned factors, as well as
the short length of the passages and the college level reading abilities of participants in this study, we
elected to employ short-construction questions in the current study.
In the exploration of the aforementioned issues, we also wanted to probe more deeply into whether
differences in the accuracy of self-judgments would emerge when the nature of comprehension being
assessed varied. Specically, there is some research to suggest that the speed of processing associated
with digital reading may have more bearing on the recall of details within text than on the identica-
tion of the main idea (Ackerman & Goldsmith, 2011; Williams & Rowlands, 2007). This collection of
lingering issues, therefore, led to the following research questions that guided this investigation:
1. What espoused preferences for reading digitally and in print do undergraduate students voice
and do those preferences vary as a consequence of text type?
2. After accounting for topic knowledge, to what extent do undergraduate studentsjudgments as
to their ability to comprehend digital and print texts correspond to their actual comprehension
performance?
3. Is there any association between stated preferences or calibration accuracy when undergraduates
are called upon to identify the main idea, key points, and other relevant information?
Method
Participants
Participants for this study were 90 undergraduate students enrolled in human development and educa-
tional psychology courses at a large mid-Atlantic university. The sample was 68.3% female with a
mean age of 19.28 (SD D1.24)years. The sample was majority White (57.4%), with 14.9% self-report-
ing as Asian and 14.9% self-reporting as African American, and represented a wide variety of majors,
primarily in the social (44.7%) and natural (29.8%) sciences.
Our decision to focus on undergraduate students enrolled in human development and educational
psychology courses was based on several considerations related to the existing literature, the nature of
the task, and the texts being read. For one, a recent review of the literature pertaining to digital and
print reading indicated that over 75% of the identied studies involved undergraduate readers (Singer,
2014). Therefore, in order to compare outcomes of the current investigation to the extant literature, we
felt that undergraduate readers would serve our goals best. In addition, individuals of this age level
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would t the prole of digital natives (Prensky, 2001). As a result, we expected this population to be
particularly opinionated about reading in the digital, as compared to print, medium.
Moreover, as we will discuss later, we chose texts that pertained to childhood ailmentstopics that
we regarded as pertinent to college students enrolled in human development or educational psychology
courses. Finally, because of our intention to investigate varied text types, specically book excerpts and
newspaper articles, we wanted participants who would have had sufcient exposure to these textual
forms.
Experimental texts
Eight experimental texts about childhood ailments were used in this study. This topic area was chosen
for several reasons. First, childhood health topics would presumably be of interest to the sample,
undergraduate students in a human development or educational psychology course, because the pas-
sages pertain to topics relevant to human learning and development. Further, the topic of childhood
ailments was germane to the participantscoursework without being a topic that would specically be
covered in those courses.
The four book excerpts were from Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma,
and AllergiesThe Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders (Bock & Stauth, 2008). The four
newspaper articles were from the New York Times and dealt with one of the same four childhood
health topics (i.e., ADHD, allergies, asthma, and autism). All texts were of similar length (approxi-
mately 450 words) and readability (approximately 8.5 grade level; Fry Readability: Fry, 1968). Prior to
administration, the eight passages were modied to ensure that the frequencies of key points and other
relevant information were held constant across texts. As a result, each passage centered around a clear
main idea, which did not appear explicitly in any of the passages and, thus, had to be inferred by the
reader. Further, each passage contained four key points, which were text-based idea units or phrases
linked directly to the main idea. Lastly, in addition to the key points, each passage contained ve addi-
tional text-based idea units or phrases that could be recalled.
For the study, each participant read four texts in total: two texts from each medium (i.e., digital and
print) and two texts from each text type (i.e., book excerpt and newspaper) presented in counterbal-
anced order. For example, one participant read in the following order: digital book excerpt, print news-
paper, print book excerpt, and digital newspaper. The next participant read print newspaper, print
book excerpt, digital newspaper, then digital book excerpt to negate any possible order effects.
Measures
Students rst completed a demographic survey and then four additional measures: an assessment of
topic knowledge, a medium-preference survey, a medium-usage questionnaire, and a comprehension
assessment.
