Little Green Librarian

Blogging my way through a Masters in Teacher Librarianship at CSU!

Portfolio: Final thoughts on the impact of my studies

October17

Image of an ape in a thinking position.

As I reflect on my studies at Charles Sturt University (CSU) and their subsequent impact on my practice as a teacher librarian, three themes emerge: the role of a teacher librarian, resourcing the curriculum and digital citizenship. In this blog post, my final portfolio, I will explore these three themes, explaining how the things I have learnt throughout my time at CSU have impacted my practice and giving evidence of the impact of these changes on my colleagues and their practice. It has been an incredibly positive and valuable reflective experience talking with my colleagues and hearing them discuss the impact of the changes I have made and am making to the way I do my work. This exercise has definitely strengthened my beliefs in the value of collaboration in the workplace!

 

Theme 1: The role of a teacher librarian

In 2014, at the very beginning of my first subject at CSU, I vividly remember devouring the early readings that outlined the role and value of the school library and teacher librarian. The role was so much bigger than I had realised, as I reflected in one of my earliest blog posts, and I found myself realising that many of these roles were things I was already doing as a teacher, not realising they were identified as roles of a teacher librarian. By the end of the subject, I had become fully engaged in exploring the many possible roles I can take on as a teacher librarian. While I don’t see that particular journey as complete (in fact, I hope it never is complete), there are several roles that have been the focus of the development of my practice since I started at CSU in ETL401 Introduction to Teacher Librarianship.

 

Teacher librarian as administrator

One role that is perhaps a traditional area of responsibility for a teacher librarian is administration of the library. Although this is not a revolutionary idea, it is vital that both the development of the collection and the systems of the library run smoothly to ensure all library patrons are able to locate, use and borrow items with ease (IFLA School Libraries Standing Committee, Oberg & Schultz-Jones, 2015, p. 27).

One of the most important aspects of library administration is management of the collection to ensure it meets the needs of students and staff. Part of this is routine weeding of the collection, a task I felt confident to begin after reading some of the literature on this topic. As I continued to read on this subject, however, I began to feel uncertain about my confident weeding decisions, as reflected in one of my blog reflections. Having now completed an extensive weeding of the entire library collection, both I and others can see the value of what was initially a controversial process. Continual weeding ensures that there is adequate space on the shelves, users can find materials more easily, the collection remains appealing and gaps in the collection can be easily identified (Larson, 2012, pp. 15-16).

In the audio clip below, one of our school’s library technicians talks about the ongoing benefits of the weeding that we undertook together.

 

Another aspect of library administration that became a focus for me during my studies was the library management system. Our school was selected as one of the first batch of NSW public schools to migrate from the DOS-based Oasis library management system, to a far more modern library management system: Oliver. Anyone who has managed the migration to a new library management system will know the hours of preparation that go into getting ready for the migration and the follow-up management that is required as staff and patrons get used to using the new system. Our migration was thankfully smooth and the new library management system is much more user-friendly for both library staff and patrons.

In the audio clip below, the Administration Manager of my school discusses my role in the management of the migration to Oliver and its impact on the school.

 

Teacher librarian as instructional partner

There is a persistent idea that the library and, by extension, teacher librarian are separate from the rest of the business of the school – an adjunct to the core work of the school. The concept of teacher librarian as instructional partner sits in stark contrast to the idea of separation, as the term “instructional partner” implies a sense of collaboration (Purcell, 2010, p. 32). One of the main struggles in establishing this role is that many teachers do not see it as a role of the teacher librarian, so making teachers aware of this potential to collaborate is an ongoing priority.

In my context, progress in establishing this role has been slow-going, but one area in which I have had some success is Gifted and Talented education, due to my role as Gifted and Talented coordinator this year. This year, I developed a Guided Inquiry teaching guide based on the work of Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari (2012). The intention of the guide is to assist teachers in implementing curriculum-based Guided Inquiry tasks and units for Gifted and Talented students, and supporting students throughout their inquiry. It is my hope that this will extend to all students in the future.

In the audio clip below, a stage coordinator at my school discusses the impact of the Guided Inquiry teaching guide on his thinking and planning. As you will hear, he is using the guide to frame his thinking about how to incorporate more inquiry learning across his stage as he plans for the upcoming year.

 

Teacher librarian as curriculum leader

Curriculum knowledge is defined by the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) as a standard of professional excellence for teacher librarians (2004, standard 1.3). Beyond this, teacher librarians should be involved in leadership in this area through participation in curriculum planning and promotion of information literacy throughout the school (ASLA, 2005, p. 61).

Prior roles I held within the school required me to have a high level of curriculum knowledge across all primary stages, so this role of a teacher librarian has been a natural progression for me. Along with several other teachers who have been at the school for a long time, I am someone other teachers consult regularly about curriculum matters. This is not necessarily because I am the teacher librarian, but I am happy to use these interactions to promote library resources and direct teachers to materials they were not previously aware of or did not know the location of.

The impact of these interactions vary from teacher to teacher, but they are always positive collaborations. In the audio clip below, a teacher and stage coordinator from my school talks about the impact of some of our past curriculum discussions.

 

Theme 2: Resourcing the curriculum

One of the most important aspects of any library is its collection. The purpose of a school library collection is to provide resources that support delivery of the school’s curriculum (ASLA, 2009). This means that items in the collection should be selected specifically for the school community the library serves from the many available resources (Mitchell, 2011, p. 12). In order to understand the school community, Bishop (2007, p. 23) suggests a combination of formal and informal data collection.

