Home » Posts tagged 'reading'

Tag Archives: reading


How we create fictional characters in our mind.

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham [Two Weeks] (3 hours pw)

100% completed

Aimed at undergraduate academics of English Literature, possibly even third year or masters level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

Would you prefer to read widely or pick the brains of experts?

Reading a history of the Armistice after the First World War – I’m a few years ahead of the centenary of 1914, I learn the Lloyd George preferred the former: picking the brains of experts was preferable to reading widely. Studying with Open University can be neither: reading is tightly focused by the content provided and you are penalised rather than admired for reading widely: you are supposed to stick to the text as it is on this that your tutor will assess you. And the participation of experts is random: my seven modules with the OU has had some of the more prominent names of distance and open education as the chair and as tutors, though more often they appear only in the byline or tangentially not daining to take part in discussion or debate – it is their loss and ours. Nor should I sound as if I am denigrating the tutors as here my expectation has come to seek in them an ‘educator’ – not necessarily a subject matter expert, but a facilitator and an enabler, someone who knows there way around the digital corridors of the Open University Virtual Learning Environment. Studying with the Open University can also be both: it depends so much on the course you are taking and serendipity. If you are goash you ought to be able to approach anyone at all in your faculty – not that you have much sense of what this is. You can read widely simply by extending your reach through references courtesy of the OU library, though I think what is meant here is a more general and broad intellect, that you take an interest, liberally, in the arts and sciences, in history and politics …

Being online affords a thousand opportunities to both read widely and to pick the brains of experts; what this requires is Web 2.0 literacy – the nous to drill deep when you read in a way that has never before been possible, unless, perhaps you have been privileged enough to have ready access to and the time to use one of the world’s elite libraries and your father or mother is a senior academic, government minister or captain of industry who loves to hold ‘house parties’ at the weekend. For the rest of us, there is now this new landscape – if not a level playing field (there are privileges based on cost and inclusion) – it is one where, with skill, guile, knowledge and experience you can gravitate towards and rope in the people and the books.

Book or eBook? A case of apples vs. oranges or analogue vs. digital?

Fig. 1. Learning in the digital age. J F Vernon (2013)

You’re missing a trick if you’re ignoring eBooks.

My experience studying at postgraduate level over the last four years, first with the Open University and now with the University of Birmingham as well is that we need to consider and experience the affordances of both.

Fig. 2. EBook vs. the Book. It’s largely down to context – do you read on the go, or in a library? Have you got shelf space?

I will own the book and the eBook in some circumstances as they offer a different experience and options.

If you are studying a subject in a social context online it helps to be able to share what you find and think as you read. I did this with Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ and found he was reading along through Twitter and my blog. I find where I have the printed book that I take photos of pages, mash these up and then share online – or resort to pen, paper and note taking in the traditional, lonely way. Then there are the huge tomes, some of the history books I am getting through right now that run to 900 pages – it is so much easier to carry around on the iPad. Using an eBook I highlight by themes of my choosing, add notes, Tweet short passages, seek out threads on single characters, link directly to references and post mash-ups from screen-grabs rather than photos straight into a e-portfolio so that the idea or issues are tagged and ready for later use.

Non-fiction books will become like some LPs of the past – do you want all the tracks or just your choice?

If I can buy 12 chapters of a book for £8.99 on Kindle, when will I be able to buy for 99p that one chapter I need? Speaking to a senior engineer from Amazon over the summer (old friends who moved to Silicon Valley twenty years ago) he wondered if the ‘transformative’ period for books was about to occur, just as it has occurred with music.

There will be a better, personalised hybrid form in due course, several of which I have tried. So far they have been marred by only one thing – poor content, the clickable, multimedia, well linked experience is apt for the 21st century.

Fig. 3. Mash-up from Martin Weller’s book ‘The Digital Scholar’ using the App ‘Studio’ to add text and icons to a cropped grab of a page.

Nothing replaces scholarship though , it’s just going to take a while to make the transition.

Further reading

Courtesy of Christopher Clark’s ‘The Sleepwalkers: how europe went to war in 1914’ I have been prompted to seek out further books – this reading stack thus far amount to six books and half a dozen eBooks. Like a school-boy I feel it is necessary to take notes as I read.