Topic knowledge
To ascertain studentsfamiliarity with the topics of the reading tasks, students were asked to rate their
level of knowledge of the four topics covered in the readings (i.e., childhood ADHD, allergies, asthma,
and autism). These ratings were made on a 100 mm scale that ranged from 0 (no knowledge) to 100
(expert). For example, respondents were asked to Rate your knowledge on the subject of childhood
ADHD.If students marked their knowledge of childhood ADHD at the 25 mm line, they received a
score of 25 on the topic knowledge measure for childhood ADHD. The students repeated this three
more times for the three remaining topics (childhood allergies, asthma, and autism).
Medium preference
Upon completing the topic knowledge measure, students were asked to complete a medium preference
survey. This survey consisted of seven task situations for which students were asked to judge whether
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they preferred to complete each task using a digital or print text. For example, students encountered
the following situation:
You want to read the Sunday newspaper.
a. Prefer to read digitally
b. Prefer to read in print
c. No preference
Participants medium preference score was calculated by tallying the frequency at which they indi-
cated digital, print, or no preference for the seven task situations.
Medium usage
Upon completing the medium preference task, students were asked questions about how frequently
they had used digital and print mediums in the past academic year. For example, as seen in the follow-
ing situation, they were asked how frequently they used digital texts for college coursework:
In the past academic year, have you used digital textbooks for your course work?
a. Yes, for all of my courses
b. Yes, for some of my courses
c. No
Reading comprehension task and scoring
We were interested in examining the effects of medium (i.e., digital and printed) and text type (i.e.,
book excerpt and newspaper) on studentscomprehension. Prior to reading, participants were told
they would read a passage and be asked questions about the main idea, key points, and other relevant
information after reading and would not be able to access the text when responding. To assess their
comprehension, students responded to three short-construction questions immediately after reading
each of the texts that corresponded to the instructions detailed prior to reading. The questions were
presented in the same medium in which they just read. For example, after reading about childhood
allergies digitally, participants were asked to answer the following questions online:
1. Explain the main idea of the passage.
2. List the key points of the passage.
3. Jot down any other relevant information you may remember.
Scoring rules were determined a priori for the reading comprehension measure. The main idea and
the key points within each passage had been identied and veried by the rst author and two indepen-
dent readers, along with the scoring criteria for each of the three question types. Specically, the main
idea question was scored on a 02 scale for each passage read, for a maximum score of 8. A score of 0
was earned if the student wrote nothing or a main idea that was unrelated to the passage. To earn one
point, the response had to be text relevant but not fully comprehensive of the main idea. For example,
if the main idea were childhood asthma can be treated by knowing the antecedent triggers of inam-
mation,a score of 1 would be awarded if the answer given were simply asthma.To earn 2 points,
students had to record a main idea that was text related, generally accurate, and fully comprehensive.
The two remaining questions pertaining to key points and other relevant information were scored
on a 01 scale. This scale was applied to each piece of recorded data. To earn a point, responses listed
had to be text based and accurate. For the key pointsquestion, responses were scored against the pre-
identied list, allowing participants to earn one point for each key point listed. No points were sub-
tracted for missing or incorrect key points listed. Thus, participants could earn up to four points per
passage for key points, with a possible maximum key-point score of 16 points for all four texts.
Mirroring the question regarding key points, the nal question asking for other relevant informa-
tion was scored under the same guidelines using a preidentied list of statements taken directly from
the passage or paraphrased that were not listed in the main idea or key-points questions. For the other
relevant information questions, students could earn up to ve points for each text. Again, no points
were subtracted for missing or incorrect relevant-information points listed. This scoring method
resulted in a maximum score of 20 points for the two digital and two print texts.
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To illustrate better the nature of the comprehension questions and their scoring, the modied book
excerpt dealing with childhood asthma, along with the scoring guide, appears in the Appendix.
