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Today all around the world, students are going online to search for information. They are using the Internet to locate facts, access multimedia and communicate with one another. We are aware that there has been a tangible shift from reading print to reading digital texts in school and Institutions of higher learning.
In other words, ESL learners today are reading more from the internet than from printed text. Samuel, M. (2008), in an article entitled, Reconfiguring English in the classroom said that for a student in the 20th century, his journey was from page to the screen, but for a student of the 21st century, his journey is from screen to page.
One of the major challenges a student encounters today is trying to deal with the vast amount of information available on the internet. Therefore, managing this vast amount of information, creating knowledge as well as organizing the information into some form of comprehensible output will depend very much on the learners' ability to locate, sort, select, evaluate and use the information.
Another challenge of reading online is the unpredictability of knowing where one will go when choosing the hyperlink. As Kamil and Lane (1998) state there is no way to predict whether or not that link will be useful. Therefore, without proper training and sufficient practice students will have difficulty to create a mental representation of a disjointed or multi-linear text. This in turn will affect the way the information in the text is comprehended by the students. In the end, the students might not be able to put this reading into any form of comprehensible output for their research or any other task.
In view of this, an important question that needs to be addressed is, what should reading instruction and programs today include to prepare students to face tomorrow's world? This has caused researchers and educators to question the validity of traditional print literacy in equipping students with the skills needed for reading online information or hypertext. It has also prompted the researcher to consider whether her students use different strategies when reading printed text and when reading hypertext. Furthermore, it raises some pertinent questions about reading strategies: Should teachers pay more attention to specific reading strategies to equip learners to become better online readers?
What does it take to be literate today?
The World Wide Web has become an indefinitely large, semi-chaotic collection of information in profusion of texts, graphics, images, and multimedia material. Anyone can put anything on the Web, making it essential that users have the ability to discriminate between high quality, reliable information and misleading, inaccurate information, and everything in between. The Internet and other information and communication technologies are changing the nature of literacy and literacy learning as they become an increasingly important part of our lives (Karchmer, 2001; Kinzer & Leander, 2003; and Reinking, Mckenna, Labbo, & Kieffer 1998). These researchers have argued that global economic changes have generated new information technologies that generate new literacies. Therefore, what becomes crucial to our students' literacy future is the ability to identify important problems, gather rapidly and critically evaluate relevant information from information networks, use this information to resolve central issues, and then clearly communicate the solutions to others (Leu, 2002). Most educators agree that literacy now involves being able to make sense of and navigate through several forms of information, including images, sounds, and animation for comprehension.
As a result, Shetzer and Warschauer (2000) suggest that as teachers we need to rethink our instructional goals, techniques, and objectives in order to prepare students for literacy in both paper and electronic mediums. As educators, we are not being fair to our students if we expect them to read, comprehend, and extract information from the Web without first providing explicit instruction in the unique skills needed for these tasks. Moreover, these are the skills that modern academia and the global workplace will demand of our students in the future.
First of all, in order to help our students it would be good to know how these students read hypertext. This is because reading hypertext is a unique, nonlinear experience that cannot be easily equated with reading traditional, linear printed text. Most educators agree that the students need specialized strategies and skills, which are different from those, used with print, to access and read online information. In addition, students need critical thinking skills and strategies to examine and evaluate that information, much of which is unregulated. In conclusion, in the Industrial era, knowledge was mostly paper based and readily organized into books. Retrieval was dependent on the research skills of knowing how to locate texts, use a library, understand referencing, cataloguing, indexing and so on. To be literate then was to know how to use paper based information.
However, now the Internet requires new literacies to achieve high levels of reading comprehension but we know very little about what these literacies are or how best to teach them. The report of the Rand Study Group (2002), points out that accessing the Internet makes large demands on individuals' literacy skill and very little is known how to analyse those skills. Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004 suggest that research needs to be directed to better understand the new skills, strategies and dispositions required to effectively use the Internet and other ICTs. Scholars who study reading comprehension, for example, need to examine the various components of meaning construction to help us understand the extent to which comprehension processes are similar or different within the multimedia, hyperlinked contexts of the Internet and other ICTs (Coiro, 2003). Reading comprehension is likely to be a major area of investigation because the Internet and other ICTs focus so much on information and learning text.
According to Leu, et. al 2004 there are many questions that await investigation:
What new aspects of comprehension are required when reading information on the Internet?
Are inferential processes and strategies similar or different on the Internet?
How do other aspects of comprehension process change?
Reading comprehension strategies within this context are likely to be important, and we need to know what these are. It is only when we know this that we are able to teach students these strategies.