This has been a challenging area for me and change has been slow. Having said that, I reflected on my blog that I have come to view any progress, no matter how small, a step in the right direction – I do not have to be instantly perfect! So while there are many things that I would like to do more of – formal data collection being one – I am happy with the progress I have made.

I decided last year that I would select an area of the library that needed enrichment – the Anzac collection – and focus on adding value to that part of the collection. This was an interesting topic to choose, as the Anzac story is a key focus across all stages, so the resources need to cover an incredibly diverse range of users, and the collection needed to have a variety of non-fiction and fiction titles that are housed in their respective library sections. This decision came about as I pulled books from shelves all around the library for an Anzac display and realised that there were not enough titles to meet needs across the school community. I subsequently added a number of fiction picture books to the collection for younger readers and a selection of both fiction and non-fiction titles for older readers.

In the audio clip below, a Stage 1 teacher talks about the impact of the addition of more Anzac titles for younger readers.

 

An aspect specific to my school’s community is the remoteness of our students. I work in a distance education primary school, so our students are not on site. Some are travelling around Australia with their families, others are living overseas temporarily, some cannot attend mainstream school for medical or behavioural reasons, while others are with us due to tight performance or sporting schedules at elite levels. This presents unique challenges for student access to the collection as students cannot simply walk into the library and collect a book they need or want. As such, over many years a system of teachers borrowing books on behalf of their students has come about, sometimes with requests from students, but more often than not without. The rapidly changing needs of students in a digital age are certainly difficult to meet in such a system.

For this reason, I introduced eBooks to our library collection this year. Witten, Bainbridge and Nichols note that a digital library collection needs parameters (2010, p. 8). As such, I curated a small collection of eBooks to purchase and set out to find the best provider for the job. This turned out to be an incredibly complex process that involved a lot of negotiation with various providers to ensure they understood our circumstances. Following the decision to go with a particular provider, further problems arose with selection. Particular titles we wanted for units within our school curriculum were only available if we chose 50 separate titles from the same publisher – a condition of the publisher, of course! Selecting these 50 titles from a disorganised Excel spreadsheet was certainly not what I thought this process would look like! Other publishers have 2-year expiry dates set on their titles. It seems that publishers do not particularly encourage libraries lending out their eBook titles! Despite this, we rolled out an eBook program to a small cohort of students early in the year, who found it a valuable resource. We then rolled it out to all students from Years 2-6.

Responses from teachers have been mixed, with some expressing anger at the constraints placed on titles by publishers. Others have actively promoted eBooks to their students, who have enjoyed having instant access to a diverse library of digital titles. For our students, being able to select their own books and have access to them instantly, both for school work and leisure reading, is an exciting step toward a student-centred library experience.

In the audio clip below, an executive staff member talks about the impact of eBooks for our distance education students.

 

Theme 3 – Digital citizenship

Digital citizenship is a relatively new area for teacher librarians to teach, but its roots are firmly in information management, which is why it is such a good fit for the library. In a recent blog post, I reflected on what it means to be a good digital citizen and likened it to the concept of belonging. Citizens of a country belong to the group of people who are citizens of that country, and there are certain behaviours and thought patterns that make someone a good citizen rather than a bad citizen.

One aspect of being a good digital citizen is ensuring that any works you cite are properly attributed to their author. In recent years, the creative commons movement has spread around the world, and more and more people are choosing to publish their ideas and works under creative commons licences. Using materials published under these conditions allows educators to firstly have access to excellent materials, but secondly to model best practice digital citizen behaviour to students.

In my own work, I have had the opportunity to promote creative commons and public domain images through materials I create for the school. A recent example of this is a set of writing task prompt cards I created for Stage 1 students based around the Archibald Prize, an art exhibition held annually at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). A previous incarnation of this writing task saw images from the AGNSW website reproduced without permission on the prompt pages. When I modified the tasks and prompt pages, I made sure to use only creative commons and public domain images on the pages, with links to the images of paintings I wanted students to view.

In the image below, you can see the writing task sheet based on the artwork by Phillip Barnes of Anna Meares. Instead of breaking copyright by using the image from the AGNSW website, a web address and QR code have been used to link to the image instead, and two Creative Commons images have been used with appropriate attributions to the creators next to each image. A link to Anna Meares’s website has also been included at the bottom of the page.

Image of the writing task about Anna Meares.

 

In the image below, you can see the writing task sheet based on the artwork by Marc Etherington of Del Kathryn Barton and her dog Magic Dog. As before, a web address and QR code have been used to link to the image instead of reproducing it without permission, and a public domain image of a similar-looking dog to Magic Dog has been used on the page to add visual interest for students.

Image of writing task about Magic Dog.

 

In the image below, you can see a work sample from a Year 1 student, shared with permission. The student’s work demonstrates reference to the linked artwork, showing that the link was a suitable substitution for reproducing the artwork image without permission.

Image of a work sample from the Year 1 writing task about Magic Dog.

 

In the audio clip below, a Stage 1 teacher talks about the impact of the use of creative commons and public domain images in the writing tasks.

 

As the Stage 1 teacher mentions in the audio recording, creating prompt pages using public domain and creative commons images has shown other teachers what is possible. In this way, I have shown leadership through demonstrating best practice and allowing others to see how doing so does not impact on the delivery of the lesson.

 

Beyond the use of creative commons and public domain images, many other aspects of copyright affect what can and cannot be done in schools. Finding information about the licences and exceptions that govern the way public schools interact with copyrighted materials is an often confusing information-seeking journey. Even navigating the official copyright information websites suggested to schools, such as the Smart Copying website, is a difficult business. Distance education schools such as the school in which I work often have quite specific uses for copyright materials that do not apply to mainstream schools. As such, many teachers are put off by the time-consuming and confusing nature of such a task. For this reason, I have spent much time trawling these websites and making enquiries to find a way forward for our school. An interesting intersection of the teacher librarian’s role in digital citizenship and providing information services has naturally occurred as a result.