To establish interrater agreement, the rst author and a second rater scored all responses indepen-
dently and their scores were compared. Prior to this independent scoring, however, the rst author
developed a set of training text materials and simulated responses that paralleled those read in the
actual study. Once the second rater displayed an understanding of the scoring criteria and was pro-
cient at scoring above a 95% level, the actual data set was introduced. Interrater agreement for the full
data set, scored independently, was 98.5%. Any disagreements were resolved through discussion.
Medium performance
As a means of assessing studentscalibration, we asked them to judge their performance under digital
and print mediums. Specically, the students answered the following question:
In which medium do you believe you performed best?
a. Digital
b. Print
c. No difference
Procedure
The study was conducted outside of class in a designated area. Students completed the demographics
survey, followed by the topic knowledge measure, and the medium preference survey digitally. Then,
they moved on to the reading comprehension portion of the study. Students were given their rst text
passage (i.e., book excerpt or newspaper) in either print or digital form and instructed that they would
be required to answer questions about the passage from memory. When they indicated they had com-
pleted the reading, students were presented with the reading comprehension task in the same format
(i.e., digital or print). They then answered the reading comprehension questions in the same format as
their reading. They were allowed to record their responses using bullet points or connected discourse
and were given unlimited time to complete the task.
The reading passage and reading comprehension measure procedure described was repeated three times
with variation as to medium in accordance with the condition to which the student was initially randomly
assigned (e.g., print book, digital newspaper, digital book, and print newspaper). After all four readings and
associated comprehension questions were completed, students responded to the question concerning in
which medium they performed best. The average time for task completion was approximately 80 minutes.
Equipment
Participants completed the digital portions of the study using a 15" LCD monitor at a resolution of
1280 £1024 pixels. The computers were familiar to the subjects as they are the computers the students
use throughout the university on a daily basis, which was conrmed prior to administration. The texts
presented digitally were presented as PDF les, read using Adobe Reader for Windows. The print texts
were read from the paperback book, where the modied passage was inserted to appear authentic. The
designated passage was bookmarked and only relevant sections are visible to the reader.
Results and discussion
Topic knowledge
Our rst step in this analysis was to examine the potential effects of topic knowledge on studentscom-
prehension performance. We did so by determining whether topic knowledge was signicantly related
to studentsperformance on the comprehension measure. Given that differences in topic knowledge
across ailments was found to be statistically nonsignicant (F
(3,86)
D1.19, pD.09), topic scores were
collapsed to produce a single topic knowledge score, which comprised the four self-reported scores (0
8L. M. SINGER AND P. A. ALEXANDER
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100) for each childhood ailment to total a nal overall topic knowledge score from 0 to 400 (see
Table 1).
The overall performance of this measure reinforced ourexpectationthatstudents generally would not be
well versed in these topics of childhood ailments (MD145.26, SD D93.23), although some students did in
fact, display higher levels of topic knowledge than others (range 0360). The distribution of scores was posi-
tively skewed (see Figure 1), showing that as expected the majority of participants were not very knowledge-
able about the selected topics. Topic knowledge was determined to not be signicantly related to reading
comprehension scores, rD.13, p <.01. Therefore, no adjustment in the comprehension scores was required.
Medium preference
Next, we sought to address whether there would be a marked preference among the undergraduate stu-
dents in our study for the use of digital or print medium when engaged in various reading tasks. For all
seven situations, the majority of students preferred to read digitally. However, some situations resulted
in more students selecting print or reporting no preference than others. For example, the situation,
You want to read a tabloid magazine while on vacation,had the lowest percentage of students favor-
ing the digital medium (46.7%), while many chose read in print (37.8%) and others chose no prefer-
ence (15.6%). The situation that stated, You are reviewing a reading on World War I for an upcoming
history exam,ended up being the situation with the most support for reading digitally (73.3%), while
21.1% preferred print and only 5.6% of students reported that they had no preference.
The situation stating, You are reading the news for the top stories,resulted in 56.7% of the stu-
dents selecting to read digitally, while 25.6% chose the print medium, leaving 17.8% selecting no prefer-
ence. Interestingly, a second situation involving newspapers, You want to read the Sunday
newspaper,had students leaning much more strongly toward reading digitally. For this situation,
74.4% chose the digital medium, while only 21.1% chose print and 4.4% reported having no preference.
