This OUP webinar was facilitated by Thomas Healy. He suggests that the reading skills required by the selfie generation are different than what we traditionally identify as important attributes. He envisions this dichotomy in this way:
20th century learners >>>> Selfie generation
Text >>>> Picture, sound, video
Single task >>>> Multi-tasking
Independent & individual >>>> Interactive, networked
The physical world >>>> The digital world
Healy asserts that this presents a double challenge for our teaching because Ss are required to read both traditional print and digital text. Some of the other challenges he identified include skimming, scanning and all the other traditional skills in a digital environment, dealing with proximity issues (scrolling to find information as opposed to having it within frames in print), dealing with ‘rabbit hole’ issues (getting distracted by hyperlinks and wandering away from the text), and dealing with cognitive load.
He proposes interactive PDFs as a solution. Have you ever filled a PDF form before? PDF forms are a type of interactive PDF. An interactive PDF allows users to do more than just read information; there might be hyperlinks, embedded audio or video clips, and text boxes to type information. When I was with Deloitte, there was a top down imperative to reduce the number of handouts used for courses and since all the employees had laptops, we created interactive PDFs. The rationale was to save paper rather than address the needs and affordances of millenials. Although there was WiFi everywhere, my colleagues and I were a little skeptical of creating activities that would have the Ss wander away from the PDF … they certainly didn’t need encouragement to multitask.
Digital reading activities
Here are some of the ideas Healy shared for creating an engaging interactive PDF:
- Hyperlink pictures within the text to existing YouTube videos and ask Ss to watch the video and answer questions.
- Hyperlink to a private Facebook group and ask Ss to do a discussion activity there, for example, share some ideas about a topic. Ss are then required to report back in the interactive PDF by answering a question such as “Which of your classmates’ ideas do you agree with? Write them in the box below.”
- Include text boxes within the PDF. Ss don’t have to write in their notebooks or in MS Word. Their responses are captured in a single PDF document which they could save and share with you.
- Use screen capture tools like Camtasia to annotate text. Record yourself visually demonstrating to Ss the process of reading a text. Use different colours to highlight the different pieces of information a reader would typically look for and find. Upload the instructional video to Youtube and create a link in the interactive handout. Ss watch the instruction video before they attempt the same process for the text in the PDF. I thought this was a particularly interesting idea – ties in with the popularity of ‘how to’ and encourages learner autonomy
- Highlight structural or lexical elements in the text which could help Ss identify information such as using conjunctive adverbs or conjunctions – in contrast – to recognize contrast. This could be done through an instructional video using a screen capture tool or more simply, using an annotated image of the text.
- Annotate to demonstrate scanning; for example, show Ss how they can quickly look for proper nouns, dates, and italics.
- Give Ss a number of sources (URLs) on Facebook as a sort of webquest activity and ask them identify the source that would be appropriate for academic research. Ss must also explain why.
- Share signposts such as words like ‘however’, ‘yet’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘whereas’ and punctuation marks like ‘?’ and ask Ss to use the search tool within the PDF to find information these signposts might be connected to. I thought this was a very relevant technique which genuinely considers the affordances of the digital medium.
Healy recommends Adobe Acrobat Pro for creating interactive PDFs and Camtasia Camtasia for making instructional videos. They’re both paid software but you can try out them for the first month for free.
Here are some free tools for creating interactive PDFs:
As I was watching the webinar recording, I kept thinking about copyright issues which Healy addressed just before he concluded. Obviously, a lot of his suggestions for working with digital texts and media can only be executed if you own the copyright or if the text is in the public domain or you’ve got permission from the copyright holder.
While Healy suggested adding YouTube links, I would recommend embedding the video within the PDF in order to limit reliance on external links. This shouldn’t be a problem if it’s an instructional video that you created – it’s quite easy to embed the video using Adobe Pro. The file size bloat a bit but then there are so many ways to share files these days so I don’t see that being a problem.
Have you used these or similar ideas for enhancing digital reading skills? Do you create interactive PDFs? What’s been the learner experience?