What Are They Reading?

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As I write this blog, our students are in the midst of final exams. Everywhere I go on campus, there are students huddled over their computers, textbooks and notes working on their term papers and preparing for exams. The Spring weather has brought many students outside on the lawns and in groupings of bright red Adirondack chairs, preparing for their final days of the semester.

They seem to be focused on their reading and research. But what are they reading? A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association may provide some insights. Authored by SuHua Huang, an assistant professor of reading education at Midwestern State University, the study is entitled, “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States.”

The study was generated from Ms. Huang’s observations of her students … observations likely shared by many of us who teach today’s college students. She perceived that her students did not enjoy reading and did less reading than expected. The study attempted to provide empirical evidence.

The study represents the responses of 1,265 students from multiple disciplines who attended a public liberal arts university. Students were asked to self-report the amount of time they spent each week in activities like “academic reading, extracurricular reading, browsing the internet, working, sleeping, and socializing.”  The second phase of the study included follow up interviews of a select number of respondents as well as observations of students in several formal class settings. The findings are interesting.

Students report spending:

-       21 hours reading each week including:

·      8.9 hours on the Internet (primarily social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

·      7.7 hours on academic reading

·      4.2 hours on extracurricular reading (news, novels, nonacademic books, etc.)

The good news is that the results of this study indicate increased levels of reading than found in previous studies. For example, a study by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007 found that Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 only spent an hour a week reading and that the reading of literature had dropped by 17% in the past decade.

But the distressing news (at least for those of us who value the reading of literature and expect students to read the assigned textbooks), is the percentage of time spent with technology. Students in this study complained that their textbooks were “tedious” and “time consuming” and they typically read their texts only if the material was going to be on an exam. Most of the course related reading took place during class time rather than outside of class.

For the author of this study, these results provide a reality that needs to be faced by today’s college professors. Ms. Huang is trying to integrate social media more fully into her pedagogy. She is also trying to use social media as a means to encourage reading through online book groups to discuss both her textbooks and other literature.

Social media and the Internet are a reality and a central part of our students’ lives. But the challenge is to engender a love of reading and to help our students find a balance between academic and intellectual growth and instant communication with their friends and family.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Wednesday, 16 April 2014