The researcher conducted a quantitative and qualitative investigation into the metacognitive, cognitive and support reading strategies used by 10 ESL learners as they read in print and hypertext. The researcher sought to identify the types of metacognitive, cognitive and support reading strategies these readers use when reading in print and hypertext. In other words, the study looked into the differences in the choice of reading strategies used by ESL learners in comprehending printed and hypertext. Think-aloud protocol and retrospective interviews were used to identify the reading strategies used by these ESL learners.
The findings suggest that there is no significant difference in most of the strategies used when reading in print and hypertext except for two reading strategies belonging to the metacognitive category and two belonging to the cognitive category. Although the findings suggest that the processes and choices made by the subjects to comprehend hypertext were similar to print, there were some cognitive reading strategies that were used more when reading hypertext.
The two metacognitive reading strategies are determine what to read and use text features in which on the average the ESL learners used relatively more when reading hypertext then when reading printed text. The two strategies belonging to the cognitive category, trying to stay focused and use of prior knowledge in which the students utilized more frequently when reading hypertext than when reading printed text.
In general, the findings imply that the students do not use any specific set of strategies for either printed text or hypertext, except for the four reading strategies discussed earlier. Similarly by category with reference to metacognitive, cognitive and support reading strategies, there is also no significant difference in preference when reading printed or hypertext. In other words, an ESL learner uses almost the same set of reading strategies when reading print and hypertext. However, individually learners used different types of reading strategies within the metacognitive, cognitive and support categories.
Based on the findings of the study, observation and reader's profiles, three types of readers for hypertext were identified
The Novice reader is one who clicks on all or most of the hyperlinks in the hypertext he/ she is reading. The reader does not skim through the text in the hyperlink but rather reads almost every line in the text in the hyperlink. At the end, the reader is seen to loose focus on the reading purpose or leaves the hyperlink even more confused and disoriented. It seemed to the researcher that these readers felt they had to read the whole text since they clicked on the hyperlink. This is because in reading instructions and practices using printed text, students are required to read the whole text, from beginning to end as there is only one set of text to read. However, when reading hypertext the students have the choice to read not only the main text but also various texts provided by the hyperlinks embedded in the hypertext. More exposure and prior knowledge on hypertext will guide them to be skilled hypertext readers who will be able to manage and comprehend frames of pages that can lead to information overload.
When the reader is not able to get the clarification he/she wants, he/she leaves
the hyperlink. The readers assume that hyperlinks are placed for the purpose to
help comprehension of the text. However this is not true in some cases. The
purpose of some hyperlinks is just to provide additional information either in the
form of visuals or more texts.
The summary scores these ESL students obtained for the hypertext were below average. In general the summary contained more supporting details and it was not very coherent.
The Cautious reader is one who ignores all the hyperlinks or just clicks on the hyperlink only when he/ she has finished reading the paragraph, page or the whole text. Even then, he / she glanced over the text and did not engage in actively reading its contents. This reader does this so as not to be confused or distracted by the information in the hyperlinks. This is her/his way of avoiding information overload. The researcher felt that these readers approached the hypertext very much like a printed text. The summary scores these ESL learners obtained for the hypertext were in general average and above average. The summaries on the whole were fairly coherent, although there were two ESL learners whose summaries lacked coherence.
The Skilled reader is one who monitors his/her comprehension of the text before he/she decides whether or not to click on the hyperlink. If he / she finds that he/she has understood the paragraph or page he/ she would not click on the hyperlink. This appeared to be an effective strategy so that they would not waste time or get distracted. However, if he/ she entered a hyperlink he /she would only scan and skim through the text to only see if the information is relevant or not. They read selectively and did not feel that they had to finish what they started. Also, it was noted that these readers spent more hours per week on the computer than the rest of the subjects. It would seem that the exposure and prior knowledge helped them in their reading decisions and knowledge of website structure.
The summaries scores for these three ESL learners for hypertext were high. Two of these ESL Learners also obtained high scores for their summaries of the printed text. These two students were also more proficient in English as compared to all the other subjects. They had obtained a Band 5 for the MUET Exam. Although the other student's summary score for the hypertext was high, her summary score for the printed text was low.
The readers' profiles reveal that reading hypertext is an active, constructive, mean-making process (RRSG, 2003). The readers are actively constructing meaning as they interact with the various texts present in the hyperlinks (Kintsch, 1998). The subjects used their prior knowledge to comprehend the texts, integrate new ideas and to make choices on whether to click on a hyperlink or not. As Spiro, et al. (2004) reported reading on the Internet requires the ability to reassemble existing knowledge into new knowledge applications to suit each new reading situation.