What’s going on in there? This apparently!


New Scientist 9 February 2013 Mind Maths by Colin Barras

Reflecting on research frameworks

In the light of the podcast and this week’s work, consider how you might revise the way in which you are making notes on studies. Do the questions from Activity 1.4 need elaborating?

Look back at Reading 1 and consider the questions that were asked in that research. Do you think they represent a dominant ‘paradigm’ for research in any particular period? Are the research questions and methods still relevant today?

My response

Questions : what research questions are being addressed?
Setting : what is the sector and setting?
Concepts : what theories, concepts and key terms are being used?
Methods : what methods if data collection and analysis are used?
Findings : what did this research find out?
Limitations : what are the limitations of the methods used?
Implications : what are the implications (if any) for practice, policy or further education?

1) I will still ask, what was the problem? What is the hypothesis? I may ask why this research is being carried. I will certainly look at who the authors are, how the research is funded and the methods used.
2) There’s more to setting than a name and an address for where and when something took place. It matters and helps to know the context, the time, people and environment.
3) They may only be noticed if they are unusual or controversial, but there will be reasons why a certain theory or concept is used. This will put a slant on the research, because of the choices made by the authors, the choices that are current and appropriate and whether they have been used before and what the conclusions were then. Activity Theory, for example, is going through changes, Diffusion of Innovation theory transmogrified with the idea of a ‘chasm’. Activity Theory is becoming ‘Cultural Historical’
4) Methods are taking advantage of computers to gather and analyse data, including ‘big data’ in new and revealing ways.
5) There is inertia of approaches and adopting new technologies, even a bias towards conformity and ‘old ways’ of doing things which is how and why the breakthroughs and disruption tends to come from outside.
6) The implications are for HE and schools to try to do what industry has been doing for the last 20 years – to embrace change as a constant to be embraced, rather than as a rare occurrence to be resisted. New ways of doing things, new ways if undertaking research, new ways of analysing and sharing the data and outcomes.
7) Keep an open mind. Have a set of questions that require a comprehensive view and be prepared to be a magpie – to think outside these parameters in terms of scope, depth and spread – so cross disciplinary, historic as well as the future.

I can see if you go in armed with a list of forensic questions you could get bogged down, in particular it is just another reason to lose the sense of narrative in a piece of research.

Which reminds me of an ancient OU Text called ‘How to Read’ or was it ‘How to study?’ Anyway, the idea from Richard Northridge (I think) was that you read a piece of text three times: skim read to get the gist of what is going on, the ‘landscape’ as it were, read a second time taking notes and then a third, more surgical read extracting what you want and being critical where criticism is due – in the light of your own interests.

Jo Neil (26th Feb, H809 Student Forum) suggested that when creating a framework for reviewing research papers thought should be given to:

  • Structure of the research – imposed or emergent
  • Existing research in this area
  • What is the methodology/philosophy background
  • What frameworks?
  • Terminology – are the questions relevant
  • Motives
  • What research does it build on/contribute to

And my response:

I am struck by the dichotomy between ‘imposed or emergent’.

I wonder, my reading, if you are saying ‘traditional’ or ’emergent’. I don’t supposed traditional or imposed are any the less valid, just choices alongside the ’emergent’ that have to be made.

Just as the old structures are going into meltdown, becoming transparent, fluid and available to all courtesy of Web 2.0 so all manner of approaches need to change to keep up.

Further down the line the entire academic publishing route is under scrutiny: academics and those who ought to be influenced by these papers aren’t reading them – they prefer to speak directly to experts/authors where they can; journals take too long to publish in a rapidly changing environment; institutions are fed up with paying academic publishers and authors are fed up of the current necessity of giving up copyrights/IP (varies), volunteering their content when it isn’t necessarily adding to their reputation or career anyway.

This all comes back to your single word  – emergent.

In commercial e-learning at the micro scale real-time student analytics, monitoring progress, tailoring content, managing a learning ‘career’ is producing a new level of detail and immediacy to research while at the macro scale ‘Big Data’ is able to isolate factors that would have gone unnoticed with smaller student numbers. This in turn enables finer fine tuning of a module or course.

