Six ways iPad worsened illiteracy in the United States
The iPad technology has made life easier, but it has also contributed to the already deteriorating illiteracy in the country. Coupled with decreased interest in reading and poor comprehension, the American school system encourages illiteracy.
iPad side effects in reading and comprehension
- iPad stole the joy of reading.
- Discouraged critical thinking.
- Replacing print was a bad idea.
- Caused a shorter attention span.
- Rewiring the brain.
- Caused poorer penmanship.
1. iPad stole the joy of reading
Reading for fun is no longer pleasurable
Reading for fun has become less pleasurable, according to a Pew survey. It was at its lowest point in 2019 since the question was first asked in 1984.
The percentage of public school students who said they read 30 minutes or more daily, besides homework, declined from 2017 to 2019, even before the pandemic. [NAEP 2009]
Writing or doing quick annotations in a physical book helps us better understand what we’re reading. You can do this on an iPad or tablet, but it’s not tactile, which makes the experience less effective.
AI technology: A threat to education?
In 2020, copy.ai was founded, and by 2023, dozens of AI companies sprung up where you can create an essay out of thin air. With a few keywords, AI can do better homework.
Using iPads in school has radically changed the reading and writing research culture. But with the ChatGPT introduced just recently in 2022—there’s no stopping AI from encouraging lazy students.
The point is that why read more when AI can do it for you?
Advantages of reading from a printed material
According to Naomi S. Baron, Professor Emerita, American University, more than 400 university students from five countries preferred text in print.
It’s easier to underline, highlight, annotate, or go back and forth in printed reading materials. Hence, students can pick the most relevant information for learning and writing applications.
- 86% preferred reading longer texts in print.
- 92% said it was easiest to concentrate when reading print.
- Random studies point to several scientific advantages of reading printed books. For example, a physical book helps children become better readers and amplifies the joy of reading.
- Students who have books at home are more likely to score higher on tests, according to a study of readers from 42 countries. [Oxford Academic]
Bibliosmia: The immersive experience of a physical book
The iPad replaced the tactility of a physical book. Without bibliosmia (the smell of paper) and the feeling of holding a book, the sensory experience is less immersive.
Bibliosmia whets our appetite to read and think. The scientific reason is that the vanilla-ish scent from wood-based paper contains lignin, which is closely related to vanillin. [Chen]
2. Reading online discourages critical thinking
With iPads, students became more flexible as they no longer needed to carry books around. It came with free apps like iLitt, Sora, DeltaMath, albert.io, and Schoology, which easily centralized the curriculum.
More importantly, students can study or research from anywhere, allowing them extra time for other activities. Still, it did little to improve literacy. ACT/SAT scores continue to decline.
But the most devastating effect of technology such as iPads is it discourages critical thinking, study shows.
Negative effects of online reading
Current research suggests that reading online, such as on the iPad, results in lower understanding and less critical reflection. [Allcot, 2021]
About 85% of students were more likely to multitask in an online environment, and only 26% when reading print. [Baron, 2013-2015]
3. Replacing print with iPad worsened illiteracy
It is counterproductive to do homework, research, or study work on an iPad than on paper. But taking notes or quick research is beneficial using a laptop which would have been better than an iPad.
iPad is producing poor readers
Screen‐based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing, keyword spotting, and reading more selectively—while less time on in‐depth concentrated reading. [Ziming Liu]
In an article by Naomi Baron in 2017, ‘Reading in a Digital Age,’ she noted that when students have a choice, they spend less time on digital reading and have lower comprehension scores. [Ackerman, Goldsmith, 2011]
The perfect storm for illiteracy
When smartphones and iPads became popular in the 2010s, the observable fact is that they distracted many kids. Instead of exploring and reading to feed an imaginary world, the iPad was their universe.
Soon, free iPads were rolled out in high school. With data on demand, why put effort into deducing thought and meaning in book reading assignments?
After all, there’s a ton of summarized content and analysis on the web.
Hence, freshmen in high school are groomed to be lazy readers. Coupled with digital distractions and leniency, it’s the perfect storm for producing illiterate young Americans.
4. Cause for shorter attention span
iPads are associated with attention deficit
Several factors influence attention span. Still, just like any gadget, a study shows that the iPad is associated with a shorter attention span that involves a level of exogenous stimuli exposure. [Espiritu, 2016]
Statistical Association of iPad and Attention Deficit
- Regular smartphone and iPad use increases the risk of children developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
- Teenagers who frequently use the gadgets were found to be twice as likely to develop ADHD symptoms (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
- The link was persistent among almost 2,600 US teenagers tracked for two years.
Although more teachers can discipline their students to keep smartphones away, a student can easily be distracted because the iPad can be used for personal stuff, games, or chatting discreetly—while in class.
Even if teachers have access to see what students are doing with their iPads, going through that would distract the teachers themselves from what is more essential in the class.
5. “The Shallows” in 2011
Nicholas Carr wrote the book Shallows in 2011. He’s foreseen the negative impact of tablet technology on young individuals.
He said, “Brain scans have also revealed that people whose written language uses logographic symbols, like the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is considerably different from the circuitry found in people whose written language employs a phonetic alphabet”
In other words, people used to phonetic alphabets may struggle to understand online content because their brains will have to readjust to a different reading circuitry.
Even if one’s brain circuit has adjusted, the internet “scatters attention,” making us jump from one topic of interest to another, he noted.
What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
- Reduced Concentration: Online reading can lead to shorter attention spans and difficulty concentrating on lengthy or complex content.
- Distractions: Hyperlinks, ads, and multimedia elements can disrupt the reading experience and divert focus away from the main content.
- Ebooks are more distracting given that it is read in a “distracting medium,” such as an iPad, to begin with.
- Superficial Comprehension: Online readers may have a tendency to skim and scan, resulting in a superficial understanding of the material.
- Shallow Thinking: The constant access to information online can discourage deep thinking and reflection, promoting a more superficial mode of processing information.
- Impaired Memory: Carr discusses how the internet’s accessibility to vast amounts of information can reduce our reliance on memory, as we can quickly look up facts rather than committing them to memory.
6. iPad encourages poor penmanship
Elementary students have no writing discipline
Elementary schools in America have abandoned structured phonics and scriptwriting. Even the way a child holds the pencil has been ignored. Apparently, these do not make a difference in a child’s ability to read and write.
But that is not what we see today.
After the pandemic, many high school students who get a driver’s license do not know how to write their signatures, a DMV staff have observed.
Experts blame gadgets for poor penmanship
An incorrect pencil grip can lead to learning difficulties, pain, and poor motor skills. The ideal” tripod grip” is the best hand position for handwriting speed and muscle ease. [Theraphy Solution]
Today, millions of high school students do not even know how to hold a pencil or write legibly correctly, and “experts” blame gadgets. [Guardian]
“Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly unable to hold it because they don’t have fundamental movement skills,” said Sally Payne, head of the pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England Foundation.
The proper way to write is learned during early education. Perhaps, it’s the teachers who we should blame.
Poor penmanship among high school students
A high school student who wasn’t trained to use the pencil properly during elementary years will most likely never learn to do so.
In middle school, kids used Chromebooks to type in notes, but in high school, the norm is for students to use their index finger to write on the iPad.
The remedy is for them to write in journals which many teachers have adopted. However, it may be too late.