In the audio clip below, a teacher who writes curriculum materials for the school talks about the impact of the advice I have provided and followed up for her regarding copyright.

 

Final reflections

The process of seeking feedback from my colleagues has been incredibly useful in helping me reflect on the progress I have made as a teacher librarian. Rather than focusing on what I am yet to do and where I want to be, I have been forced to consider the excellent progress I have made so far. I have very much appreciated the opportunity to provide library services to my school community. I have enjoyed the challenges of working in a distance education setting and always appreciate the warm feedback I receive from my colleagues and students throughout the school. While there is so much more I want to achieve within the library, I am excited to see that the impact of my studies on my own thinking has filtered down to impact positively on the teachers at my school. I look forward to continuing to serve my school community as a teacher librarian, and as I look to the future I see much collaborative learning and teaching on the horizon. Onward and upward!

 

References

Australian School Library Association (2009). Statement on school library resource provision. Retrieved from: http://www.asla.org.au/Policy/School-library-resource-provision.aspx

Australian School Library Association (2005). Learning for the future: Developing information services in schools (2nd ed.). Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Curriculum Corporation.

Australian School Library Association (2004). Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians. Retrieved from: http://www.asla.org.au/policy/standards.aspx

Bishop, K. (2007). The collection program in schools: Concepts, practices and information sources (4th ed.). Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.) Libraries in the twenty-first century: Charting new directions in information (pp. 27-42). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

IFLA School Libraries Standing Committee, Oberg, D. & Schultz-Jones, B. (2015). IFLA school library guidelines (2nd ed.). Retrieved from: http://www.ifla.org/publications/node/9512

Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A.K. (2012) Guided inquiry design: A framework for inquiry in your school. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Larson, J. (2012). CREW: A weeding manual for modern libraries. Retrieved from: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/ld/pubs/crew/crewmethod12.pdf

Mitchell, P. (2011). Resourcing 21st century online Australian Curriculum: The role of school libraries. FYI: The Journal for the School Information Professional, 15(2), 10-15.

Purcell, M. (2010). All librarians do is check out books right? A look at the roles of the school library media specialist. Library Media Connection, 29(3), 30-33.

Witten, I. H., Bainbridge, D., & Nichols, D. M. (2010). How to build a digital library. Burlington, MA.: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

 

Image source: Primate by Pixel-mixer. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/primate-ape-thinking-mimic-view-1019101/

No man is an island: A critical reflection

May30

Image of a person surrounded by social media icons with the quote, "No man is an island" written below.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
John Donne

So often when we think about digital citizenship, the focus is on online safety. The ‘a-ha’ moment for me during this subject, however, has been the discovery that digital citizenship is actually about belonging. It’s an idea as old as the hills – we are not alone. John Donne, a poet writing in the 16th and 17th centuries, expressed this concept in the immortal words, “No man is an island” (Donne, 1623, para.4). Now that the 21st century is well and truly upon us, our sense of belonging has expanded beyond Donne’s perceived connection to every man on the continent. We now can conceive of belonging in a global sense. This sense of belonging is facilitated, of course, by the vast array of digital tools at our fingertips.
Digital citizenship as belonging
In a previous blog post (Roach, 2016, May 1), I reflected on the idea of digital citizenship as belonging to a digital community and explored the behaviours that would best reflect that connection to community. Lindsay and Davis (2013, p99) suggest that it is the relationships that are formed with real people that are the focus of digital citizenship. Safety in the digital environment is a part of this, but it is only a part.
Teaching digital citizenship
But how does this translate into the classroom? Lindsay and Davis (2013, p102) advise that it is the duty of teachers to actively and explicitly teach children the skills and behaviours they need to build relationships and communicate effectively online. This could begin with teaching young children the skills needed to build face-to-face relationships, then relating this to the online environment, increasing in complexity as children grow. O’Brien (2008, p126) warns, however, that interaction in the digital environment is not identical to interaction in the physical world, so care must be taken to ensure children are prepared for the reality of what they will find.
Building a digital learning environment
Explicit teaching of the principles of digital citizenship equips children to interact positively in the online world. This digital world is an increasingly important facet of classrooms around the world. However, reflecting on my own context and reading the literature with this in mind has taught me much about the challenges of building an effective digital learning environment. Crook (2012, p64) laments that there is a disconnect between the realities of participatory digital culture outside the classroom and the microcosms that we create inside the classroom. Bridging this gap requires a seismic shift in teacher thinking.
Tools or function?
One trap that many teachers fall into is believing that access to a particular tool, whether that is a particular device or particular application, is the key to enriching learning. Fisher (2012) argues that this is not the case. Rather than selecting a tool then determining how you will use it, Fisher suggests that a better starting point is the skills and learning that we want to take place. So, while this subject prompted me to reflect on the value of digital tools, such as Symbaloo and Storify (Roach, 2016, May 14), I have learnt that the specific tools don’t matter as much as the richness of the learning experience I design that uses them.
Role of the teacher librarian
The library is well-placed to support teachers as they shift their thinking about digital learning environments and digital citizenship. The library can also be a model of the possibilities. In my own context, I will be seeking new ways to engage with students and teachers as we journey together toward a whole-school digital learning environment. The future is looking bright!