Examining the participants individually, 7.8% stated that they preferred to read in the digital
medium no matter the situation presented. Only one participant indicated that s/he preferred to read
in print no matter the situation. None of the students who participated responded that he or she had
no medium preference for all seven situations. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that these
students have been described as digital natives(Prensky, 2001).
Medium usage
`In order to ascertain the studentsexperiences with digital texts, four questions regarding medium
usage were asked. The rst question queried: Do you own a tablet or e-reader device?For that
Figure 1. The bar graph displays the participantsself-reported topic knowledge. This gure illustrates that students generally rate
their knowledge of various childhood ailments as rather low.
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL EDUCATION 9
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question, 87.8% of the sample responded afrmatively. Next, participants responded to how frequently
they accessed digital texts. Not surprisingly, 95.6% of the sample accessed text digitally at least once a
day. When asked about the frequency with which they access printed texts, 81.1% reported reading in
print at least once a day. However, 24.4% of respondents selected as little as possibleto this question.
Within the classroom, 64.4% of students were currently using a digital textbook for one or more
courses.
Comprehension across mediums
For the question dealing with the main idea, the majority of participants (60%) were able to identify the
main idea, at least in partial form, while another 35% provided fully accurate and comprehensive
restatements of the designated main ideas. The remaining 5% of respondents either produced an
unclear response or failed to respond at all to the question. These patterns did not vary whether the
texts were processed in print or digitally. In order to ascertain whether there were differences in com-
prehension by medium or text type, a 2 (medium) £2 (type) ANOVA was run, revealing that there
were no main effects for the main idea question for medium or for text type (F(1) D2.99, p>.05).
The descriptive statistics for the three comprehension questions by medium are displayed in Table 2.
For the comprehension question pertaining to key points, a 2 (medium) £2 (text type) ANOVA
was run and analysis revealed an interaction between medium and type (F(1) D8.96, p<.05,
h2D:05), as well as a main effect for medium (F(1) D44.94, p<.001, h2D.06). However, there was
no main effect for text type, (F(1) D1.36 p>.05). As indicated in Figure 2, performance on the key-
points question was higher for both text types when reading in the print medium, but the disparity in
scores between mediums was exacerbated when reading a book excerpt.
When it came to the nal comprehension question pertaining to other relevant information, a 2
(medium) £2 (text type) ANOVA was run, revealing a main effect for medium (F(1) D44.64,
p<.001, h2D.09Þ:However, there was no main effect for text type on outcome and no signicant
interaction (Fs(1) D2.11, ps>.05). Unlike the key-points comprehension question, the difference in
performance across mediums was consistent, no matter the text type. Thus, when reading a book
excerpt or newspaper article, students were better at recalling other relevant informationwhen read-
ing in the print versus the digital medium.
Table 2. Comprehension performance by question type and by medium.
Medium Question type Mean score SD Maximum score
Print
Main idea 2.64 .38 4
Key points 5.61 3.83 8
Other information 7.13 2.91 10
Digital
Main idea 2.56 .23 4
Key points 5.19 4.31 8
Other information 6.42 3.18 10
Note. Scores and maximums are combined scores from both passages read in each medium type.
Table 1. Self-Reported topic knowledge.
Topic Mean score SD Maximum score
Overall 145.26 93.23 400
ADHD 35.90 23.87 100
Allergies 36.80 24.37 100
Asthma 36.94 23.95 100
Autism 35.62 24.96 100
10 L. M. SINGER AND P. A. ALEXANDER
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Performance judgments and calibration
When asked to judge the medium in which they performed the best, the majority of participants (69%) chose
the digital medium. By comparison, 18% of participants judged the medium in which they performed the best
to be the print medium, while the remaining 13% felt that their performance was equivalent across the two
mediums. The descriptive data of predicted performance and demonstrated performance by medium type are
shown in Table 3. A chi-square test of independence was used to determine whether there was a difference in
observed and expected judgments of performance. In spite of their marked preference, we found that more stu-
dents than expected demonstrated stronger comprehension in the print medium than in the digital medium,
X
2
(1, ND90) D6.60, p<.01. Such outcomes indicate that the students in this investigation were generally
poorly calibrated with regard to the medium under which they comprehend better. Far more students than
would be expected by chance presumed that they would be better at performing in digital medium but, in real-
ity, comprehended better in the print medium.
