by Julie Coiro
In 2011, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published Students Online: Digital Technologies and Performance (Volume VI). This paper summarizes the results of the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates educational outcomes in school systems in some 70 countries that, together, make up nine-tenths of the world economy.
The PISA 2009 report details and compares student performance in digital and print reading, especially in relation to family background and socio-economic status; student engagement and attitudes; use of computers at home and at school; navigational patterns; online reading practices; and learning strategies (e.g., the awareness of strategies to understand and summarize information).
For classroom teachers and researchers, some of the most interesting findings include the following:
- With respect to the benefits of using the Internet at school, the report indicates, "Within countries, the digital divide is often linked to students’ socio-economic background. Students from socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds have higher levels of computer and Internet access at home; however, in some countries, the inequalities in the level of computer use at home is narrowed when disadvantaged students are given more opportunities to use a computer at school" (p. 20). This finding highlights the importance of making time available during the school day for students to use the Internet as part of their academic learning experiences.
- However, the report also suggests, "After accounting for students’ academic abilities, the frequency of computer use at home, particularly computer use for leisure, is positively associated with navigation skills and digital reading performance, while the frequency of
computer use at school is not. These findings suggest that students are developing digital reading literacy mainly by using computers at home to pursue their interests." (p. 21). Consequently, it appears that access to computers and the Internet for academic learning tasks is not enough. More needs to be done to ensure that students have opportunities to learning experiences driven by their own questions as opposed to only investigating questions posed by teachers or researchers. Self-directed tasks and authentic contexts for conducting personal online inquiries are critical for capturing students’ true capabilities in a digital reading environment.
- A third finding highlights particular practices that appear to increase student performance on measures of online reading comprehension. For instance, “in each of the 19 countries that took part in the digital reading assessment, the more frequently students search for information on line, the better their performance in digital reading. Being unfamiliar with online social practices, such as e-mailing and chatting, seems to be associated with low digital reading proficiency; but students who frequently e-mail and chat on line also perform less well than students who are only moderately involved in these activities" (p. 21). These findings remind us that familiarity with a range of communication tools is important, but the use of these tools may foster better online reading performance when linked to purposeful opportunities to search for and summarize personally relevant online information that can be shared with others.
Findings from this report deserve the attention of literacy educators and researchers for at least three reasons. First, more needs to be done to help students develop skills in reading digital texts. Teaching effective strategies such as efficient navigation, critical evaluation, and text integration play a critical role in online reading performance. Second, the use of online texts may begin to address the underperformance of boys in reading. The PISA report indicates, “when we compare boys and girls who have similar levels of print reading proficiency, boys tend to perform better than girls in digital reading” (p. 207). These findings suggest that one way to promote better reading proficiency among boys lies in encouraging them to read digital texts.
Third, these findings help us understand that while strategies to promote wider access to the Internet at school can help lessen the gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged youth, access and increased use, by itself, is not enough. To foster the thinking required in today’s digital world, efforts need to focus on fostering the effective use of ICT in schools through project-based activities, formative student-centered assessments, and specific instructional practices that improve students’ ability to navigate, critically evaluate, and synthesize online information.
Julie Coiro is assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Rhode Island.
This article is part of a series from the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).