References
Donne, J. (1623). Meditation XVII. Retrieved from: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Meditation_XVII
Fisher, C. (2010). Do new tools = new learning? [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.evenfromhere.org/2010/08/12/do-new-tools-new-learning/
Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2013). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a time. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
O’Brien, J. (2008). Are we preparing young people for a 21st-century citizenship with 20th-century thinking? A case for a virtual laboratory of democracy. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education, 8(2), 125-157.
Roach, K. (2016, May 1). What is good digital citizenship? [blog post]. Retrieved from: http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/littlegreenlibrarian/2016/05/01/what-is-good-digital-citizenship/
Roach, K. (2016, May 14). Re: Module 2.5: Content curation [online forum comment]. Retrieved from: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&course_id=_11880_1&conf_id=_18190_1&forum_id=_43206_1&message_id=_734341_1&nav=discussion_board_entry#msg__734341_1Id

Image: Created by the author using Adobe Spark – https://spark.adobe.com/post/Uzwss/

What is good digital citizenship?

May1

Image of a girl using social media on a laptop.

Good citizenship, as a concept, is hard to define. Is it a combination of characteristics? A list of actions? A set of values? We know that to be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, but how do we define and measure what good citizenship is?

When we apply these musings to the concept of digital citizenship and what it means to be a good digital citizen, our questions are answered in different ways by different people and organisations. There is no agreed-upon definition, nor are there any globally accepted benchmarks to measure digital citizenship (Greenhow, 2010 , p24). So, where do we start?

Belonging

To be a citizen is to be a recognised member of a country, so we can extrapolate that to be a digital citizen is to belong to a community. When we begin by acknowledging that the purpose of teaching students to become good digital citizens is to teach them how to belong to the community that exists online, we inevitably begin to think about what that might look like.

Behaving like we belong

If we belong to a community, what does that entail? There is no one way to be a community member, but the following traits might be part of the package:

  • Interact with respect and kindness. I belong to my local neighbourhood, so when I interact with my neighbours I try to be respectful and kind, both in the way I communicate and in my respect of their privacy. This same approach can be taken in the online community.
  • Think before sharing. There are many aspects about my life that I keep private from my neighbours. I also don’t tell neighbours information about other people that I don’t have permission to share. Sometimes sitting behind a computer screen makes us forget that we are communicating information to real people about real people. It is important to remember that what we do and don’t say matters.
  • Be an active community member. Students should be encouraged to contribute to the online community by creating and sharing content, as well as adding to the conversation about content created by others.
  • Give back. Sometimes it can be easy to be an anonymous consumer of online content, but this is not a community-oriented mindset. Use of creative commons licenses and social media encourage sharing.
  • Acknowledge others. Plagiarism is rife online, so it is little wonder that students pick up on this behaviour and copy it. Yet they are angry (justifiably) when others take their hard work without permission or acknowledgement. Students should be explicitly taught how to acknowledge sources of information so that they can correctly reference the ideas of others.
  • Obey the rules. Most students wouldn’t knowingly break laws in the real world, but they regularly break rules and laws online by taking what doesn’t belong to them and engaging in harassing behaviour. Students can be made aware of the law and best practice when interacting online, then encouraged to interact thoughtfully.
  • Use good manners. Pleases and thank yous are magic words everywhere, and they certainly enhance online communication!

Useful resources for teaching digital citizenship

Source: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/videos/super-digital-citizen

Useful websites for teaching digital citizenship

Reference

Greenhow, C. (2010). New concept of citizenship for the digital age. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 24-25.

 

Image source: Social by ijmaki. Public domain. https://pixabay.com/en/social-social-networks-1206610/

Literature in digital environments: Critical reflection

October12

Image of a tablet computer and a paper notebook side by side.

Digital literature. The two words seem incongruous – as though something sacred has been defiled. I reflected in a previous blog post that the word “literature” has an implication of value attached to it (Riley, 2015), value that many believe is unachievable in the digital sphere. Sadokierski (2013) suggests that dwelling on a sense of nostalgia for print books is a risk – the digital is here to stay, and we cannot afford to get left behind. This is particularly true of digital literature in education contexts.

The skills required to navigate a digital text are different from the skills we use to navigate a print text (Leu et al., 2011, pp6-8). As educators, it is imperative that we explicitly teach our students the literacy skills they need to engage in a world that is increasingly digital and connected (Leu et al., 2011, p5). We can only do this if we engage with literature in digital environments.

Fortunately, the terms “digital” and “literature” are congruous, and literature in digital environments can be readily incorporated into our school libraries and classrooms to help our students learn the new literacy skills they require (Larson, 2009, p256). Many digital texts of dubious quality exist, however, so it is important for educators to consider what makes a quality digital text. Yokota and Teale (2014, p580) provide a simple yet effective checklist for educators to assess the quality of digital texts. They apply the same criteria they would use for a print text then add the following: appropriate format for the content, use of digital features to assist the story, narrative integrity, valuable supplementary features, and use of digital features to enhance understanding. Digital texts don’t necessarily need to have an excessive number of digital features. In fact, these can be a distraction, unless they are integral to the text (Lamb, 2011, p17). The best digital texts utilise digital features in an intelligent way to enhance the storytelling. Texts of this quality make excellent additions to school libraries and classrooms, both as literature in their own right, and as models for the kinds of digital texts our students can create themselves.

Digital storytelling is an example of a type of digital project that students can easily undertake that meets a broad spectrum of curriculum goals while providing an engaging format for students to work in. Digital stories integrate text, visuals and sounds (Kearney, 2011, p171), and can be either simple or complex (Malita & Martin, 2010, p3061). It has been suggested that digital storytelling can be used across all disciplines (Educause Learning Initiative, 2007, p1), due to its flexibility in form, content and project size. Additionally, digital storytelling projects give students a voice and a way to express themselves (Educause Learning Initiative, 2007, p2). For these reasons, digital storytelling has great value in the classroom and beyond.