Conclusions and implications
This study was motivated by the pervasiveness of digital media in the lives of young people. With tech-
nologies ever-increasing presence inside and out of the classroom, todays learners are presented with
more options for reading than ever before (Stephens, 2014). Consequently, there has been an increase
of research in the area of reading in the digital medium (e.g., Hartman, Morsink, & Zheng, 2010; Jabr,
2013; Ponce & Mayer, 2014). Trends in the literature show that readers, especially those who classify
themselves as digital natives (Prensky, 2013), prefer reading in the digital medium perhaps due to the
Figure 2. The graph displays the interaction between medium and text type on comprehensions of key points. As the gure illus-
trates, when reading a book excerpt, the medium in which the excerpt was read (i.e., digital or print) had a signicant impact on key-
point comprehension performance.
Table 3. Results of chi-square test of calibration performance by medium type.
Demonstrated
performance
Predicted performance
Digital f(%) Print f(%)
Digital f(%) 60(66.7%) 13(14.5%)
Print f(%) 9(10%) 8(8.8%)
THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL EDUCATION 11
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ease and accessibility the Internet affords (Singer, 2014). Further, those who read via the digital
medium may be reading more than their peers reading in the print medium (Zickuhr et al., 2012).
However, research specically examining reading comprehension has produced mixed results in terms
of which medium is best for understanding the text (e.g., Arsham, 2002; Coiro et al., 2008; Loucky,
2005; Reeves, 2004). While some studies have found passages can be read more quickly in the digital
medium (Kerr & Symons, 2006), other studies have found greater gains in reading comprehension
when reading the passage in print form (Mangen et al., 2013).
Despite the digital mediums apparent ubiquitousness and noted favorability among digital natives,
we cannot operate on the assumption that its prevalence or even stated preference alone results in
equal or better comprehension than what has been demonstrated for print text. It would be irresponsi-
ble to simply assume that those who perceive themselves as digital natives are in fact well equipped to
understand what was read in a digital environment. Despite the noted preference for digital texts
(Prensky, 2013; Reinking et al., 1998; Rideout et al., 2010), no matter the task and the benets the
medium offers (e.g., portability and speed), the literature is not clear as to whether the affordances of
reading digitally translate into consistent positive learning outcomes for the reader (Singer, 2014). Fur-
ther, it remains unclear how well aware digital natives are of the affordances of or disadvantages pres-
ent within the digital medium.
This study sought to address the aforementioned questions and concerns regarding perceptions and
learning outcomes. While the current study conrms some of the ndings in the literature regarding
studentspreference for digital texts (Coiro, 2009; diSessa, 2000), it extends prior research in several
additional ways. First, it allowed for within-subject examination of performance on equivalent reading
tasks across mediums and across text types. As such, it provided a more detailed picture of undergrad-
uatesespoused medium preferences vis-
a-vis their comprehension performancethat is, their calibra-
tion. The outcomes call into question even mature and digitally experienced readersefcacy
judgments. Moreover, the current study revealed potential differences in comprehension across
mediums, even taking into account studentsself-reported knowledge of the reading topics, which has
yet to be explored. Further, the current study served to more effectively locate those differences (e.g.,
main ideas versus key points or other relevant information). From these data, therefore, we found that
medium mattered little for these undergraduates when only the big idea or gist was required. The pic-
ture became more complete when more specic information was requested. In light of the nature and
scope of reading digitally in studentslives, including the increasing presence of digital textbooks
(Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010), this particular nding merits further exploration.
