So I’ve Been Thinking about Digital Reading (How & Why)

Greg Kulowiec
Aug 16, 2018 · 5 min read

I’m spending a few days at Mercersburg Academy in PA to help teachers integrate technology in a flipped classroom environment. They spent two days with Jon Bergman to explore the why, research and process behind flipped learning and I get to follow up with the how. One component of our technology exploration has been making text more accessible on student devices for a flipped classroom. There are a spectrum of approaches for creating or having students engage with digital text, but my goal was to move beyond PDF annotation on iPads and to expose the teachers in the group to other, potentially more impactful possibilities.

The How of Digital Reading — 4 Approaches

Digital text to Digital Book (ePub) — Google Document Hack

This is one of my favorite process if you want to compile multiple readings into one digital book. Simply paste the text of the readings into a Google Document. Before exporting, create a table of contents in the document (this will translate as a TOC in the digital book / ePub file).

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Creating a Table fo Contents in Google Docs for an ePub File

With the Table of Contents in place, export the Google Doc as an ePub and distribute to your students via Google Classroom, Drive or any LMS that you use. This filetype is ideal if students have iPads or mobile devices, but it also works well on MacBooks in the iBooks reader.

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Turning a Google Doc into an ePUB

Transforming Digital Text with Embedded Content — GoFormative

GoFormative has an exceptionally helpful question type that allows teachers to Enhance an existing file (PDF). Once uploaded, teachers can add and embed content (video) and questions, comments or guides along the way. The benefit to this reading experience is that students can document their understanding along the way (short form response or M/C Questions) and the teacher can develop a sense of their understanding. Prior to class, the teacher can now develop a very clear sense of what their students understand, where confusion exists and this can guide their in class experience.

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Visualizing Collaborative Reading — Prism

I remember being introduced to Prism a few years ago and being absolutely blown away by the potential of the reading platform. The unique capacity of this tool is that it visualizes student understanding and interpretation of a text based on 3 pre-created facets of understanding. Each facet has a unique color and when students read the text, they can code the reading with these three ideas. Upon completion, both the teacher and student can get a visualization of how the reading was interpreted by their classmates. From the teacher perspective, the reading can now be projected and the visualization can help provide insight into how the reading was interpreted the night before by their students.

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Creating a Collaborative, Visualized Reading with Prism
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Visualizing a Reading in Prism

Social Reading — Perusall

I was recently exposed to Perusall and was immediately interested in the potential of this social / collaborative reading platform. The premise is very similar to Subtext (iPad app from a few years back), as it allows the teacher to upload a reading and assign the reading or a portion of the file to students. The value added in this environment is that students are able to read collaboratively, insert comments in the margin of the reading and reply to each other’s ideas. The teacher can also include embedded content (text, images, links, video) ahead of time to guide the student experience. I wrote a bit more about Perusall, if you would like a deeper dive into the tool.

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Embedding Comments in Perusall

Why Digital Reading?

I traditionally like to start with the “why” (it was Simon Sinek’s TED Talk that exposed me to this method of thinking), but in this instance I thought educators would be interested in a few tools to jump start the process…so here we are, the why.

With regards to digital reading, there are distinct advantages, that that doesn’t mean the argument is cut and dry or that this is an either or conversation. ePub files allow for font size adjustment, page color adjustment and the text can be read back to the student. There is an embedded search tool and sticky notes can be added to specific passages for future retrieval. The student (end user experience) with ePub files is likely a positive one and a step up from a vertically scrolling PDF. With regards to GoFormative and reading experiences with embedded content and questions, I like the value added for the teacher, but worry about the take-away for the student. They don’t have the file or their ideas when they are done engaging with the text. In this instance, we must be careful about how and when we are using the tool. With regards to Prism & Perusall, I think both have immense classroom potential. For shorter reads, Prism has a unique approach that could unlock classroom discussion post reading because of the visual nature of the tool. Perusall has immense value added for both students and teachers. The social, collaborative nature of the reading experience can help students with their sticking points, areas of the reading where they feel like they can’t proceed. These areas can be targeted ahead of time by the teacher or their classmates may assist prior to class. For the teacher, the auto grading and confusion report generated after students read could be both a time saving mechanism and a tool to help use class time more effectively.

Ultimately, digital reading isn’t going away. Yet, I think we should consider if it is the best experience in that instance for our students.

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