My own digital storytelling project took on the form of a visual novel. I was able to utilise free software to create my visual novel and use creative commons images and music to enhance it. I found the format somewhat challenging, as I was coding at a level above my comfort zone. However, the process of troubleshooting, with the aid of online forums, was a satisfying part of the journey in the creation of the visual novel. This project was a valuable learning curve for me. I discovered a format of literature that I was previously unaware of, I developed coding skills, and was able to conceptualise a context and story, then bring it to life. I felt proud of myself for achieving something that had appeared daunting and I was left wanting to create more digital stories in this format. My experience is certainly not unique – it is an echo of the experience of many who engage in digital storytelling.

What the future holds for literature in digital environments is unclear. Current trends suggest that we are living in a hybrid age, straddling the digital and analogue worlds. Whether or not this will continue, and for how long, we can only speculate. What is clear is that digital literature is not going away. In schools, it is vital that we embrace digital literature and look for ways to make it valuable for our students rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist or has no value. Digital storytelling provides a great way to take on the best aspects of what digital literature has to offer and give our students a real way to make their voices and stories heard.

As this subject concludes, I feel equipped with a vast array of resources that I can readily use with students. I also have a much clearer view of the issues surrounding digital literature and access to a wealth of professional conversation about these issues to which I can refer. I look forward to meeting whatever the future holds and am ready to keep exploring what it holds right now.

 

References

Educause Learning Initiative. (2007) 7 things you should know about digital storytelling. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7021.pdf

Kearney, M. (2011). A learning design for student-generated digital storytelling. Learning, Media and Technology, 36(2), 169-188. doi: 10.1080/17439884.2011.553623

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Larson, L.C. (2009). e-Reading and e-Responding: New tools for the next generation of readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(3), 255-258. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.53.3.7

Leu, D. J., McVerry, J. G., O’Byrne, W. I., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett-Cacopardo, H., Kennedy, C. & Forzani, E. (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/JAAL.55.1.1

Malita, L., & Martin, C. (2010). Digital storytelling as web passport to success in the 21st century. Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences, 2(2), 3060-3064. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.465

Riley, K. (2015b, September 7). A reflection on digital literature. Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/littlegreenlibrarian/2015/09/07/a-reflection-on-digital-literature/

Sadokierski, Z. (2013). What is a book in the digital age? Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/what-is-a-book-in-the-digital-age-19071

Yokota, J., & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: Educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 577-585. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1262

 

Image source: Notebook by Skitterphoto. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/notebook-ipad-technology-screen-738794/

Digital storytelling: Context

October12
Screenshot of the menu page of the visual novel, Trouble.

Screenshot of the menu page of the visual novel, Trouble.

I am a teacher librarian in a NSW Distance Education primary school. Our students are not on site at the school, and they have varying degrees of internet connectivity, depending on their circumstances. This presents unique challenges in terms of fulfilling the teaching part of my role. These two factors – student connectivity and the desire to find innovative resources to support the teaching of “library topics” such as digital citizenship – were the driving forces behind the creation of the visual novel, Trouble.

Visual novels combine elements of literature and gaming – they tell stories using text, images and sometimes sound, but follow a game-like structure and are presented in a gaming format. Often, branching paths are used that allow users to explore multiple storylines (Lebowitz and Klug, 2011, p194). The combination of literature and gaming elements make visual novels an ideal format for use with upper primary and secondary students.

Trouble explores two aspects of digital citizenship: plagiarism and the use of creative commons and public domain images. It does so by both explicitly introducing the concept of creative commons image searches and by modelling their use, as the characters are created from creative commons vector graphics. Background images are from Pixabay, a public domain image site that is mentioned in the text. The music that accompanies the game is from Incompetech, which contains a large collection of music by Kevin MacLeod that is shared under Creative Commons Licence 3.0.

Screenshot from the visual novel, Trouble, featuring a character developed from creative commons vector graphics and a public domain image background.

Screenshot from the visual novel, Trouble, featuring a character developed from creative commons vector graphics and a public domain image background.

Digital citizenship is embedded throughout the NSW Syllabus in the Learning Across the Curriculum areas of ICT and Ethical Understanding. The more specific syllabus outcome that provides a context for the use of Trouble is the Stage 3 (Years 5 and 6) English outcome EN3-3A, the content of which asks students to “explain and justify the responsible use of digital technologies” (Board of Studies NSW, 2012).

The visual novel is not designed to stand alone; rather, it is designed to be used in a learning sequence on the responsible use of digital technologies. Trouble is flexible, in that it could be used at the beginning of a sequence to introduce the topic, or at any point in the sequence to reinforce the topic. The visual novel may be of use in the wider teacher librarian community, either in the context of teaching about digital citizenship generally or plagiarism specifically. It presents a scenario that is readily accessible to students, in which decisions need to be made about whether to put something together hastily to meet a deadline or to take a little extra time to ensure they have not plagiarised. The narrative is presented in such a way that the reader becomes the protagonist, a stylistic choice that is both typical of many visual novels (Lebowitz and Klug, 2011, p193) and makes it easier for the student to see themselves in the scenario, thus enhancing student understanding of the decisions they face.

Trouble caters to students with diverse learning needs, while also enhancing student engagement. Readers progress through the narrative with a mouse click, allowing students to read at their own pace. The short, sharp bursts of text may be less confronting than a page of text for students with reading difficulties. The inclusion of decision points, reminiscent of ‘choose your own adventure’ novels, that allow the reader to take the narrative in different directions, are designed to keep students engaged. Advanced students are likely to read through one version of the text relatively quickly, but can read through again and make different decisions, while students who need more time can read through a single time. This makes it a suitable resource for use in a mainstream differentiated class.