A future study should address the role of feedback on calibration judgments. It remains to be seen
whether students would be willing or able to adjust their expectations and their performance if they
were made aware of the discrepancy between the stated preferences and demonstrated performance
for similar-aged populations. Feedback has been shown to have powerful effects on studentslearning
and performance (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), so perhaps feedback would result in more-selective use
of text mediums by students and more accurate metacognitive performance judgments. Additionally,
feedback has been shown to be extremely effective for this studys populationundergraduate students
(Koriat, Maayan, Sheffer, & Bjork, 2006). On the other hand, the wealth of digital texts and the ease
and speed of access may prove too seductive for students, even if comprehension and recall suffer to
some extent.
Another area for future inquiry pertains to the age of the reader. While this study deliberately
sought to examine digital natives, one must question whether the patterns found would remain true
across different ages. For example, what would we nd with much younger readers who have grown
up with digital reading? What about an older adult who did not learn to read in the digital age, who
may have differing views of the digital medium and more-attuned judgments of performance when
reading in print?
Future work should also attend to the nature and specicity of the calibration task itself. Specically,
the post hoc judgment of the learning task used in this study could be rened. As recommended by
Dunlosky, Rawson, and Middleton (2005), matching grain size between the task and judgments of
learning may produce a more aligned metacomprehension judgment for the learner. Further, given
12 L. M. SINGER AND P. A. ALEXANDER
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that metacomprehension research has almost exclusively focused on global judgments of learning, it
would prove informative to gauge readersjudgments of learning for each comprehension question
type asked (Dunlosky et al., 2005). Future work should address calibration at each question type to see
if results are consistent with those reported herein.
There are several possible explanations for why studentsin the present study performed better in
the comprehension questions when reading in the print condition. For one, the differences could be
related to the navigational issues within the document. A navigational issue to consider is the nature in
which the mediums determine ones access to the texts in their entirety. Research has suggested that
readers often recall where in a text a certain piece of information appeared (e.g., toward the bottom of
the page; Rothkopf, 1971; Zechmeister & McKillip, 1972). While the current study controlled for the
navigation issue commonly associated with digital reading (i.e., scrolling), research suggests there are
other factors associated with reading digitally that restrict usersability to mentally reconstruct what
was read (Cataldo & Oakhill, 2000), and so, the interaction found between medium and text type on
key-point comprehension warrants further examination. When reading book excerpts, students per-
formed signicantly better in print than they did digitally.
Perhaps this outcome reects the navigational cues that print affords or the inherent challenges with
reading digitally, such as refresh rate, contrast levels, and uctuating light (Garland & Noyes, 2004). A
suggestion for future research could be to replicate the ndings of our study and have the subjects read
longer texts that require scrolling and page turning, as it might be assumed that challenges pertaining
to navigation may increase with this added demand. Although research has shown that the digital
medium comes with perceptual processing challenges (Baccino, 2004), it is impossible to determine
from the data of the current study whether visual fatigue contributed to poorer reading-comprehension
performance in the digital medium. Hence, we cannot ascertain whether the visual ergonomics of the
computer screens had any impact on the studentsperformance. In future studies, it would be particu-
larly interesting to employ digital measures, such as eye tracking, alongside think-alouds. Conducting a
comparable study with the addition of eye tracking data and think-alouds obtained as readers are
engaged with the text would allow for richer data about a participants processing for both print and
digital mediums and for corroborating evidence regarding their calibration judgments.
These limitations notwithstanding, this study has several implications for educators. For one, educa-
tors need to be sensitive to the affordances and disadvantages offered by digital and print reading. Stu-
dents cite the ease of access and range of materials at hand to be alluring benets of the digital
medium. And, in fact, they may be correct. It seems that the affordances offered by the digital medium
may sometimes be worth the potential costs. Sadly, for some students today, simply reading for a gen-
eral understanding may sufce, rendering the potential benets of reading in print moot. The question
becomes, are students willing to give up detailed understanding of the text read in order to have the
ease offered by digital texts?
