HFWC cover page

How Far We’ve Come entry page screenshot


How Far We’ve Come is a website produced by SBS in partnership with the Refugee Council of Australia for Refugee Week, 2010. The site was designed by Mathematics and built by GEA-Interactive. It includes a series of nine stories, for which SBS housed archived footage. The archived stories relate to the original settlement of a series of unrelated individuals and families, seeking asylum in Australia from a range of nations. Each story contains ‘then’ and ‘now’ content, using old footage to show the historical setting for each story and give context to the original plight of each person as they transitioned to life in Australia. The title of the site is one that emphasises hope, pride and triumph over serious adversity.

HFWC screen1   HFWC home page

How Far We’ve Come  homepage story screenshots 

The How Far We’ve Come homepage links to the nine featured stories; a rollover of each icon provides a visual and auditory preview. It also includes links to varied additional material designed to further educate about the enormity of the asylum seeker dilemma. The site makes extensive use of multi-sensory elements, including video, audio recording, photographs and illustration. It also includes textual information to support the primary evidence of the personal stories. Visually, the site is designed to look as though created by hand; the type, illustration and crumpled paper background adding a further sense of authenticity to the personal nature of the storytelling.

Lamb contends that non-linear engagement with content can compromise comprehension (Lamb, 2011). In this instance, the homepage does not indicate an obvious linear modality; site users may be most likely to start with the story for which the preview is most personally meaningful. However, the individual story pages are visually composed to suggest an ordered investigation; text hyperlinks are usually weighted by position and size, making it more likely (but not necessary) for users to start with ‘then’ and progress to ‘now’ before viewing the factsheets. The site layout is well-ordered and movement around the various aspects is user-friendly. These considerations afford a meaningful investigation of the content to enhance comprehension.

HFWC screen2    HFWC then now.fw

How Far We’ve Come  full story page and close-up screenshots

There is significant value in this example of digital literature as an educational resource; the content aligns with Lamb’s proposition that today’s learners want information they can see and hear as well as read (2011). The site layering provides choice, affording the user ownership of their own learning (Learning 2030: From Books to Screen, 2013). Superficial investigation is possible, however the multi-sensory preview for each story sparks curiosity to delve further. Sufficient depth of information is supplied to inform the user about the refugee experience, as well as the historical context and modern day situation of the subject’s people.

The use of the archived footage set in a new context provides new life for the original stories, allowing preservation and a review of an older resource (Darnton, 2009). The blend of a range of text types (video, photograph, text, audio, illustration) and the reality inherent in the video footage as a primary source (Fuhler, 2010), allow users of the site to engage empathetically, where perhaps the alternative of a printed transcript would be unlikely to elicit the same response. It may also be more accessible for students challenged by reading, as they may interpret meaning through the video and images (Fuhler, 2010).

Leu identifies that adolescents can lack the skills to find and evaluate quality sources (2011). The use of an online source is a good opportunity for students to consider source validity. Student investigation of SBS, their market, sponsors and potential bias would form a valuable counter-discussion to the believable nature of the content. Critical reflection may assist students develop their digital and media literacy (Mills & Levido, 2011).

The site is freely available, making this content broadly accessible; however, the use of Flash and motion graphics is not supported on mobile or tablet devices. Consequently, the use of the resource may be limited and digital preservation of the content may be compromised as Flash is phased out across many device platforms (Albanesius, 2011). Where use of the resource is afforded, How Far We’ve Come has significant potential for use in a range of curriculum areas. It is relevant for studies including (but not limited to) the humanities and social sciences, English as well as visual and media arts. The content in some cases is confronting and may therefore be best suited to a student audience of Year 9 and above, although it is in no way indicated that the site is designed for, or limited to, use in a formal educational setting. It may be just as useful to a broader adult audience as a resource to raise understanding and empathy.

Darnton contends that the feel of a book can indicate its status and value (2009); likewise the sophistication of a digital resource can testify to its quality. How Far We’ve Come is a well-designed and comprehensive digital resource, offering a unique insight into the refugee experience over time.


Albanesius, C. (2011, November 12). Apple’s rejection spurred demise of flash player for mobile web. Retrieved from PC mag: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2396314,00.asp

Darnton, R. (2009). Chapter 2 the information landscape . In R. Darnton, The case for books (pp. 21-41). New York: PublicAffairs.

Fuhler, C. J. (2010). Using primary-source documents and digital storytelling as a catalyst for writing historical fiction in the fourth grade. In &. D. B. Moss, Teaching new literacies in grades 4-6: Resources for 21st-century classrooms (pp. 136-150). New York: Guilford Press.

How far we’ve come. (2010). Retrieved from SBS: http://www.sbs.com.au/refugees/

Jabr, F. (2013, April 11). The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/

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

Learning 2030: From books to screen. (2013, October 4). Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=215NPpHsQPk&feature=youtu.be

Leu, D. J. (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of adolescent & adult literacy, 55(1), 5-14. doi:10.1598

Mills, K. A., & Levido, A. (2011). iPed: pedagogy for digital text production. The reading teacher, 65(1), 80-91. doi:10.1598/RT.65.1.11

Refugee council of Australia. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/

Refugee council of Australia. (2015). Refugee week. Retrieved from http://www.refugeeweek.org.au/