In the context of Distance Education, this resource is intended to be a digital literature experience in a series of library lessons on digital citizenship. Students in grades 5 and 6 will engage asynchronously with the text and use it as a springboard for discussion about plagiarism in an online meeting. They will be encouraged to read Trouble more than once to allow them to make different decisions and see how they play out.

Beyond the intended context, the text could also be used as a starting point for interested students to make their own visual novel. The Ren’Py software is free to download and use, and online community forums are useful for troubleshooting. While the coding used is not overly complex, it is not suitable for absolute beginners. Also, many visual novels contain adult content, so student supervision is recommended.

Trouble can be downloaded for Windows and Mac here.

 

References

Board of Studies NSW (2012). EN3-3A [webpage]. Retrieved from http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/english/english-k10/content/893/

Lebowitz, J. & Klug, C. (2011) Branching path stories. In Interactive storytelling for video games: A player-centered approach to creating memorable characters and stories (pp. 181-204). Burlington, MA, USA: Focal Press.

Resource description: A reflection

October11

Image of a young girl takings a book from a library shelf.

Throughout this course, I have established a personal philosophy of resource description that will serve me throughout my career. It centres around three key points: users first, consistency and future thinking.

Users first

The introduction of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) framework is an important development in the development of user-friendly systems, as its roots are in the needs of users (Oliver, 2010, p14). In order for these systems to operate effectively, quality metadata is required in catalogue records (Hider, 2012, p77).

The School’s Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) create detailed records to help schools catalogue their resources (Education Services Australia, 2013, p6). SCIS records are indispensible for the creation of an effective catalogue, but it is crucial to note that these records are created by people, which means that sometimes resources are inefficiently filed or filed in a way that does not meet the needs of users in a particular library. This is why it is imperative for all librarians to understand how both record creation and systems work (Hider, 2012, p63).

Consistency

Another key aspect of delivering a quality library service is maintaining consistency (Hider, 2012, pp80-82). This occurs through the use of quality metadata, as well as the use of a controlled vocabulary in catalogue records (Hider, 2012, p82). SCIS subject headings are the key source of controlled vocabulary in school libraries (Education Services Australia, 2011, p1), and it has been helpful to learn how these subject headings are created. The more teacher librarians work with subject headings, the easier it is for us to help our patrons find the resources they need.

Future thinking

The pace of change in technology and access means that the way libraries currently operate may change significantly in a short space of time. One way this is manifesting is in the increasing use of search engines that search through whole texts rather than relying on metadata and controlled vocabularies (Hider, 2012, pp53-54). While this may seem threatening to libraries, it is important to acknowledge that this type of searching is sometimes the best way for a person to find what they need. Conversely, sometimes this type of searching does not result in a person finding what they need. Future thinking requires teacher librarians to demonstrate to patrons that both types of searches are beneficial in different circumstances (Hider & Harvey, 2008, p155). It is part of our role to educate users on search methods and encourage blended use.

 

Describing and analysing education resources can sometimes be a frustrating endeavour, but the need for effective resource description is without question in the school library context. Library administrators require a consistent and logical way to organise resources, and patrons require a user-friendly and dependable system for finding, identifying, selecting and obtaining resources that best meet their needs (Oliver, 2010, p15). Through readings and practical activities, I have developed a much clearer understanding of the challenges libraries face in this endeavour. But I have also discovered the satisfaction of solving the puzzle of how best to describe a resource so that it makes sense to users. The understandings I have formed in this course have made me a better librarian, and the school community I serve will certainly receive an improved library service because of this for years to come.

 

References

Education Services Australia (2011). Overview and principles of SCIS subject headings. Retrieved from http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/Overview.pdf

Education Services Australia (2013). SCIS standards for cataloguing and data entry. Retrieved from http://www2.curriculum.edu.au/verve/_resources/SCIS_standards.pdf

Hider, P. (2012). Information resource description: Creating and managing metadata. London: Facet Publishing.

Hider, P., & Harvey, R (2008). Natural language approaches. In S. Ferguson (ed.) Organising knowledge in a society: Principles and practices in libraries and information centres (pp.154-163). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies.

Oliver, C. (2010). FRBR and FRAD in RDA. In Introducing RDA: A guide to the basics (pp.13-36). Chicago: ALA Editions.

 

Image source: Library girl by Ben_Kerckx. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/child-girl-people-library-books-684583/

Digital storytelling: A proposal

September14

Image of an anime student in a classroom.

Proposed topic

Digital citizenship: Using public domain and creative commons images and music.

Proposed digital tools

I plan to create a visual novel using the free Ren’Py software, which will result in a “game” application file in formats suitable for PC and Mac computers. If time permits, I will also create an Android-compatible version of the visual novel. I plan to use the following digital tools:

Rationale

I work as the teacher librarian in a Distance Education primary school in NSW. In my role, I seek to source and create resources that Distance Education students can use offline to introduce them to library skills and concepts in an engaging way. I will be creating a short visual novel to introduce students in years 5 and 6 to the concept of public domain and creative commons images and music.

Visual novels use a combination of typically first-person narrative text, images and sound effects to tell a story (Lebowitz & Klug, 2011, pp193-194). They usually feature branching paths, similar to those found in “choose your own adventure” novels, adding a game-like element to the reading experience (Lebowitz & Klug, 2011, p194). Visual novels can be categorised as interactive fiction (Lamb, 2011, p15), as readers must interact with the text to both move it along and decide its direction. Walsh (2013, p187) identifies the use of alternative paths as a feature of a digital narrative. This format suits the digital citizenship topic I have chosen, as it will allow students to engage with the topic of digital citizenship by exploring what could happen if they choose to plagiarise (through branching storylines), while also introducing them to the options of using public domain and creative commons.

