How Does Technology Impact Reading and Writing Literacy?
Technology is developing in broad and diverse ways, and at a pace that can seem difficult for the educational establishment to keep pace with. Technology can be used to augment, assist or support reading and writing literacy inside and outside the classroom, and this is helpful for students who have different learning styles and those with learning difficulties or specific disabilities. However, certain elements of technology have the potential to impact reading and writing literacy in negative ways. Part of the challenge for educators is to keep up with the technological knowledge of their students, which is constantly developing, changing and diversifying.
According to Kinzer and Leu, hypermedia and multimedia technologies show an overall positive effect on students' skills in writing and in information-gathering. A specific study, The Reporter Project, was used in sixth-grade classrooms over a period of two years - at the end of this time it was found that students' writing skills were better, overall, than same-age peers in a sixth-grade classroom that was not using similar technology. Students using the technology were overall better at reading and comprehension-related skills such as identifying cause and effect in a text, and their understanding of main and supporting ideas in a literary context.
Studies have shown that reading skills can be bolstered, to a statistically-significant degree, by use of technology. According to Pearson et al., meta-analysis of existing published studies showed that both reading comprehension and the development of vocabulary were typically enhanced - at the middle-school level - by use of technology. The technologies used in the studies reviewed by Pearson et al. included media images, video, audio, hypermedia and websites to assist reading and literacy.
Particularly when students are using technology for fun and recreation in their time outside of school, use of technology can be motivational in and of itself. Students who learn well visually may appreciate multimedia technologies relating to language - for example, viewing videos with audio text and/or subtitles. When students are allowed to conduct their own online research for homework or classwork, for example, this can give the students a sense of control and agency in their own reading and writing development. However, it is important to maintain a balance between time typing and looking at a screen, and time writing by hand and developing listening skills. Of course, it is also necessary for students to engage critically with online resources that they may find, and to be aware that a lot of the information published on the Internet may be unattributed, incorrect or based in opinion rather than fact.
Technology can be wonderfully enriching and supportive of students' literacy learning. Specific students with low motivation, or with learning difficulties relating to literacy, may find technological assistance or mediation one way of improving their abilities and testing outcomes. Multimedia, for example, can be very beneficial in reinforcing written English with the sounds of spoken language - this can be helpful for English language learners, and for students with difficulties relating to vision or the motor skills involved in writing or typing. However, certain individuals may be unable to use common technology in safe and enriching ways. Just one example would be the way in which exposure to LED screens, televisions or computer monitors can trigger or increase seizures in susceptible individuals with epilepsy. Further, engagement with technology and multimedia can lead students to become more passive in their "consumption" of written material and language. A student watching television may not be absorbing, or paying attention to, the language as they might be if left to read a book without the distraction of sound and images.
Negative Effects of Technology on Literacy
For all the positive effects of a technology-enriched learning environment, some negative aspects have developed along with modern technology. Students have learned, through extensive use of technology, to rely on automation rather than knowledge of correct language usage. Text messaging is one clear example of a technology that has the potential to diminish literacy in reading and writing. Early in its development, short text messages were character-limited and had to be typed in manually - often, pressing an individual key a certain number of times to type a particular letter. A kind of shorthand text-message language therefore developed, to save both time and space in the text message. Simple abbreviations such as "u" for "you" or "b" for "be" have become common through this particular form of technology. In some cases, however, people may essentially forget that these abbreviations stand for longer words, and text-message style shorthand. When a linguistic shorthand becomes an individual's go-to means of self-expression, overall literacy can suffer.
Covanis, A., Stodieck, S. R., & Wilkins, A. J. Treatment of photosensitivity. Epilepsia, 45(s1), 40-45.
Kinzer, C., & Leu, D. J. Focus on research: The challenge of change: Exploring literacy and learning in electronic environments. Language Arts,74(2), 126-136.
Pearson, P. D., et al. "The effects of technology on reading performance in the middle school grades: A meta-analysis with recommendations for policy."
Plester, B., Wood, C., & Joshi, P. Exploring the relationship between children's knowledge of text message abbreviations and school literacy outcomes. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 27(1), 145-161.