Reads well with others

Understanding the rise of digital social reading

Carl Blyth, University of Texas at Austin


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Current e-reading devices allow multiple readers to read the same text together, annotate the text and to share their annotations with each other. The resulting practice is referred to as digital social reading. This new literacy practice violates many readers’ expectations of what it means to read based on a shared “print culture” (Baron, 2013). This poster frames digital social reading in terms of a growing “participatory culture” (Jenkins, 2009) in which practices that once were individual are quickly becoming social. The impact of digital social reading and other forms of digital literacy has recently become the center of academic controversy. On the one hand, literature specialists claim that it jeopardizes close reading skills long associated with traditional forms of academic literacy (Bauerlein, 2008). On the other hand, new media scholars argue that the real problem comes from equating reading with a narrowly defined and historically situated practice—the close reading of a printed text (Hayles, 2012). Proponents of the pedagogical affordances of digital literacy note that the question is no longer how to teach reading but rather, which kind of reading to teach? Close reading of printed texts, hyper reading of digital texts or machine reading of databases? Or, put differently, how should we teach the multiple reading skills now associated with digital literacies? In response to these questions, this poster analyzes some of the perceived pedagogical affordances of a web-based application for digital social reading called eComma (Blyth, 2014). An analysis of the use of eComma in four different classrooms suggests how L2 teachers are employing digital social reading as a “bridging activity” (Hayles, 2012; Thorne & Reinhardt, 2008) that partially resolves the reported clashes between print and digital cultures.

Carl Blyth

University of Texas at Austin