The old manufacturing paradigms of incremental and evolutionary change, where everything is bolted down and would have to be demolished in order to allow change and over. Modules created in a digital environment or ecosystem need to be seen to be growing and changing all the time and institutions should reflect this and come in like gardeners with bamboo canes (scaffolding), nutrients (social learning and student support) and pruning shears – cutting out the dead growth and guiding this ‘organic thing’ in the desirable direction.

Methodologies and Frameworks are were I need to do some work.

I need to get the terms, definitions and explanations firmly in my mind or in a table. Like a deck of cards, or a set of choices, or herbs in the kitchen from which I can make an informed choice. To use the cooking metaphor I am at the minute inclined to stick everything in because I know no better! Which is of course why I am on H809.

I don’t question the importance of knowing what research has gone before and what research it contributes to – building on the shoulders of giants and all that, though, given this ’emergent’ field we are entering a transitioning period.

Related to some thoughts above, the technology permits the author to cite far more that they feel has touched or is touching upon their thinking. This will influence how a report is written as we must all now have examples where in any sentence or paragraph more of the text might be taken up with references than it is with the line of thought. Whilst the references need to be there, within reason, there are other ways I’ve seen of doing it. For example, numbering references like footnotes and giving them in chronological rather than alphabetic order at the end of the text. This ‘system’ probably has a name.

Relevance of questions too – that they are pertinent, of the study, not imposed on it. My feeling is that considered choice of the questions is crucial. Knowing the right question(s) to ask is a fundamental technique or approach in business consultancy where intractable problems need to be resolved … the answer does lie in asking the right question in the first place.

And ‘motives’ as well ‘motivation’.

This isn’t to be cynical, but research has to be funded and institutions look for academics who attract or can secure grants. The grant making bodies in turn have their own criteria and agendas. Are there no ‘fads’ here. There was something I was reading recently where the authors refer back to the requirements or stipulations of the funding body – not a negative view, just a statement or re-statement of the parameters that institution had set so that readers could decide ok a) there is further research to be done beyond these parameters c) the research was undertaken under these conditions.

As for motivation, it matters why we/they the authors are doing the research. I enjoy the opportunity to hear an academic present their findings as you then get a sense of what their motivations are … because of a virtuous, altruistic love of the topic, to get a paper published – another one notched up, to move on (another institution is more suited, or attractive) … and the commercial potential of going into an agency or client, or starting your own operation. Or because they like being centre stage.

Am I being unfairly cynical here? Everyone has a motive of some kind or another. Should these motives be apparent in the research – probably not, which is where, perhaps, fairly or unfairly, some of us may have been judgmental about the Hiltz paper (I was).

I keep finding myself reading article and books on e-learning and the Internet written by Journalists.

They are another breed entirely. Too often the desire to sensationalise to get an article and books sold produces a plausible package that convinces thousands but on close inspection is either highly dubious, ‘thin’ and speculative or has extracted only excerpts from research to support their hypothesis. Yet they get the message out in a way that must academics and institutions repeatedly fail to do.

From which I conclude – greater scrutiny is required over what I read. I’ve got to ditch an indulgence that was encourage two decades ago when I was studying Francois Truffaut the French filmmaker who argued that it was necessary and appropriate to read everything. This of course was in the context of writing fiction, but his reading list (he wrote letters and kept a diary of soughts) was eclectic to the extreme ends of pulp fiction to literary greats.

Still a valid approach if you want to nourish you mind with the unpredictable?

Why blog – 21 good reasons, 1 bad … Lilia Efimova from her PhD thesis on the subject

Reboot9 First Day 36: Lilia Efimova


Fig.1. Dr. Lilia Efimova 

‘As with writing, blogging is not simply formulating in words an idea already developed in one’s mind. It is also about connecting, developing and redefining half-baked ideas. When writing, I often go through the weblog archives to explore connections with what is already there. Reading and rereading what I wrote before shapes and changes what I’m about to write: I often find something unexpected or see patterns only in retrospect’. Efimova (2009. p 70)

