Category Archives: Commentary

Ideas for Presentation on Reading (not really an outline)

Intro: Last year while reading about dyslexia I encountered an article called “The Ecology of Dyslexia.” It described the different views taken of dyslexia, based on training and motivation (i.e. parents vs. educators vs. neurologists vs. individuals with dyslexia) and the importance of understanding these differing groups, and of depending on each of their areas of expertise. In the same way it would benefit information professionals to consider the ecology of reading — the varying views and definitions taken by the academically inclined, by the educationally motivated and by the emotionally charged.

Definitions of literacy:

  • There was a time when you were considered literate if you knew how to sign your name
  • Humans have not been reading for that long; the majority of people have not been reading for very long at all
  • Rich countries are not necessarily those with the highest literacy rates
  • NEA report
  • Educators use fluency as key measurement — reading text with speed, accuracy, and expression (National Reading Panel, 2000)
  • We are now being given ever-expanding definitions of information literacy, some of which go so far as to include indicators of social behaviour and belonging
  • Reading and writing are in fact less related than we might think. (We learn a lot about the brain by studying people with brain injuries, identifying which area of the brain has been affected and determining which functions have been harmed.) In The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge describes a patient of famous neurologist Aleksandr Luria, who, after having received a bullet in his brain, could write but could no longer read, the former being an intentional activity while the latter is mainly perceptual.
  • The Ball & Moeller hypertext article stresses the need for other measurements of literacy aside from academic literacy — understanding links, design and navigation are every bit as important to “reading” most of the text that comes at us these days as knowing where the index will be in a book; Schroeder’s Table of Comparison of Institutional vs. Student-Perceived Academic Literacies shows the difference between what instructors think they are teaching and what students are learning. Ball and Moeller argue the need for “critical literacy skills” that address reading of not only academic formatted papers, but new media as well.
  • Mark Twain quote: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” What is the use of being literate if you don’t make use of it? Is knowing how to retrieve and interpret information a good measure?
  • There is no rigid definition — it is a concept in flux.

Evaluating of these definitions:

The moral of this story, simple as it is: reading is different for everyone. Our own personal experience is likely different from other people’s, in some ways. Not everyone enjoys reading — enjoyment of the reading experience becomes an important measure of the print literacy experience. If it were up to me, I would promote the idea of literacy, or at least functional literacy, as one requiring a definition based on an individual’s needs and environment. Is this person happy with their level of literacy? Is he or she able to read to his or her children? Is this person able to gain and interpret reliable medical and community information? (Illustration: A dyslexic university student can get government funding to purchase her own personal computer, scanner, OCR software, text-to-voice and voice-to-text conversion software. If this person is fully competent with computers, is able to scan her textbooks and play them back in audio form so as to have the textbook read to her, dictate her paper and have it automatically transcribed, use screenreader software to access blogs, FaceBook and Wikipedia and every other source of information a university accesses, is this person still functionally illiterate? These technologies may not be 100% reliable yet, but they are infinitely closer than they were ten years ago. In ten more years, what will our definition of functional literacy be?)


We can — and should — assume that the definition of literacy will continue to evolve (expand on this).


Another notebook note

I must try to remember which of these reading led me to this thought:

Reading could be seen as much more aligned with listening than with writing, in that in reading and listening you are a receptor, a passive participant in the act, whereas with writing there is no act of receiving — you are the active party.

Strange Note

I found the following in my notebook and can’t quite understand what I meant by it:

“reading of books” ≠ reading books

Further to “reading as arcane hobby”

I was thinking about this idea of reading as “arcane hobby” and also of the great amount and skill in reading among 9-year-olds (though not among teenagers), and am wondering if the following may become (or perhaps has already become) the norm: books will be considered tools solely in the process of mastering the art of reading, for use by children only until they are able to to seek out disparate information from the Internet and other electronic sources, piecing these elements together into their own personally defined ‘story’.

Just as the notion of “the album” (and track order) is increasingly becoming irrelevant as music-seekers  download individual tracks and rearrange them as they see fit (or shuffled as their device sees fit), will the same happen to books and stories? Is it not plausible that the notion of an author-driven narrative will become obsolete if it becomes commonplace for surfers to be dropped into a story midstream after a Google keyword search?

Jumping on the Linux Bandwagon

Joining the VRE team has heightened in a very urgent way my need for a computer that can speak 2.0. My current G3 iBook has been a wonderful little friend these past years, but despite its ability to surf and help me write papers, it is barely supporting the OS 10.3.9 that is installed on it, and more often than not new versions of software I want to install need more than it can offer. (Not to mention its inability to burn CDs, play DVDs, access streamed video or run Skype, and last but not necessary least, its 12″-screen.)

So it is with much eagerness that I am about to transform my friend Kiley’s old PC (with the assistance of my OSS-Reading-Course teammate Zac) into a Linux machine (where I can be FREE to try out a variety of Open Source software), which will hopefully fill the gaps where my Mac can’t  oblige. I will keep you posted on its progress.


(For those who find the rest of the blog too dull)


University Professor A: Have you read [insert book title]?

University Professor B: Read it? I haven’t even taught it.


How many usability experts does it take to change a lightbulb?

Find out at

(The Jared Spool contributions are particularly entertaining.)


A Heuristic Evaluation of the Usability of Infants by Scott McDaniel


This is where I come clean about my motivations for taking on this reading course:

I am well aware of the data (such as in the recent NEA report To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence) which presents seemingly alarming changes in children and adults’ reading behaviour. One of these trends is that reading for pleasure has decreased significantly. This finding saddens me, but does not surprise me. In fact, I fit the profile to a T.

I come from a family where reading was the chief source of entertainment, and my three siblings and I mutually encouraged this behaviour. Now, however, despite a continued interest in books, I struggle to sit down and read when I am not absolutely required to, not even to read a magazine article. I continue to buy books, but rarely get through them. When reading is required for a course, I can do it and gain enjoyment from the activity, which makes me question the phrase “reading for pleasure.” In my case the distinction is more between “voluntary” and “prescribed” reading. It is almost as though the enjoyable act of reading has become tainted by too much banal reading in my day-to-day life (i.e. memos, schedules, emails I don’t want to read but feel compelled to scan).

It is because of the situation described above that I have set up this reading course. If I am but a symptom of a larger systemic ailment, perhaps I can try out some possible cures on myself? In any case, although the topic fascinates me, I knew I wasn’t going to read any of this voluntarily, so I had no choice but to make my degree contingent on it…