Clearly, the answers to the question of whether it is best to read digitally or in print is neither simple
nor straightforward. Evidently, there is still much to be learned about the nature of reading and com-
prehending when the medium is digital or print, not solely in terms of the cognitive processing that
transpires, but also with regard to any motivational, sociocultural, or visual-motor factors that are
implicated. Yet, in light of the pervasiveness of multiple mediums in the lives of mature readers, these
complexities must be more richly examined and better articulated if the goal of enhancing student
learning and academic development is to be fostered.
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Appendix
Excerpt from childhood asthma
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and AllergiesThe Groundbreaking
Program for the 4-A Disorders (Bock & Stauth, 2008).
Determining the root cause of asthma was not an easy feat. However, other practitioners continued
to dig even more deeply into asthmas root causes. Some of us who were treating asthma almost every
day came to believe that there was an even more basic root cause than that of the classic asthma trig-
gers. This more fundamental root cause appeared to be whatever was causing the inammation.
In the last decade, the medical mainstream began to agree that whatever was causing the inamma-
tion was also the root cause of asthma. Prior to this, the medical eld could not come to a conclusion
regarding what caused asthma. Once it was agreed upon that whatever was causing the inammation
was also the root cause of asthma, it could be treated better. As a result of this discovery, doctors added
a new treatment. In addition to the existing treatment of dilating bronchial tubes, doctors began also
putting patients on continuing courses of daily drugs to help prevent asthma episodes from being trig-
gered. Steroids are traditionally used to dilate the bronchial tubes, which treat and help to reduce
inammation in a patient.
Even this approach, however, fails to reach the real root cause of asthma. The root cause of asthma
is: the original source of the inammation.
Therefore, to defeat asthma we must dig all the way to the sources of inammation. This can be
hard to do because one must gure out what is causing the inammation to begin with. Its much easier
to just give patients steroids to decrease their inammation. One confusing factor in the quest to elimi-
nate the original sources of inammation is that these sources can also be the direct triggers of asthma.
Fungus, for example, can cause infectious inammation, and then later fungus can act as the direct irri-
tant that triggers an asthma episode. When this happens, patients sometimes remove themselves from
the mold that triggered the episode, but they still might have a low-grade fungal infection simmering
away
Scoring guide
Main idea
Childhood asthma can be treated by knowing the antecedent triggers of inammation.
Key Points
&It wasnt until the last decade that doctors discovered what causes asthma.
&The root cause of asthma is the original source of the inammation.
&There are two standard approaches to treating asthma.
&It can be confusing to treat because you need to discover what is triggering it.
Other relevant information
&Fungus can be a trigger of inammation.
&Steroids can be used to treat inammation.
&It can be hard to gure out what the triggers are.
&Doctors can dilate bronchial tubes to help with asthma.
&Drugs can be given to use daily before an asthma episode arises.
18 L. M. SINGER AND P. A. ALEXANDER
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... From the research we have been conducting for the past several years, we have garnered a rich and quite consistent picture of the role that medium plays in college students' comprehension of academic texts delivered on paper or on screen (Singer Trakhman et al., 2019;Singer & Alexander, 2017a, 2017b. As part of this research program, we have explored the effects of medium while systematically varying certain text elements such as the academic domain (e.g., psychology and earth science), text length (e.g., 450 to 1800 words), comprehension focus (e.g., main idea or points and supporting details), and question format (e.g., multiple choice and short constructed response items). ...
... Because students in our studies read excerpts from the same source under both conditions, factors like text complexity, prior knowledge, or age could not account for this consistent difference. What we came to regard as potential contributors to lower calibration in the digital condition were speed or ease of processing (Ackerman & Goldsmith, 2011;Koriat et al., 2006), judgments of learning (Nietfeld & Schraw, 2002), and scrolling behaviors (Singer & Alexander, 2017a). ...
... SD ¼ 151.14]. This finding was unexpected, as it is the reverse of what previous medium-only studies have found about processing time, where students spent more time reading in print than digitally (Singer & Alexander, 2017a, 2017b. As reading time was not correlated with any of the comprehension measures or calibration for overall comprehension (rs < .15, ...
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