Skip to main content


ICC 650
Box 571014

37th & O St, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20057

maps & directions

Phone: (202) 687.6400



Slowing to Think

Our colleague David Collins delivered an address to the first-year undergraduate students in August, 2022, as part of the new student convocation. His message was memorable, in that as a faculty member, it wasn’t the usual set of observations of the joy of learning, the call to use faculty as mentors, and the importance of the students’ engagement in courses.

The message he did deliver was to “slow down.” He observed that the volume of stimuli that students are exposed to each day is fundamentally different from those common when universities were structured. The internet linked together the world, and catalyzed the assembly of vast amounts of existing information. Applications on the net proliferated so that almost every possible interest can be pursued at all times of every day.

One interesting part of the status quo is central to academic affairs. The online world is filled with texts, emails, newsletters, short media pieces. (Yes, even blogs, I admit.). Keeping up with this increased volume has produced changes in reading behavior.

This was noticed early in the life of the internet, but the ubiquitous availability of mobile phones with internet access has magnified the changes. It appears that our reading habits are quite plastic. Skimming and fast scrolling fit the need to expose us to large sets of information. The addictive nature of online activities implies that more and more of our reading occurs in this manner. (Any of us waiting in an airport or train station will observe large majorities of people reading off their cell phones.)

It is, however, a reading style that is quite different from that faculty practice in their own work keeping up with their field. We have to slow down when we return to our research work. It’s easy to forget this as we face 100’s of emails, texts, and short text attachments.

Further, this style of reading is also different from what we generally want our students to practice. We seek that they engage with the text. But, deep reading of text is a much slower practice. It is reading with the aim of comprehension not merely with the aim of completion. It often requires rereading sentences already read. It requires stopping from time to time to reflect on synthesis of multiple sentences. It isn’t clear that the judgments that arise in this type of reading can be attained by fast consumptions of large amounts of textual material.

Brain studies suggests that the “aha” moments that are interpreted as exciting new insights, are synthesis steps that engage vast portions of the brain – everything lights up (in multiple senses). The moments often come from associational thinking, linking one piece of knowledge to another. Sometimes the pieces lie in earlier sentences, sometimes in different readings, sometimes in linking life experiences to the text. This seems incompatible with skimming and fast scrolling.

So, David Collins’ message to our new students is also a reminder to us. We need to retain the skill of deep, reflective reading for understanding. Finishing a text may be less important that comprehending the text we consume. Given that we ourselves struggle with this, we need to help our students also as they struggle with slowing down to comprehend and synthesize.

4 thoughts on “Slowing to Think

  1. Great post, Robert Groves. Your insights on the impact of digital age on reading habits and the importance of slowing down for better comprehension are spot on. It’s clear that you have a deep understanding of the subject and the ability to articulate it well. I am curious, have you or your colleagues explored any strategies or techniques to help students and others develop the habit of deep reflective reading?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

Connect with us via: