Learning from Paper, Learning from Screens: Impact of Screen Reading and Multitasking Conditions on Reading and Writing among College Students

Learning from Paper, Learning from Screens: Impact of Screen Reading and Multitasking Conditions on Reading and Writing among College Students

Kaveri Subrahmanyam, Minas Michikyan, Christine Clemmons, Rogelio Carrillo, Yalda T. Uhls, Patricia M. Greenfield
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/ijcbpl.2013100101
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Electronic screens on laptop and tablet computers are being used for reading text, often while multitasking. Two experimental studies with college students explored the effect of medium and opportunities to multitask on reading (Study 1) and report writing (Study 2). In Study 1, participants (N = 120) read an easy and difficult passage on paper, a laptop, or tablet, while either multitasking or not multitasking. Neither multitasking nor medium impacted reading comprehension, but those who multitasked took longer to read both passages, indicating loss of efficiency with multitasking. In Study 2, participants (N = 67) were asked to synthesize source material in multiple texts to write a one-page evidence-based report. Participants read the source texts either on (1) paper, (2) computer screen without Internet or printer access, or (3) computer screen with Internet and printer access (called the “real-world” condition). There were no differences in report quality or efficiency between those whose source materials were paper or computer. However, global report quality was significantly better when participants read source texts on a computer screen without Internet or printer access, compared with when they had Internet and printer access. Active use of paper for note-taking greatly reduced the negative impact of Internet and printer access in the real-world condition. Although participants expressed a preference for accessing information on paper, reading the texts on paper did not make a significant difference in report quality, compared with either of the two computer conditions. Implications for formal and informal learning are discussed.
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Electronic Screens As Cultural Tools

Why would we expect electronic screens or the particular reading medium to affect how learners process text? To answer this question, we turn to Vygotsky’s proposal that cognitive development is mediated by the semiotic mechanisms or psychological tools provided by the culture such as language, counting systems, algebra, and writing (Vygotsky, 1978). Sociocultural theorists now recognize that tools such as the paint brush, computers, calendars, and symbol systems also play an important role in knowledge construction during development (John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996). Indeed mass media such as radio, film, and television, were considered to be early electronic tools and have been joined today by digital media such as tablet computers, video and computer games, and the Internet (Greenfield, 1994; Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). Greenfield (1993) has posited that cognitive socialization is the process by which cultural tools impact processing skills; on this view, different tools utilize and require different processing skills. As a widely used cultural artifact, media are important tools of cognitive socialization (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). Different media use different symbol systems – radio uses auditory representations, television uses auditory, iconic, and visual representations, and computer games use auditory, iconic, visual, dynamic, and spatial representations. Consequently, repeated use of a particular media form will help to internalize the medium-specific representational skills that it uses.

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