Reading on the Internet is not simply reading from a screen. Although in some cases texts that appear on the Web are simply texts that have been written to be read on paper and then published there, learners often come across texts that have been written specifically to be read on-line. This is what some authors call authentic electronic texts. These texts have some specific characteristics that distinguish them from paper texts and the most important is the presence of links. Links turn reading into hyperreading, into non linear reading. When learners enter a homepage to look for information for example about “Icebergs”, they are likely to face a menu through a vertical and a horizontal bar. After overcoming the difficulties of selecting the link that matches their reading aims, they will come across a text that will probably contain some links. While reading this text, they will have to make decisions on which link to press and which to ignore. I am afraid this is not an easy task. Learners may be tempted by multimedia distractions, including publicity. They may be also overwhelmed by the quantity of information. The result is that they often end up disoriented in the middle of the Web without remembering very well why and how they got there.
The issue is that, when reading on-line, readers create their own text, which is made up of the different fragments they read as they press the links they choose. They have a very active role in reading, which is a fantastic opportunity, but this opportunity may become a burden if they do not possess the necessary skills. As it happens with paper reading, learners may be trained to read through the use of some strategies.
You may be thinking “let’s first face paper reading and then start with Internet reading”, but I am afraid things do not work that way anymore in our ever-changing-world. Technology is here to stay and international exams like PISA have already started to test reading comprehension on-line and no crystal ball is needed to predict the importance of the Internet in the very near future. Reading on-line and reading on paper must complement each other and the key is to favour the transfer of strategies from one context to the other.
Universidad Pública de Navarra
Nafarroako Unibertsitate Publikoa