Reading Between the Lines: Designing Interactive and Engaging Reading Assignments Online

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In online environments, students read all the time, yet effective pedagogical approaches to reading are underexplored. In this session, participants will consider effective approaches to engaging their students in reading text. Participants will leave with a digital reading framework to apply to designing online reading activities.

Extended Abstract

In hybrid and online environments, students read all the time: they're reading assignment instructions, discussion forum posts, instructor announcements, and, of course, any assigned reading content. Yet discussions about hybrid and online pedagogy can take reading practices for granted, often moving first to conversations about multimedia-rich content, like video and audio, before examining approaches to engaging students with text. Text itself remains one of the most accessible ways to communicate content to students, yet we don't often pay adequate attention to text design that may appeal to the diverse student readers in our hybrid and online courses. Many students in higher education struggle with academic reading (Smale 2020, Carillo 2019, Sweeney 2018, Schneps 2013), and this struggle can become compounded when that reading is delivered on-screen and out of any particular social context.  In hybrid and online courses in particular, students have to use a variety of techniques to switch between reading instructional content, academic content, and social content. As educators Douglas Hartman and Paul Morsink (2015) assert, a “21st-century reading landscape” puts readers at a “crossroads” where they face “ a bewildering - or exhilarating - array of choices about what to read, how to read, what reading-assistive technologies to use, how to document or archive their reading, with whom to share their reading (synchronously or asynchronously) and how to (re)conceive the very idea of reading" (p. 75). This array of spaces, varieties, techniques, and environments for reading just goes to show that learning to read well is a lifelong journey, one that does not end at basic literacy acquisition. We must, therefore, be more attentive to the role that reading might play in effective online pedagogy.

In this education session, I will engage participants in conversation about what instructors might want to be attentive to when assigning reading in digital environments and using text to communicate key instructinoal content in their classes. This session will open with a conversation about the existing research literature on how students perceive of reading in their online classes and what struggles they suggest about reading in digital spaces. We will then move into hands-on activities responding to these struggles, considering how we might improve the reading experience for students engaging both with instructional content (like assignment instructions) and subject-based content (like course readings). For example, in small virtual breakout groups, we will engage in a document design activity where participants will work in small groups to consider how they would approach and redesign texts for online instructional content. We will move from that activity to considering a digital reading framework that instructors might adopt when encouraging students to focus on long blocks of text as part of reading assignments in online environments. Participants will then have an opportunity to read an infographic developed based on the framework and to apply concepts from the framework to a possible reading that they may want to engage their students in as part of their own teaching experience.

By the end of the session, participants will leave with concrete document design suggestions and a list of possible online reading activities to make reading both more engaging and accessible to students in higher education classrooms.