As a literacy researcher, I am fascinated by how digital technologies are changing the nature of reading and writing.  Information is being presented in an increasing number of text formats – ipads, e-books, hyperlinked webpages, smart phones, and of course, traditional paper books! Meanwhile, people are predicting the death of handwriting as we increasingly rely on type-based communication.

What does this mean for students with learning differences?

The research is intriguing. In many ways, digital technology can reduce the impact of learning differences by providing adaptive supports such as translation tools, text-to-speech, and easy text editing. However it can also be divisive. Recent research has shown that if you ask a classroom of students to read a webpage full of hyperlinks, the content recall of students with lower memory spans will be stymied by the non-linear format, which requires lots of clicking back and forth. On the flipside, students with larger memory spans seem to rise to the increased challenge of this format and actually retain more than they do from a traditional paper format.

Work we are currently doing at Harvard with students in higher education is asking if we see a similar widening of the ability gap in the writing process.  Research has shown that writing on a keyboard (as opposed to pen and paper) reduces the amount of advance planning that even expert writers engage in – how does this impact writing quality and will the impact for students with learning differences be different than for those without?I hope to be able to update Landmark360° blog readers during the next academic year.

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Jenny Thomson

Submitted by Jenny Thomson, Associate Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education


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