  1. Somewhere to “park” emerging insights until the moment they are needed. Efimova (2009. p 75)
  2. Doesn’t require much effort
  3. Somewhere to park ideas
  4. Reading and engaging with others to become aware of issues and themes
  5. Topics accumulate and connections grew and things become clearer.
  6. A set of sense-making practices
  7. “Everyday grounded theory” Efimova (2009. p. 75)
  8. Connecting multiple fragments
  9. Getting into the writing flow
  10. Strengthened by readers’ feedback
  11. A channel for distribution
  12. Publication additional motivation to document emergent ideas
  13. A legitimate place to share thinking in progress
  14. -ve when the need is to be extremely selective and focused. Efimova (2009. p. 80)
  15. To collect in one place the fragmented bits relevant to my thinking Efimova (2009. 3.5.4)
  16. Clusters of conversations
  17. Conversations unfolding
  18. A personal space and a community space simultaneously.
  19. A personal narrative used to articulate and to organise one’s own thinking. (conversation with self. p 90?) around 4.3
  20. An example of hypertext conversation. Efimova (2009. p. 129)
  21. Weblogs provide a space that helps both to develop one’s own point of view and discuss it with others.
  22. Bloggers present their ideas to the world, readers learn from them. Efimova (2009. p. getting things done. staying in touch)


Efimova, L. (2009) Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. Novay PhD Research Series 2009 (www.novay.nl.dissertations)


When reading we need a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Before you get stuck,  a  couple of definitions:

Parafoveal = dependent on parts of the retina external to the fovea. The fovea is a small rodless area of the retina that affords acute vision.

SACCADE  = that small rapid jerky movement of the eye  as it jumps from fixation on one point to another (as in reading) Merriam-Webster

What follows is about the use of word-accurate eye-tracking technology to help understand how we read – I find it most revealing in relation to Dyslexia.

During reading of English, information is effectively used from three to four letters to the left and up to 14–15 letters to the right of fixation (McConkie & Rayner, 1975, 1976).

If you’ve got an eBook if you don’t already, go for this kind of seting:

Reducing the window to thirteen characters increases the fixation duration by 30 percent, decreases the saccade length for forward saccades by 26 percent, and increases reading time by 60 percent, as compared to a window size of 100 character spaces. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

Parafoveal preview starts the identification process of a word before fixation.

If I understand what follows correctly it means that it is easy to read phrases and sentences as part of a body of text, than it is to read one word at a time in isolation.

We get a perspective of what has been and what is coming up.

Our results suggest that previewing word n2 can result in delayed parafoveal-on-foveal effects, which are lagging behind or spilling over into postboundary fixations on word n1. The present findings do not disconfirm the general hypothesis of serial word-processing during reading, but they strongly suggest that mislocated fixations are not sufficient to account for the complex dynamics of processing in the perceptual span during reading. (McConkie & Rayner, 1975)

In this article, research on the following topics are reviewed with respect to reading:

  • (a) the perceptual span (or span of effective vision),
  • (b) preview benefit,
  • (c) eye movement control, and
  • (d) models of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1456).

This makes sense if you watch very closely as someone reads. I’ve not done this since I was a child, watching a parent or grandparent read. Children struggle when they plod as if from one stepping stone to another. I wonder if it would be better for the child to skim read and get a sense of the story rather than reading it word for word?

It is my contention that most of the time in such tasks, either (a) eye location (overt attention) and covert attention are overlapping and at the same location or (b) attention disengagement is a product of a saccade programme (wherein attention precedes the eyes to the next saccade target). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1458).

In reading, for example, the line of text that the reader is looking at can be divided into three regions: the foveal region (2 degrees in the centre of vision), the parafoveal region (extending from the foveal region to about 5 degrees on either side of fixation), and the peripheral region (everything beyond the parafoveal region). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

Saccade duration, the amount of time that is takes to actually move the eyes, is a function of the distance moved. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1459).

NB. Saccade size in visual search can be highly variable depending on the complexity of the array; when the array is complex and crowded, saccades are shorter (the same would hold for a highly complex scene). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Regressions (saccades that move backwards in the text) are the third important component of eye movements in reading and occur about 10–15% of the time in skilled readers. The long saccades just mentioned tend to follow a regression since readers typically move forward in the text past the point from which they originally launched the regression.Most regressions are to the immediately preceding word, though when comprehension is not going well or the text is particularly difficult, more long-range regressions occur to earlier words in the text. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460).