A syllabus context for use of the visual novel I create is English outcome EN3-3A, which asks students to interact with texts that employ a variety of media, while also exploring the concept of responsible use of digital technologies. The context would also integrate concepts from the Learning Across the Curriculum areas of ICT and Ethical Understanding.

 

References

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Lebowitz, J. & Klug, C. (2011) Branching path stories. In Interactive storytelling for video games: A player-centered approach to creating memorable characters and stories (pp. 181-204). Burlington, MA, USA: Focal Press.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

 

Image source: Moe by jsks. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/moe-woman-girl-manga-anime-cartoon-595961/

A reflection on digital literature

September7

A woman's hand touching a tablet computer

Digital literature

Defining digital literature is as inherently difficult as defining literature in general. Broadly, literature can be defined as the written word, but there is an implication when we use the word “literature” that those written words have some lasting value. Defining what is and is not of literary value is, of course, a subjective endeavour, one that often takes many years in the non-digital sphere. Unfortunately, the transient nature of digital environments is not conducive to the pace at which we traditionally assess the quality of literature. We live in an age where our students are increasingly online, digitally connected and more at ease with digital formats (Combes, 2007, p17). We must, therefore, attempt to determine the literary merit of digital texts so that we can equip our students with the means and metalanguage to evaluate what they read on a daily basis.

The format of digital literature is one aspect we need to consider when determining the value of a text. Format varies widely, but generally can be placed along a continuum. At one end of the continuum lie linear texts, such as standard eBooks, that operate much like their analogue counterparts. At the other end lie texts that could only exist in the digital realm due to a non-linear format and/or the use of multimedia elements, such as video. Each type of text along the continuum has its place in the classroom. Even linear interactive storybooks, such as The Sneetches, a book app based on the 1961 text by Dr Seuss, have value in the classroom, as they promote engagement through digital elements, and various features can help students with special needs and students who are learning English to access reading support (Lamb, 2011, p14).

Another consideration when determining the value of a digital text is purpose. Digital texts in the classroom should be more than a direct substitution for non-digital texts (Jabr, 2013). Digital enhancements should add value to the text, rather than being simply ornamental (Yokota & Teale, 2014, p580), and those enhancements should ideally be directly related to the purpose determined by the author or publisher. If the purpose is simply to create a digital version of an existing print text, the digital elements are likely to lack imagination and may be superfluous to the text. If, however, a text is either born digital or digitised with a distinct purpose in mind beyond digitisation, the digital elements are likely to provide a layer of meaning to the text that would otherwise not be possible. For example, the online eBook, A Calendar of Tales by Neil Gaiman, was conceived as a digital collaboration between an established author and his readers. That purpose is clear from the digital elements selected for the text, which include fan art and fan animations based around the audio readings by the author.

Thirdly, comparison between a digital text and its non-digital counterparts is important in determining the value of its format. Digital texts selected for comparison should allow students the opportunity to see the way in which digital elements enhance the story being told. For example, immersive journalism projects, such as Merapi Stories – an interactive documentary about the 2010 eruption of an Indonesian volcano, are able to achieve a richer palette of outcomes than their print-based counterparts. This text utilises digital features to clearly make visual connections between elements of the story, a feat that would be difficult to achieve in non-digital texts on the same topic. When compared to, for example, newspaper reports about the same events, it is clear that Merapi Stories allows readers to engage with the far-reaching impacts of this natural disaster in a much deeper way.

 

Digital texts in the classroom

Looking closely at A Calendar of Tales, it is easy to see the value of such a text and its potential for incorporation into a primary school library or classroom. With this text, Year 5 and 6 students could:

  • analyse the literary merit of the tales;
  • compare the tales to other works by Gaiman;
  • compare the PDF and the online eBook versions of the tales;
  • examine the purpose of the text and identify ways that the author has worked to achieve the purpose;
  • analyse the digital features of the online eBook and identify how they enhance the written word;
  • identify elements of the author’s craft and incorporate these into their own writing;
  • conceive and execute a collaborative writing project, modelled on Gaiman’s project;
  • interact with Gaiman on social media; and
  • create animations or artwork to enhance a selected tale.

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it indicates the scope of learning experiences that students can have with a text like A Calendar of Tales. Several of these activities could, of course, be undertaken with a non-digital text, but others are only possible because of the digital elements present.

 

Digital texts can provide a wealth of rich learning experiences in the classroom, but teacher librarians need to be thoughtful when selecting digital texts for the school library (Walsh, 2013, p182). Sets of criteria, such as those developed by Yokota and Teale (2014, p580), are useful in making selection decisions. If school libraries contain a good balance of quality print and digital texts that meet the requirements of the syllabus and the interest of students, the library will go a long way to meeting two of its primary purposes within the school – to resource and to engage.

 

References

Combes, B. (2007). Techno-savvy or just techno-oriented?: What does the research tell us about the information-seeking behaviour of the ‘net generation’? Access, 21(2), 17-20.

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

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp.181-194). Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: Educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 577-585. doi: 10.1002/trtr.1262

 

Image source: Hand by Unsplash. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/hand-nail-pointing-fingers-screen-692113/

Digital literature reviews

September7

image of a young girl operating a tablet computer

Merapi Stories (Website)

http://www.merapistories.com/

In 2010, seismic activity around the Merapi Volcano in Indonesia caused a series of devastating eruptions, tragically claiming the lives of approximately 350-400 people and significantly impacting the lives of countless others. The Merapi Stories website explores, through interviews and thematic connections, the experiences of 21 people affected by this natural disaster.

