Are you team paperback? Photo: Parker Townes.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

As a new term begins, a point of contention for students and faculty alike remains strong: physical versus online readings. Some students prefer online readings, others prefer physical textbooks. A third group, faced with this dilemma, just opt out of doing readings at all.

So, should readings be posted to Brightspace, or should Benjamin Books stay in business?

Online reading leads to low comprehension and overconfidence

For the first time in my seemingly endless university career, one of my assigned ‘coursepacks’ was not a physical compilation of articles but rather a list of accessible links on Brightspace.

At first, this felt like an academic revolution; my brilliant and innovative professor had updated undergraduate homework to the 21st century, abandoning wasteful printing practices.

I quickly realized that this innovation was anything but productive, and that the extra money in my pocket just meant extra problems on my transcript.

My subjective experience of reading through lengthy and dense academic articles online seemed to be one of more acute frustration. I was more restless, had to constantly re-read sections I should have got on the first read-through, and failed to retain information I had read seconds before.

In the end, I had to journey over to the library and print off all of the readings. It was a complete waste of time, and, after printing a couple hundred pages, refilling my student card ended up being almost as expensive as all of my other coursepacks anyway.

There is research that validates my frustration with online reading. According to these studies, online reading is less than ideal for comprehension and information retention, traits that are necessary for university students.

A 2013 study conducted in Norway found that reading physical text helps with comprehension and knowledge retention. Tenth-graders were asked to read through a 1,400 word document; some read the text in print, and the others on a computer screen. According to the study, when the students were asked questions to gauge their comprehension of the document, the students who read the physical copy, scored significantly better than those who read it online.

The important takeaway from this study is that it was significantly easier for print readers to understand what they read and, just as significantly, remember what they read. The reason for this distinction is not entirely clear, though the study suggested that it could be due to the paper giving “spatiotemporal markers while you read,” essentially, this means that the physical act of “touching paper and turning pages aids the memory,”while scrolling through a computer screen “makes remembering more difficult.”

Another study from 2012 presented a troubling reality; that reading on a computer actually makes readers more overconfident about their comprehension of the reading even when their comprehension was lower compared to paper readers. The participants read a document, then were asked to predict what they thought they would get on a comprehension test of the document, and then took a comprehension test.

Not only did the paper readers score higher on the comprehension test, their predictions for their level of comprehension were more accurate. This means that online readers think that their comprehension is better even though it is worse. Kinda like the move to online course packs itself, the change seems to be taking steps backwards even though it presents itself as moving forward.

The benefits of online coursepacks, regarding cost to your wallet and the environment, are commendable. But online course packs are fundamentally an impediment to the very function of the university. A compromise should be made. If you want to pat yourself on the back for opting to read all your material exclusively online, all the power in the world to you. But professors who understand the detriments of online reading should offer those restless and obnoxious students like me the alternative of buying a physical coursepack voluntarily.

– Connor Chase.

Online readings, better for the environment and your wallet

As the age of social media is upon us and technology begins to replace most basic human contact, more and more professors are growing fond of including online textbooks or links to resources rather than the typical hard copy books. As this trend increases, it is met with both positive and negative responses from students.

Despite a mixed response, the benefits of online readings effectively outweigh the cons. By having uploaded copies of the required readings, it eliminates the need to venture out to the campus bookstore or the DocU Centre. These treks often entail an hour waiting in line to spend hundreds of dollars on books that we only really read a couple chapters out of (or some students don’t read at all). And for those students who wish to have the physical book, many can be downloaded and thus, printed off, eliminating the need for the textbook and allowing the optional hard copy.

Due to the extremely high prices on every textbook, having to purchase them is an added expense which some students cannot afford. Some students already have to pay for tuition, rent/residence, food. Having to spend a couple hundred dollars on textbooks they’ll use for only a few months (then trying to sell again after the semester is over) is an added stress which technology could reduce.

Many professors have resorted to using coursepacks, which are just a selection of readings compiled into one book (with references included) in order to reduce the cost. The downside being that most coursepacks are not able to be resold due to them been made for a specific semester. Most just end up being disposed of which leads to added waste, and a negative impact on the environment.

Having available links makes it more accessible to all students, reduces costs, saves paper and overall is a much better option that should be adapted by more professors.

– Véronique Therrien.