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- Education / Early Childhood;
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Learning to Read in the Digital Age
Rutgers-Camden course looks at technology's impact on literacy
CAMDEN — For as long as they’ve been around, Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, and other classics have been staples in teaching a child to read. But these days, they’re looking a little different.
E-readers like iPads and Kindles are not only changing how we read, they’re changing how we learn to read. Technology’s role in literary development is the topic of an undergraduate course being taught this summer at Rutgers–Camden.
The course, “Children’s Literacies,” considers the ways in which literacy has expanded beyond learning to read and write, as a child must negotiate traditional textual and visual formats such as picture books as well as websites and handheld devices.
“Today, the same traditional text exists in electronic form; it’s interactive, and you can find any book you want in electronic media,” says Patrick Cox, a Ph.D. candidate in Rutgers–Camden’s childhood studies program who is teaching the summer session course.
Cox says today’s technology has become an integral part of a child’s education.
“Literacy is becoming more and more interactive and more about technology,” he explains. “In class, we looked at a CD-ROM version of The Cat in the Hat, which is very interactive. It fits into children’s literacy and is no better or worse than the book version. If anything, there is more pressure to use that version to expose children to the technology because it serves as both a technology instruction tool and a learn-to-read tool.”
Cox says children are becoming more proficient in new technology while also developing their reading skills, which is why technology is being integrated into literacy curriculum.
The Rutgers–Camden Ph.D. student says he recognizes that many parents may find it difficult to incorporate technology into the learning process.
“Some educators would argue that you need the book first and a lot of the tech things aren’t that good for instruction because the bells and whistles and clickable things are distractions,” Cox says. “I understand people are very connected to books and the experience of reading in that way. It is different. But I don’t think a child reading a Kindle is any better or worse than a child reading a book.”
Cox draws parallels to the incorporation of television into children’s literacy.
“The negative aspect of television was always that the child is just going to sit down in front of the TV,” says Cox. “But if they’re going to be watching TV, they may as well watch ‘Sesame Street’ or ‘Super Why!’ Both have had a huge impact on literacy instruction outside of a school setting.”
Cox continues, “I’ve been of the opinion that as long as kids are reading, it doesn’t matter if it’s a paper book or electronic book.”
A Philadelphia resident, Cox earned his undergraduate degree in cultural studies and comparative literature from the University of Minnesota. His research interests include cultural history, children’s periodicals, and children’s uses of and interactions with literature in its varying forms.
Rutgers–Camden has the first Ph.D. program in childhood studies in the United States.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse