How Adobe is empowering students to read and learn more

Univeristy of Arizona

Students in all fields of study spend a lot of time reading textbooks, articles, research papers, reports, and more. For modern students, this means reading digital documents, often through a universal PDF file.

At the University of Arizona, Dr. Shelley Rodrigo has seen this digital push firsthand. Not only is she senior director of the writing program, but she is also highly involved in research focused on incorporating new technologies in education. One thing Shelley noticed is that students not only read more on digital devices, but they also read on different types of devices, such as tablets or smartphones.

That’s why Shelley was so excited when Adobe contacted her about working on a breakthrough new project for Adobe Acrobat: Liquid Mode. Now available in Adobe Acrobat Reader mobile apps, Liquid Mode uses artificial intelligence powered by Adobe Sensei to restructure content in PDF for improved readability on any size screen—including mobile devices. No more pinching, zooming, or scrolling across PDF documents. Liquid Mode reflows the content like an HTML page for better readability on any screen size.

Shelley’s educational and research experience would help Adobe find better ways of introducing students to the idea of personalized reading formats and prompt them to take advantage of Liquid Mode to improve their reading experiences. By partnering with the nonprofit Readability Matters and researchers like Shelley, Adobe is helping set a new standard for readability and accessibility in the digital age.

“Cross-institutional research teams aren’t unusual in the academic world, but it’s exciting for me to be part of a team that involves people from so many institutions, disciplines, and sectors,” says Shelley. “Everyone has a different perspective, but we’re all working together to change the future of digital readability.”

Personalizing the reading experience

One of the biggest benefits for Liquid Mode, according to Shelley, is the ability to personalize the reading experience according to the needs and preferences of each student.

“There’s a misconception that there’s one style that’s the most efficient, but that’s not true,” says Shelley. “People find different text easier to read. They might prefer different shapes, sizes, or even spacing. And when the text is easier to read, students will find themselves reading more in shorter periods of time. The ability to create personalized reading settings is a huge leap forward in accessibility for many.”

At the Virtual Readability Lab (VRL), students can take a series of short tests to discover their personal preferences for fonts and spacing. They can then use this information to help customize their Reading Settings in Liquid Mode. Reading settings are saved to their Adobe Acrobat profile, allowing students to view documents in their personalized style again and again. According to research from VRL, people read up to 51 percent faster in their faster font compared to their slowest font. Increased readability doesn’t just affect reading speed. Fifty-nine percent of the study participants also received their highest reading comprehension scores with their preferred font.

Improvements to reading speed and comprehension can make a huge difference for students. Many students work, with some even working full time to fund their education. These working students need to fit in studies whenever they can, even if they’re just on a break or commuting to their jobs. Using personalized settings with Liquid Mode, students can more easily use their phone to read articles at any time. Since they are less distracted, spending less time breaking their concentration to scroll across pages and find their spot in an article, students can maintain high efficiency and interest during these short reading sessions.

“There are studies that suggest negative experiences negatively impact learning,” says Shelley. “We’re hoping that by improving the reading experience, we can positively impact learning. Students can make more effective use of their time, reading an article and absorbing the information wherever and whenever. If they can read even 10 more pages an hour, that’s a huge deal for busy students. We hope that this will lower stress and increase learning.”

Teaching liquid mode

Shelley is just getting started on her research around introducing Liquid Mode and readability in the classroom.

“One thing I think carefully about is, what does it mean to introduce a new technology to students?” says Shelley. “How can we help teachers incorporate technology into classrooms? It’s not enough to just show students Liquid Mode. You need to introduce it. Ask students to work with it. Remind them about using Liquid Mode and finding personalized settings. Keep reinforcing those lessons until it’s internalized and students automatically understand how and why Liquid Mode benefits them.”

Shelley began introducing readability during an online creative and digital literacies summer class designed to help students understand how technologies such as Adobe Creative Cloud can contribute to education and digital literacy. During this class, Shelley encouraged students to take the VRL test and discover the importance of having personalized reading formats.

Shelley is working on plans for the official pilot of Liquid Mode at the University of Arizona. Faculty members from across disciplines will encourage students to explore VRL, introduce Liquid Mode, and collect data to refine the teaching process.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how students respond to Liquid Mode and discovering what we can learn about how it affects both students and faculty,” says Shelley. “I think we’ll see that once we get students using Liquid Mode regularly, we might find that students will react to different reading settings depending on the context or text. There’s so much to explore about personalized reading, and with partners such as Readability Matters and Adobe, we’re making a big difference.”

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