Burbules & Callister, 2000, described hypertext as "a kind of informational environment in which textual materials and ideas are linked to one another in multiple ways" (p. 43). Links embedded within hypertext are constructed so that readers must select a target location (rather than just turning the page) in order to move through the text (Rouet & Levonen, 1996).
When compared to print-based texts, hypertexts require readers to take a much more active role in determining the quality and coherence of the texts they read. Some of the challenges the 10 ESL Readers in this study experienced while reading the hypertext are discussed below. These challenges are similar to other readers of hypertext reported by other researchers like Coiro, 2003; Anderson, 2001; Kamil and Lane, 1998; and Henry, 2005.
1. Reading Path
The genre of hypertext gives the reader the choice of becoming the author of the text. The reader can choose the path or direction he or she wants to take through the hyperlinks. The reader decides which link to enter, starts to read and then decides which reading path to follow. The reader can either integrate the information read on the hyperlink with the main text or abandon the main text and just move in a totally new path provided by the various hyperlinks.
It must be remembered that the path the reader chooses when reading hypertext depends on the reading purpose. The reading purpose in this study was to write a summary of the text. The subjects who were focused on the reading purpose did not click on every link. Their prior knowledge helped them realize that not all hyperlinks contribute to a deeper comprehension of the main text. However, this may be different for readers who are just searching for information. They may have to click on every hyperlink, as well as make the choice not to return to the main text, if the texts in the hyperlinks prove to be more useful or meet their reading purpose. There is also the other possibility that they may get lost in the hyperlinks maze. For these readers the skill of navigation, processing and synthesizing information is very important. Therefore, knowledge construction in hypertext shifts from the responsibilities of the writer to the shared responsibility with the reader. Therefore more so in hypertext then print, no two readers will construct exactly the same meaning from a text.
2. Reading Order
The findings in the study revealed that no two subjects shared a similar reading order. In reading hypertext the reader chooses the reading order by deciding which hyperlink to click and when. Therefore multiple links and connections make up the structure of hypertext. A printed text which is linear in nature has an obvious beginning and end, while hypertext appears to have no end. The reading order for readers of the printed text is the same because everyone gets the same text. However, hypertext lends itself to different reader paths because of the variety of ways of connecting the variety of texts.
Reading hypertext is characterized by a combination of the reader choosing an entry point and then exercising power over the depth of processing (Nielsen, 2000).
3. Managing Information Overload
Another challenge that needs to be addressed was that some of the subjects in the study did not know how to manage the wealth of information they read. There is a need for them to be skillful in evaluating then deciding which information is relevant, inaccurate or incomplete. This is where critical thinking skills play a very crucial role.
Bolter (1998), states that "Hypertext seems to embody a model of reading as the active construction and critique of meaning. Social constructivists agree that students, ought to be critical readers who understand their role in the process of meaning construction" (p.10). There is a need for reading instruction to include and stress on the skills of critical thinking. The goal is to produce critical hypertext readers, so that the students can make better choices as they navigate the hypertext.
4. English Proficiency
Students with limited English vocabulary found it a barrier to activate reading strategies for reading hypertext or forage quickly through the various texts. It was observed that subjects 3,4 and 5, whose overall language proficiency was not as good as subjects2 and 7 had difficulty effectively reading the various texts. Gelderen et al.(2004) reported that both metacognitive awareness and vocabulary knowledge contributed significantly in L2 reading comprehension in contrast to metacognitive awareness alone in L1 reading comprehension. Therefore, readers of hypertext must posses a good command of vocabulary knowledge.
5. Unpredictability -Taking risks
In reading hypertext readers constantly encounter uncertainties because of the hyperlinks. One of the reasons could be the lack of confidence and practice in reading hypertext. This is especially true of subjects 3, 5, 6 and 8 who spent less than five hours per week on reading on the computer. They lacked the prior knowledge of organizational and structural features of hypertext. Readers like subject 2 and 7 who have had more time and practice reading hypertext integrated their prior knowledge of hypertext genre as they read the hypertext in the study.
6. Prior Knowledge
The lack of background knowledge was seen as an obstacle in understanding the text. Anderson and Pearson, (1984) stated that schemata assist the readers in initially making sense of what the reader reads and, relating new information acquired to prior knowledge. The findings suggested that reading hypertext appeared to require prior
knowledge as they read the hypertext. The two types of prior knowledge that skilled readers drew upon while reading hypertext were prior knowledge of topic and prior knowledge of website structures. Subject 2 and 7 drew from their prior knowledge of hypertext structure to guide them reading the hypertext. This knowledge included how to deal with hyperlinks and decisions-making skills.
