One of the questions I have struggled with in this unit so far is what actually counts as literature in the digital environment. Do we read a digital text or can we merely watch it? Web series such as The Green Gables Fables and The Lizzie Bennet diaries have been presented as literature in a digital environment but to me simply watching some videos and reading Facebook posts is no more reading literature than watching a movie is. I have reached the conclusion that a digital text must require the user to actually decode and comprehend text, that is, the written word, in order to be literature. Enhancements such as having a narrator read the same text as is visible on the screen are fine, especially when they support the learning process (Lamb, 2011; James & De Kock,2013; Yokota & Teale, 2014). But at the heart of the text must be the words.
In essence, a good digital text is no different to a good non-digital text – the features of good literature must be present (Walsh, 2013) – but multimedia features must also stand up to scrutiny, serving to enhance the text, and not distract or detract from it (Lamb, 2011; James & De Kock,2013). Navigating and using the multimodal features should be intuitive or simply explained and easily achieved. The very best digitally originated texts are unimaginable in the print environment. The enhancements afforded by the environment to The Artifacts (see review) put it in this category as, while the pages could be printed, the levels of meaning to be gathered from the interactive features, sound effects and the way additional text appears, could not.
In good digital literature both the narrative experience and the multimedia experience are designed (Meyers, Zaminpaima & Frederico, 2014).
Meyers et al discuss the challenge of sourcing quality storybook apps for young readers. Using published reviews can be problematic they say, as different review publications have different purposes and perspectives. A reviewer seeking quality literature using traditional criteria of characterisation, themes, style, vocabulary (Walsh, 2013) might see some multimodal features as superfluous whereas others will prize these same features more highly than the quality of the text and its appropriateness to its intended audience. For educators, the bottom-line should be: do the features both align with and maintain the integrity of the story (Yokota & Teale, 2014).
A good digital text might actually do a better job of engaging reluctant readers or supporting learning through enhancements such as narration of the text or multimodal elements which provide additional access points for comprehension (Yokota & Teale, 2014).
Almost everything I read these days, be it for work, pleasure or study, is digital, falling into the categories of reconstructed literary text or digitally originated text (Unsworth, 2008). I rarely read print these days, except for flipping through the newspaper when on a break, usually while eating. Somehow it is ok to use sticky fingers on a newspaper but not on a device. I love my digital texts on my Kindle and iPad, mostly for the convenience factor (Jabr, 2013). In a device no heavier than a small novel I have access to more than I could possibly read in my lifetime (Sadokierski, 2013). I can carry it without any inconvenience while walking and read while travelling by train to work. I can take it on holiday and have no concern with luggage limits. I can highlight points of interest, make notes, and easily search the the text to locate a relevant section. In short, I’m a total convert.
For the digital literature review I read Upgrade Soul (see review) which is completely outside my usual field of interest, both in form and content. I have never been a fan of graphic novels, either in print or online, although as a teacher-librarian I recognise their attraction to adolescents (Moorefield-Lang & Gavigan, 2012) and I fully support their inclusion in our collection. When I’ve looked at graphic novels in the past I’ve been irritated or underwhelmed. I tend to read quickly, skipping over illustrations and find having to decide whether to read across then down or vice versa annoying. I haven’t taken in the full experience that the artwork gives. Upgrade Soul, however, might have created a convert. The atmospheric soundtrack and the fact that each frame appears in the order it should be read slowed me down and made me appreciate what I was reading. It became an engaging experience and I now eagerly await the publication of the next chapter.
Upgrade Soul was probably the digital text I enjoyed the most but it didn’t scream with classroom possibilities, particularly for the upper primary students with whom I work.
The Artifacts, however, would make an ideal text study for English for year four or five students. At my school these classes share a set of iPads so a copy for each iPad could be purchased through Apple’s Volume Purchasing Program for $56. (Managed distribution is an option for student-owned devices). Each page has possibilities for discussion questions or different types of writing activities. For example, page 6, where a caterpillar and Asaf are alternately shown collected in a jar, students could discuss the ethics of collecting living creatures or write a creative piece imagining that they have been collected – what would they do, how would they feel, how could they escape? There are also many opportunities for vocabulary activities: finding out the meaning of, and using in a sentence, the additional atmospheric words that appear on several of the pages.
Jabr, F. (2013) The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American, April 11. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/
James, R. & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: the rise of the ‘enhanced’e-book. English Academy Review, 30(1), pp. 107-123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10131752.2013.783394
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live
Meyers, E.M., Zaminpaima, E., & Frederico, A. (2014). The Future of Children’s Texts: Evaluating Book Apps as Multimodal Reading Experiences. In iConference 2014 Proceedings (pp. 916-920) doi:10.9776/14312 Retrieved fromhttps://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/47386/312_ready.pdf?sequence=2
Moorefield-Lang, H., & Gavigan, K. (2012). These aren’t your father’s funny papers: the new world of digital graphic novels. Knowledge Quest, 40(3), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/docs/ FREEArticle_TheseAren%27t_30-35.pdf
Sadokierski, Z. (2013, November 12). What is a book in the digital age? [Web log post]. Retrived from http://theconversation.com/what-is-a-book-in-the-digital-age-19071 What is a book in the digital age?
Unsworth, L. (2008). Multiliteracies, E-literature and English Teaching. Language & Education: An International Journal, 22(1), 62-75. doi:10.2167/le726.0
Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). https://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/ereserve/pdf/walsh-m3.pdf
Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6). Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3886534/Picture_Books_and_the_Digital_World_Educators_Making_Informed_Choices