Review of the Literature
The review of the literature is focused and well-organized. Each study presented offered specific relevant information on reading task, strategy, and digital environment. Implications of reviewed studies suggested a need for research to compare print reading and online reading tasks, to employ the use of coded protocols for monitoring and evaluating online reading, to gain understanding about how synthesis strategies on online reading tasks contribute to a reader’s evolving understanding of content. All studies reviewed offered evidence of a need for continued research to answer questions raised by previous research and pointed to the current study as one contribution to respond to these unanswered questions.
In contrast to other studies, this article states its conclusions upfront without offering an explicit research question. The implied question discerned from a statement at the end of the review of literature is “[how can we] better understand students’ online reading strategy use and their learning with digital sources[?]”
The participants are forty-three high school students who were enrolled in Advanced Placement classes. State-administered standardized test results were reviewed were not criteria for selection. It was assumed that these participants would have excellent verbal skills needed to self-report their metacognitive tasks while they worked through the given task. Thirty-three females and ten males participated. They all attend the same midwestern high school. Thirty students were pulled from psychology classes and ten came from English classes. The ages ranged from sixteen to eighteen years of age. No economic or ethnic demographics are provided. State-administered standardized test results were reviewed were not criteria for selection.
Researchers created a task designed to direct participants to generate a compelling question based on their research of a controversial topic, in this case, the argument for or against mountaintop removal coal mining. The online reading tasks are: information location, source evaluation, meaning making, self-monitoring, and the question-generating task. This list of tasks was generated through further review of additional previous studies.
First, participants were assessed for prior knowledge regarding the test research topic. They were then trained on verbal reporting and question generation. They were also trained in think-aloud procedures. All participants conducted an online reading session in response to the same topic prompt and same task request. Participants were encouraged to use the full amount of their 60-minute time allotment because the researchers wanted an even distribution of data across all participants.
During the sessions, participants were encouraged to move their cursor over the spot of the web page that they were reading and thinking about. This cursor movement was electronically tracked in addition to verbal data. After the session, the participants had time to write their question. They were allowed to look back at online data if needed to complete this task.
Think aloud reporting was synchronized with screen recordings of cursor movements. Camtasia videos contained both the recordings of verbalizations, eye movements, and computer activity. A scoring rubric was created using the same reading tasks identified above.
Four raters formed four different rating pairs. Pairs were used to double score each participant’s data. The written questions were evaluated along with the participants’ justifications for their generated question. Consistency for inter-rater reliability was achieved through a general assessment model.
Data analysis techniques included descriptive statistics and correlation analysis, path analysis, and mediation analysis.
The performance quality varied by the type of strategic processing. All scored in the low to middle range on measures of both reading strategies and reading outcome. Information location scored the relative highest (6.58 out of highest possible score of 10). Source evaluation scored the relative lowest (4.02 out of 10).
Highest bivariate correlations were found between the following pairs:
- Information location and source evaluation
- Meaning making and source evaluation
- Meaning making and self-monitoring
- Question generation and meaning making
The performance quality varied by the type of strategic processing. All participants scored in the low to middle range on measures of both reading strategies and reading outcome. Information location scored the relative highest (6.58 out of highest possible score of 10). Source evaluation scored the relative lowest (4.02 out of 10).
Path analysis revealed:
- Self-monitoring was a predictive indicator of source evaluation.
- Self-monitoring and source evaluation together were predictors of information location
- Self-monitoring alone was not indicative of effective information location.
The combined tasks of self-monitoring, source evaluation, and meaning making were significant predictors of higher scoring question-generation, with meaning-making being the single most likely strategy to producing a quality discussion question.
In sum, online reading cannot succeed without readers’ efforts to identify, analyze and synthesize information. The ability to evaluate sources was also a significant strategy for the reading of online texts. Information location alone was found to be insufficient for learning new information from online texts.
As noted above, there was no explicit research question posed. The researchers note that one of the limitations of their study was their built-in time limit. When participants face a new task under a time pressure, a “representational bottleneck” can affect performance, and therefore, study results. This time pressure may have forced some participants to choose between locating information and close reading for meaning making. Another limitation was that lack of prior knowledge of a topic can limit the ability to find information based on key terms that are intrinsic to the topic offered to participants.
Another noted limitation was the sample size for path analysis (n=43). Larger samples are generally required for this type of analysis. In addition, because participants were pulled from AP classes and not from the broader population of high school students, the results cannot be generalized. Further, researchers did not test the participants for any bias towards the proffered topic which may or may not have affected their approach to the task. On that note, the study did not take into account any of the human factors of feelings, motivations, interests, etc., that could also affect the attitudes or approach the participants brought to the task.
While the authors fully documented research to justify their study, they did not suggest much in the way of future research topics. Given that source evaluation was deemed a critical skill, perhaps a study could focus on what cognitive skills and what characteristics of reading material make for compelling source evaluation. The current social discourse on controversial topics call for such a study and for teaching such skills.
Implications for Practice
The authors strongly encourage future studies of adolescent literacy instruction can leverage young people’s literacy practice in everyday lives. A narrow focus on information location can lead less capable readers to accept or reject information based only on a broad topic match. This observation suggests that providing topic knowledge before attempting online searches would be beneficial for more effective information searches. Researchers identified making informed decisions about sources as one of the goals for reading online texts. Educators should offer opportunities for instruction in authentic digital settings to allow students to practice these skills, or at the very least, bring an awareness to the need to obtain these skills. Teaching one key skill at a time is helpful, but there should be many opportunities to use strategies together along with activities to encourage students to reflect on their thinking. Checklists, teacher scaffolding, and teacher modeling of strategies were all suggested as ways to build skills for both proficient and less skilled readers.