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Tip of the Week: Less Paper/More Comprehension with Readability and PrintFriendly

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We’re spending more time online, reading and researching with our students. We often need to print out these online resources for use as handouts or review materials. One of the problems with online research is that if you or your students print out a news article, a blog post, or just about anything on the web, the print job ends up being multiple pages that include ads and other things you don’t need.

And as more districts move to mobile devices such as iPads, the rules change even more. I often work with teachers and students who are struggling with how best to access and use online materials as learning tools. How can we use online resources such as primary source documents without using paper?

But wasting paper and time aren’t the only concerns. Ed tech folks often talk about the powerful impact that appropriate use of technology can have on learning, especially with online tools. The assumption is that web use by kids increases brain wiring—that being online makes students smarter. But we need to be careful with those sorts of assumptions.

A 2010 Wired article by Nicholas Carr does a great job of documenting what happens in our brains when we’re online. And it’s not always good. Carr discusses a wide range of research claiming that hyperlinks, especially those that live inside text, cause comprehension problems.

  • “People who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”
  • “It takes hypertext readers longer to read documents and they were seven times more likely to say they found it confusing.”
  • “Comprehension declines as the number of links increase—whether or not people clicked on them.”

So while online resources are powerful tools for learning, they can waste paper, be awkward to use in a mobile environment, and decrease understanding if not used appropriately. What to do? Using two free online tools can help.

Readability
Readability is an online tool that takes advantage of a bookmarklet. The idea is simple – strip Web pages of all the extra photos, links, videos, stories, and ads leaving just the text that you want kids to read. After installing the bookmarklet into your browser, an easy click creates a clean text ready for printing.

Readability also allows for editing the look of your document with the added functionality of converting any hyperlinks into footnotes that appear at the end of your document, change font size, column width, and color of font. Once converted, you have options besides printing.

My favorite? Saving the text as an ePUB document that can be stored on ePUB readers such as the iBooks app for iPads.

Additional features provide the chance to email, post to Facebook and Twitter, and to create a short URL. There is also a Readability iOS app that provides that same sort of service while using iPads or iPhones as well as compatibility with other brands of mobile devices.

And remember . . . this really isn’t about you. You should be training your kids to use the tool as part of their own research and product creation.

PrintFriendly

One of the best tools to help you and your students save paper and time when printing from and using websites is PrintFriendly.

You simply copy and paste the URL of the article or primary document that you want to print into the PrintFriendly site. You’ll get an editable version of the page that lets you delete images, resize or change fonts, and delete specific pieces of text. This allows you to create the perfect document ready for printing. You can also email the document or download it to your desktop as a PDF file.

PrintFriendly also offers the option to install a browser bookmarklet. Once installed, the bookmarklet allows you to simply click a button on your browser’s task bar whenever you’re on a site you want to print.

Using PrintFriendly works great with iPads. Follow the same process of copying / pasting a URL into the PrintFriendly site. Select the PDF option and download the PDF. The iPad version of Safari will display the PDF and give you the option of opening the document in other apps. If the iPad has apps installed that are able to open PDF documents such as iBooks or Notability, your kids can now save, edit, annotate, share, post, and create new stuff on their iPad.

(You can also install the PrintFriendly bookmarklet into the iPad Safari app by following these instructions.)

Example

Perhaps you want your students to read and play with the October 18, 1962 memo that Ted Sorenson sent to President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the best sites for studying the Crisis is the 13 Days in October site at the JFK Library.

But while you can view the documents on the site, they are difficult or impossible to actually use. Using either of the tools, gives your students a clean version of the primary document for use in either a classroom environment that uses a printer or a digital classroom that lives in the cloud.

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Before

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After

For those classrooms without one-to-one computers, a teacher could use either one of the tools to print and hand out clean copies of the document. Teachers could also use Readability to post articles and reading assignments on a class or department Facebook page.

Both PrintFriendly and Readability are handy tools that will help you and your students save paper and increase comprehension.

And the bonus? They’re free.

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