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The nature of literacy is rapidly changing as new technologies emerge (diSessa," 2000; Dresang & McClelland, 1999; Leu & Kinzer, 2000; Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Kieffer, 1998; Tapscott, 1998). "Today, the definition of literacy has expanded from traditional notions of reading and writing to include the ability to learn, comprehend, and interact with technology in a meaningful way" (Selfe cited in Pianfetti, 2001, p. 256). Electronic texts introduce new supports as well as new challenges that can have a great impact on an individual's ability to comprehend what he or she reads. The Internet, in particular, provides new text formats, new purposes for reading, and new ways to interact with information that can confuse and overwhelm people taught to extract meaning from only conventional print. Proficiency in the new literacies of the Internet will become essential to our students' literacy future (International Reading Association, 2001).
When observing students interacting with text resulting from an Internet search, Sutherland-Smith (2002) reported that they "perceive Web text reading as different from print text reading" (p. 664). Within Internet environments, many readers are easily frustrated when not instantly gratified in their rapid search for immediate answers and may adopt a "snatch and grab philosophy ... not apparent in print text environments" (p. 664). Similarly, Eagleton (2001) observed middle school students with little experience with Internet inquiry often making "hasty, random choices with little thought and evaluation" (p. 3). These shallow, random, and often passive interactions with text are in direct contrast to the active, strategic, and critical processes of constructing meaning now being proposed by instructional leaders and supported by 25 years of reading research (Allington, 2001; Keene & Zimmermann, 1997; Robb, 2000).
I believe that important questions about reading comprehension on the Internet need to be addressed if teachers are to effectively prepare students for their literacy futures. In this column, I will closely examine the skills and abilities needed to interact with text on the Internet while exploring the answers to these four questions: Is the comprehension process different on the Internet? If so, what new thought processes are required beyond those needed to comprehend conventional print? Are these processes extensions of traditional comprehension skills, or do Web-based learning environments demand fundamentally different skills? If comprehension is different on the Internet, what implications do these differences have for comprehension instruction, assessment, and professional development?
Recent literature has addressed the need for changes in the way we think about reading comprehension as influenced by technology. In their new literacy and technology position statement, the International Reading Association (2001) suggested that "traditional definitions of reading, writing, and viewing, and traditional definitions of best practice instruction--derived from a long tradition of book and other print media--will be insufficient." This position statement recommends new strategies for students and teachers as they use new and varied forms of information and communication technology.
Researchers discussing the direction that reading research in comprehension is likely to take over the next two decades also recognize that "we live in a society that is experiencing an explosion of alternative texts" (RAND Reading Study Group, 2002, p. xiv) and that "electronic texts that incorporate hyperlinks and hypermedia introduce some complications in defining comprehension because they require skills and abilities beyond those required for the comprehension of conventional, linear print" (p. 14). Similarly, Spires and Estes (2002) described several cognitive and aesthetic challenges to comprehension presented by hypertext environments. In order to better for those challenges, they described the need for a "rich theoretical description of the comprehension processes" (p. 123) involved in Web-based and electronic reading environments. It is this expressed need for clarification of the comprehension processes necessary for reading on the Internet that I intend to address here.
To explore the changing nature of reading comprehension, I draw upon a well-articulated model of reading comprehension outlined in the RAND Reading Study Group's report (2002). The authors of this report defined reading comprehension as "the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language" (p. 11). They proposed a developmental heuristic of reading comprehension that includes three elements: "the reader who is doing the comprehending, the text that is to be comprehended and the activity in which comprehension is embedded" (p. 11). These three elements occur within the sociocultural context of the reader's classroom, home, and neighborhood, and they help a reader to interpret information and create personal meaning.
The main sections of this column on broadened understandings of text, the reading activity, the reader, and the social context--and the constructs described within each one--mirror the elements of the RAND Reading Study Group's heuristic of reading comprehension. However, I argue that the Interact forces us to expand our understanding of each of these elements by considering new aspects of comprehension that are clearly related to traditional comprehension areas (e.g., locating main ideas, summarizing, inferencing, and evaluating) but also require fundamentally new thought processes. The Internet provides opportunities for interacting with new text formats (e.g., hypertext and interactive multiple media that require new thought processes); new reader elements (e.g., new purposes or motivations, new types of background knowledge, high-level metacognitive skills); and new activities (e.g., publishing multimedia projects, verifying credibility of images; participating in online synchronous exchanges). Likewise, the Interact expands and influences the sociocultural context in which a reader learns to read by providing collaborative opportunities for sharing and responding to information across continents, cultures, and languages. I go on to illustrate how conventional understandings of the reader, the text, and the task are not always applicable in electronic and networked environments. Finally, I consider …