DigiLit Sunday: Digital vs. Non-Digital? It depends…

Margaret Simon put out a call, a proposition for her DigiLit link up: Digital versus Non-Digital?  


Like all things in teaching and most things in life, there is not one answer. Thank you, Margaret, for putting out the call to share our experiences around this ever-changing proposition. From what I can see after four years of teaching, reading and writing in digital environments, I’d have to say, that what works best all depends. 

It depends on the person. There are a fair number of students who process better in a digital environment. A keyboard is a place their fingers move readily. The pen is their enemy. Those students who have difficulty forming letters can show their thinking when given a device. It could be the pure physicality of it, but I suspect it also is an enormous benefit of seeing your words appear in a clear context.   

Some students who process best on paper. I was one of those people for a long time. I could not think on a keyboard. Now, the majority of my writing is done in a digital space. For students with limited access to technology, and relative success with paper and pen, when given a choice, they choose paper.

It depends on the task Digital tools are just that, a tool. They provide an access point for communication. 

To make the best choice, I ask my students (and myself) three questions.

  1. What is my purpose/desired outcome?
  2. Where do I do my best work?
  3. How much time do I have?

Recently, my students had to do a research project on a topic of their choice. How to go about their research and writing depended on the answers to those questions. And it changed throughout their project.

It depends on aesthetics. For myself, I’ve seen aesthetics play a large role. As a teen, I loved paperback books. Hardcover books were not comfortable in my hands. My first Kindle device took some getting used to, and I disliked it for anything that required my full attention; it seemed less satisfying.  I wanted to touch pages, feel the weight of a book in my hands. See how many pages I had gotten through, had to go. But when I did not have a book in my bag, I had my phone. And slowly, electronic reading became a habit of convenience, and I let go of my old ideas of what reading should feel like. This summer I returned to the pleasure in paper bound books. I read blogs and news digitally. The immediacy and visuals often connected to this type of literature seem best fitted for digital consumption. But books and bookmarks are back in my life, and it feels good.

Some students, report digital reading is easier. Their eyes to run down a page at a quicker rate. Students love digital spaces they can access quickly and can understand readily. In these cases, digital reading results in a higher “joy” factor.

Bottom line in my view: It is vital that we provide digital opportunities alongside book-filled libraries, notebooks, stacks of paper and vibrant pens and pencils because it all depends.

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