Nobody doubts the essence of reading in education. In addition to its role as the main way to enrich one’s experiences for constructing knowledge, reading is also the most effective tool for sharpening analytical and critical thinking, developing creativity, enhancing concentration, enriching vocabulary, improving writing skills, and so on. Without appropriate reading skills, a student will likely fail in learning.
However, Gen Zers, the generation cohort which begins to flood higher learning today, seem to suffer from a crisis in reading. I identified this through my daily interactions with them. Since the end of the 1990s, realizing my students’ keenness of using technology in their daily lives, I have implemented a blended learning approach. I expect this approach can combine face-to-face instruction good educational aspects with the accessibility and convenience offered by technology to improve the students’ learning experience. After several years’ experimentation, the flipped classroom seems to be the best type of blended learning for increasing their engagement. In the flipped classroom all course topics are presented in the form of digital texts (modules) accompanied by relevant PowerPoint slides, images, and videos. These materials are uploaded to the class learning management system (LMS) so that each student attending the class can easily access them.
In the class, the study of a new topic begins by asking the students to access the materials related to the topic and study them outside of the class in a certain period of time. To prove that they have finished studying the topic, each of them should write a summary. Having studied the topic, the students will have the proper knowledge base to actively contribute to class or group discussions held in a face-to-face session in the classroom. The knowledge base that has been developed through discussion in the class will then facilitate each student to contribute to the group project carried out online at the LMS or in the next face-to-face sessions.
This scenario could work with the millennial (or Generation Y) students. Though they found it “too demanding” in the beginning, most of them could adapt after going through one or two sessions. But the influx of Gen-Zers into the class made the flow of the learning activities jammed, as shown by the following talks taking place in the middle of the semester of a class.
“I wonder why only some of you submitted the summary of module 3 to the online class before the deadline.”
One of the students replied, “So sorry, Sir. “I found it difficult to finish reading the module. It’s too long. That’s why I missed the deadline.”
“Well, most of you gave the same reason when you couldn’t submit the summary of Module 1 and 2. Don’t you think we shouldn’t fail the same way again and again? The module’s only 30 pages in length. Isn’t it quite surprising you couldn’t make it in 10 days?” Then I addressed another student, “What about you, young lady?”
She responded, “Me too, Sir. I've tried to read it several times. Using my smartphone, I read it on the bus I also read it while having lunch and dinner or before going to sleep. But I still couldn't make it.”
To get a different view, I asked students who had successfully completed the summary. “You submitted the summary even three days before the deadline, Helena. Can you share us how you did it?”
“I first watched the video and then studied the slides, Sir. Both gave me the general ideas of the topic. After that, I tried to study each idea in detail once at a time in the modules. Finishing studying the modules, I made the summary,” replied she.
“Great! Did you do all of these in your smartphone only?
She resumed, “The smartphone contributed a lot. I studied the videos and slides in it. But I found it’s more effective to study the module in print for I could underline or put marks and notes to help me understand it. Studying a long and complex text is more effective in print.”
As shown in the talk, compared to the Millenials or Generation Y, Generation Z (Gen Zers) has a bigger problem in reading. They are more impatient to read longer, denser, and more complex texts. Although Gen Zers also showed impatience to read long, dense and demanding texts, the Gen Zers’ crisis in reading is more severe. In my opinion, Gen Zers’ crisis in reading is mainly due to their tight connection with mobile devices, apps, social media and instant messaging facilitated by the information and communication technology (ICT). Born in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, they grew up in the current ubiquitous mobile communications environment. The Millennials also grew up in the era of technology and the internet development, but it was in the era of Gen Zers when various interconnected smart technologies are exponentially advanced which drive them to be used to multiple devices. Shaara Roman accentuated, “Millennials are tech-savvy. Gen Z’s are tech native.” Goldman Sachs reports almost half of Gen Zers spend 10 hours online every day. It is not because they are addicted to their smartphone but because it is an extension of themselves.
Their extensive of ICT has driven Gen Zers to practice light reading—reading for getting the pieces of information that serve one’s agendas—only. Since browsing the information related to any topic on the internet could be done easily and instantaneously, they just skim a text in seconds, move to other texts and skim them to get the information they need. The tendency to skim is then reinforced by the provision of visual contents on the internet, as shown by their inclination to access YouTube rather than texts to get information. When they read a text, they just look at a small portion of the word. Nielsen (2008) reported that most internet users are more likely to read only 20% of the words on a Web page during an average visit. In short, on-screen reading has moved deep reading from Gen Zers.
The idea that the current students’ crisis in reading is caused by their habit of practicing light reading only using the materials provided by ICT is clarified by Liu (2005) who found that the norm of reading among today’s students is skimming. Due to the increasing amount of time spent in reading electronic documents, the screen-based reading behavior has emerged. It is “characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in-depth reading, and concentrated reading.” This reading behavior, at the same time, diminishes sustained attention and removes annotating and highlighting, two important activities readers do while reading printed texts.
Screen-based reading behavior is very disadvantageous. The study of Mangen et.al. (2015) revealed that students who read printed texts were superior in their comprehension to their peers who read the digital texts. On-screen reading also affects cognitive processes (Wylie at.al., 2018), metacognition or calibration (Norman & Furnes, 2016), and memory and recall (Porion et al., 2016).
To conclude, the discussion above shows that on the one hand, on-screen reading habit provided by ICT has caused a reading crisis among Gen Zers, and it is very disadvantageous. On the other hand, technology use cannot be avoided because technology is necessary for us to connect to the whole world and to get certain information quickly. What is more, to Gen Zers it has been
In relation to that, to help Gen Zers overcoming their difficulty in learning due to their reading crisis, two points are recommended. First, they should be facilitated to practice deep reading. Reading is a skill everyone can develop through practices. Second, while they are in the process of mastering deep reading, to let the learning process run quite well, lecturers need to provide learning texts that are more Gen-Zers-friendly. Typically, such texts should facilitate the students’ visual orientation and fondness of interesting styles. Thus, the texts need to be written in a bit more popular style and include big colorful images and pictures. To prevent the texts too “heavy” for the students, they should merely provide the required contents. Further or extra details can be integratively provided using hyperlinks to online content.
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (email@example.com)