7. Managing Hyperlinks
Hyperlink is a feature of hypertext which allows the readers to navigate between the associated links or nodes in a text. The way in which each reader chooses to move between the links is unique. The reader must consider where they are in the text and whether the information fits their purpose or helps enhance comprehension of the text. Due to this, reading hypertext becomes a more active and dynamic process than printed text, for the reader. However, readers must be able to move in and out of these links in an effective way depending on their reading purpose. As reported in this study each subject had a unique way of navigating the hyperlinks in relation to the reading purpose. The aim of reading the text is for the subjects to comprehend the text and then write a summary of it. Subject 8 only chose to click on the hyperlink after she had read the text, while subject 2, 7 and 9 questioned whether there was a need to click on the hyperlink and tried to guess whether the information would help comprehension. Subjects 5 and 6 clicked on every link in the text. They felt obligated as it was present in the text.
8. Metacognitive strategies
Cognitive and metacognitive strategies are especially important for reading. According to Kasper, 1997 and Carrell, 1989 high level of metacognitive awareness is associated to high level of reading comprehension ability. The subjects in this study for both the printed text and hypertext used more cognitive strategies than metacognitve strategies. However, when reading hypertext the subjects used more of the metacognitive strategies of determine what to read and use text features. Despite the large repertoire of cognitive and metacognitive reading strategies used, most of the subjects were not able to write a good summary of the hypertext. Schwartz et al, (2004) reported that monitoring one's own learning becomes more important because hypertext structures are more demanding.
Although the research sample for this study was relatively small, only 10 subjects and it involved subjects from one faculty, the findings of this study to a certain extent have significant implications on teachers, reading instruction, curriculum design, research and material production.
Firstly, the most prominent outcome of this study has been in verifying the metacognitive and cognitive reading strategies that ESL learners used to aid comprehension of a hypertext. This study has identified 2 metacognitive, and 2 cognitive reading strategies that students used more frequently when reading hypertext than when reading printed text. Due to the structure of hypertext and the hyperlinks, the metacognitive reading strategies of determining what to read and the use of text features were frequently used in the reading process. This was also true for the cognitive reading strategies of trying to stay focused and using prior knowledge that the subjects used to aid comprehension. It would seem that the subjects depended on the above reading strategies more to help them read and manage information found on the hypertext than printed text.
Although, the subjects in the study were proficient in English and had above average grades for their reading, most of the subjects reported that they have difficulty in reading hypertext. Firstly, difficulty here refers to reading hypertext on screen. Most students are more comfortable printing online materials and reading them. Secondly, would be deciding on which hyperlink to enter and which to ignore which in turn affects the reading order. Thirdly, would be the depth of processing the various frames of pages embedded in the hyperlinks. Finally, would be integrating the information read from the hyperlinks with the main text. An organizer that can help them to map out the different information read would be helpful. Therefore, it is not surprising that most of the subjects' scores for the summary were below average as compared to their summary scores for the printed text.
This shows that text structure plays a significant role in reading comprehension. This further strengthens the notion that ESL learners need to be trained to be skilled readers of hypertext. Today, particularly in the educational context for many students, reading is undoubtedly one of the most important skills and with the Internet playing a prominent role in education, ESL readers need to be skilled readers of hypertext.
The findings of the study further concur with other hypertext reading researchers that reading hypertext is not a simple process. In this study the subjects were engaged in various cognitive processes as the hypertext just does not involve one text but rather a number of texts because of the presence of hyperlinks. This points to the fact that Educators and Curriculum designers should not treat reading hypertext as a simple act or a mere transfer of skills from print to hypertext. There is a dire need to implement reading comprehension instruction that would help ESL learners to manage the unique characteristics of hypertext such as the openendedness and multi-linearity of it.
In light of this, reading strategy instruction for the mentioned metacognitive and cognitive reading strategies as well as other relevant reading strategies like comprehension monitoring should be viewed seriously. These metacognitive and cognitive strategies will help the ESL learner process the information from hypertext into some form of comprehensible output for the students. Comprehension monitoring is also crucial because readers need to possess the ability to be aware of what kind of reading problems they are encountering and what kind of strategies could be used to solve them.
Moreover, the ability of comprehension monitoring enables readers to integrate different types of new information. The sole aim is to equip ESL learners with skills to help them function efficiently and independently in their studies as well as their career. Therefore, teachers now have to reassess the reading instructional goals and practices in the classroom to incorporate the multi-linear and open-ended characteristics of hypertext that require readers to build their prior knowledge and also utilize a different set of strategies.