Variables include (Rayner, 2009 p. 1460) :

  • text difficulty
  • reading skill
  • characteristics of the writing system
  • typographical variation (font)

– as text gets more difficult, fixations get longer, saccades get shorter, and more regressions are made (Rayner, 1998).

Dyslexics suffer from – longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions – with normal text.

i.e. Bugger around with fonts, choice of words and other typographical variations and you start to replicate what it is like to be dyslexic.

Beginning and dyslexic readers have longer fixations, shorter saccades, and more regressions than skilled readers (Rayner, 1998), as do less skilled readers (Ashby, Rayner, & Clifton, 2005).

  • Function words are skipped
  • Fix is greater on longer words – 8 letter words are almost always fixated, 2 letter words are fixated 25% of the time.

How does this inform us of best practice for reading academic texts?

Read through with equal care more than once?

Skim read, the read with focus … or these three then stop and take notes. Or take notes from the start?

It is also clear that the spaces between words (which demarcate how long words are) are used in targeting where the next saccade will land. When spaces are removed, reading slows down by as much as 30–50% (Morris, Rayner, & Pollatsek, 1990; Pollatsek & Rayner, 1982; Rayner et al., 1998a; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1996; Spragins, Lefton, & Fisher, 1976). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1469).

  • How were manuscripts laid out?
  • What do early print look like?
  • When did the need for spaces, sentences, paragraphs and such like develop?

There’s a science to writing as well as an art.

Over the past few years, it has become very clear that the ease or difficulty associated with processing the fixated word strongly influences when the eyes move (Liversedge & Findlay, 2000; Rayner, 1998; Starr & Rayner, 2001). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472).

Fixation time on a word is influenced by a host of lexical and linguistic variables (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472):

  • word frequency
  • word predictability
  • number of meanings
  • age of acquisition
  • phonological properties
  • semantic relations with the fixed word and previous words

This is consistent with the view that what influences when to move the eyes during reading is different from visual search. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1472)

To what degree is reading a visual process or a cognitive process?

This debunks Marshall McLuhan theorising about the shift from the meaning of words in an oral tradition compared to the written word.

When raeding wrods with jubmled lettres and found that while it was fairly easy to read such text, there was always a cost associated with transposing the letters. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

It is thus quite clear that lexical variables have strong and immediate effects on how long readers look at a word. While other linguistic variables can have an influence on how soon readers move on in the text, it is generally the case that higher level linguistic variables have somewhat later effects, unless the variable more or less“smacks you in the eye”. So, for example, when readers fixate on the disambiguating word in asyntactic garden path sentence there is increased fixation time on the word (Frazier & Rayner,1982; Rayner, Carlson, & Frazier, 1983; Rayner & Frazier, 1987) and/or a regression from the disambiguating word back to earlier parts of the sentence (Frazier & Rayner, 1982; Meseguer, Carreiras, & Clifton, 2002; Mitchell et al., 2008). (Rayner, 2009 p. 1473)

On the other hand, it is certainly the case that more and more researchers are turning to eye movement recording and data as a means to examine important issues about how the brain/mind handles information in various tasks. Many brain imaging techniques now enable researchers to also record eye movements(though rather crudely), and attempts to simultaneously record eye movements and event related potentials in reading and other tasks look very promising (Baccino & Manunta, 2005;Dambacher & Kliegl, 2007; Sereno & Rayner,2003). Thus, the future looks very bright with respect to the possibility of learning more about cognitive processing and how information is processed in the tasks described above via the use of eye movements. (Rayner, 2009 p. 1487)


McConkie, G. W., & Rayner, R. (1975). The span of the effective stimulus during a fixation in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 17, 578–586. doi:10.3758/BF03203972

Rayner (1998)
(Ashby, Rayner & Clifton, 2005)

Rayner, K 2009, ‘Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search’, Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology, 62, 8, pp. 1457-1506, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 February 2013.

%d bloggers like this: