Picked this up from a tweet by the ever-excellent Peter Meyers.  The article is by Bret Victor and can be found at his website.  Here’s the beginning:

What does it mean to be an active reader?

An active reader asks questions, considers alternatives, questions assumptions, and even questions the trustworthiness of the author. An active reader tries to generalize specific examples, and devise specific examples for generalities. An active reader doesn’t passively sponge up information, but uses the author’s argument as a springboard for critical thought and deep understanding.

Do our reading environments encourage active reading? Or do they utterly oppose it? A typical reading tool, such as a book or website, displays the author’s argument, and nothing else. The reader’s line of thought remains internal and invisible, vague and speculative. We form questions, but can’t answer them. We consider alternatives, but can’t explore them. We question assumptions, but can’t verify them. And so, in the end, we blindly trust, or blindly don’t, and we miss the deep understanding that comes from dialogue and exploration.

Explorable Explanations is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encourage truly active reading. The goal is to change people’s relationship with text. People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be used as an environment to think in.

This essay presents examples of few initial ideas:

A reactive document allows the reader to play with the author’s assumptions and analyses, and see the consquences.

An explorable example makes the abstract concrete, and allows the reader to develop an intuition for how a system works.

Contextual information allows the reader to learn related material just-in-time, and cross-check the author’s claims.


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