Exploring changes to reading comprehension on the Internet: Paradoxes and possibilities for diverse adolescent readers

Date of Completion

January 2007


Education, Reading|Education, Technology of




The purpose of this sequential mixed-methods study was to investigate the extent to which new online reading proficiencies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004) may be required to comprehend information on the Internet. It also sought to explore the nature of online reading comprehension among three adolescent readers who read online at different levels of proficiency. First, 109 seventh-graders were selected from a stratified random sample of diverse middle school students in Connecticut and asked to complete a measure of online reading comprehension ability called Online Reading Comprehension Assessment Scenario I (ORCA-Scenario I). Standardized reading comprehension scores were also collected. Sixteen weeks later, students completed a survey of topic-specific prior knowledge and a second, parallel measure of online reading comprehension ability (ORCA-Scenario II). Results of a hierarchical regression analysis indicated performance on one measure of online reading comprehension ability accounted for a significant amount of variance in performance on a second measure of online reading comprehension ability over and above offline reading comprehension ability and a measure of topic-specific knowledge. Furthermore, there was an interaction between prior knowledge and online reading comprehension ability, such that higher levels of online reading comprehension skills may help compensate for lower levels of topic- and task-specific prior knowledge when adolescents complete online reading tasks requiring them to locate, critically evaluate, synthesize, and communicate information using the Internet. Retrospective think-aloud protocol data were also obtained from three purposefully selected focal students after they completed the second online reading session. A diachronic (Gutierrez & Stone, 2000), developmental, contrastive case study analysis of these protocols revealed two major findings. First, a developmental progression of online reading skills and strategies appeared to distinguish the three readers' performance within six observed phases of online reading. Second, developmental differences among the three readers appeared to be affected in important ways by five key dimensions of offline and online reading comprehension ability. Findings from this study may open new possibilities for theory, research, and practice to support efforts that address the needs of diverse adolescent readers in new Internet reading contexts. ^