Students have become very proficient in operating technology, but that doesn’t mean they comprehend what they are reading on-screen. Online learning requires students to use the Internet to read and grasp new information, but a study by the University of Connecticut found a large achievement gap.
The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension: Rethinking the Reading Achievement Gap studied the reading habits of seventh-graders in two Connecticut school districts. The two groups of students were asked to complete online reading assignments in science and then write reports on their findings, but both did poorly.
“They tend to be strong in social networking, texting, video, and gaming, and incredibly weak with information,” Donald Leu, director of the new Literacies Research Lab at UConn, said in an article for District Administration. “We’ve learned that it’s important to look at those categories of skills very differently and not to assume that students are strong with online information use when they are strong with social networking.”
There was also an income gap between the two districts studied. Students who lived in the district with a median family income of $119,000 got about half of the questions right, while students in the district with a median family income of $59,000 responded correctly on fewer than 25% of the answers.
Leu said the difference may be due to spending more time teaching students to do well on standardized tests rather than to online literacy skills. He suggested students should be doing more online reading and that librarians trained in online research need take a lead role in the instruction.