The website was conceived by Josephine Lie, its creator, as an “online interactive documentary” (Lie, 2012, p2) and was developed by Code and Visual on its flash web development platform. It can be categorised as an example of immersive multimedia journalism. The site is also supported by a wonderful study guide, available to download for free from the website.

The primary content of the website is a series of video interviews, conducted by website creator Josephine Lie in a number of Indonesian dialects, supplemented with English subtitles. Each of the videos play for several minutes and are masterfully edited to enhance the subject matter being discussed. For example, an interview with a farmer named Hardi, whose farm lies seven kilometres south of Mount Merapi, is interspersed with footage of his farm and evidence of damage caused by the volcano. This particular video interview explores the motivation of people like Hardi to continue living near an active volcano, giving student viewers a more personal insight into the lives of people affected by natural disasters. Not all of the interviews are as useful as each other, from an educational point of view, but their short length means that the less useful videos do not detract from the overall quality and usefulness of the website content.

Merapi Stories can be used with students in Years 5 and 6 who are studying the Earth and Space sub-strand of the New South Wales Science syllabus (outcome ST3-9ES). The content points for this outcome suggest that students study the rapid changes at the earth’s surface, using examples from the Asian region, which makes the website an excellent resource for this topic. Another content point asks students to identify the role of scientific and technological advances in helping people plan for and manage natural disasters, another topic that is explored in the video interviews. Merapi Stories also allows students to engage with content from the Reading and Viewing sub-strand of the New South Wales English syllabus (outcome EN3-3A), which asks students to explore the structure and construction of more complex texts.

Navigation of the Merapi Stories website is incredibly intuitive. A short introductory video plays automatically when first entering the website. It briefly introduces the site, shows footage of an eruption of Mount Merapi, and encourages the viewer to select a video to begin. Once the introductory video closes, the viewer is presented with a network of coloured circles, arranged in three layers.

screen shot of the Merapi Stories website

Hovering the cursor over any of the circles will cause a photograph of an interviewee to appear, accompanied by a short audio clip. Coloured lines also materialise to join the selected video to other videos that are linked thematically. A theme list to the left of the page highlights the relevant themes for the selected video. The theme list provides another method of navigation, allowing viewers to see all videos that are relevant to a particular theme. A third method of navigation is utilising the three visual levels that separate the sets of videos – village residents, volunteers and coordinators, and the wider community. The key digital affordances that add value to this website are: the flexibility of navigation, the non-linear nature of the videos, consistency of icon use throughout the website and videos, and the clean layout of site.

The excellent design and clean presentation of the site provides the basis for intrinsic motivation for users. There are few text-based instructions, but navigation is so intuitive that exploration becomes an integral part of interacting with the website. Hovering the cursor over various elements of the page causes immediate feedback to occur, in the guise of bursts of colour that shoot across the page, encouraging the user to explore the thematic links between videos.

The only drawback of Merapi Stories is its format – flash. Flash is best viewed on a computer rather than a tablet, which limits its use within the classroom if laptops are not widely available. Flash also will not work on Apple mobile devices at all.

Over all, Merapi Stories offers students the opportunity to explore the wide-ranging effects of a natural disaster in the local community through hearing the voices and stories of people whose lives were forever changed by the 2010 eruptions. It does so in an engaging way, using excellent design and intuitive navigation to encourage exploration of its high-quality video content.

 

The Sneetches (Android app)

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.oceanhouse_media.booksneetches_app&hl=en

The Sneetches, originally published in 1961 as part of a collection of four tales, is a story by prolific author Dr Seuss. The Sneetches book app by Oceanhouse Media, available on both Android and IOS platforms, employs simple animations, sound effects and narration to bring this classic story to a new audience. This review is based on the Android app, currently available from the Google Play Store for $1.29.

The Sneetches app can be categorised as an interactive storybook, as it incorporates many of the features attributed to this type of digital text (Lamb, 2011, p14). As this app is based on a classic text that has already proved its worth as a piece of literature in its own right, educators selecting this app can be assured that it is a quality text, enhanced by features that are designed to increase engagement (Larson, 2009, p257).

The Sneetches is a text that was not born digital, meaning that the narrative is necessarily linear to match the original non-digital story, limiting the level of interactivity for users. This means that the text is not suitable for selection as a comparison text to the original non-digital version, as digital enhancements are limited. Where this text excels, however, is in its value as literature. The Sneetches is a text recommended by the Board of Studies NSW for students in Years 3 and 4 (2013, p36), as it examines complex themes in an accessible way. The Sneetches app allows students to engage with content from the Reading and Viewing sub-strand of the English K-10 syllabus (outcome EN2-8B).

From the navigation screen, users can select to have the story read to them, either at a pace set by the user or through auto play (which runs for approximately ten minutes), or to read the story themselves. Simple animations are used to transition between the various elements of the original paper page, and sound effects accompany many of the pages. The sound effects can be toggled on and off in the settings menu, which is also where a brief set of written instructions can be found that alert the user to a number of features of the text, including the ability to tap on parts of the illustrations to see and hear labels for a number of illustrative elements. Another way that users are alerted to the image label feature is an instruction early on in the text to “tap pictures”. The Sneetches uses the standard eBook swipe feature to navigate between pages. The use of standard eBook digital affordances, such as tapping and swiping, allow the user to navigate easily through the text and receive the expected feedback that these actions would usually elicit on a touch screen device. These schemas are often already established in young readers (James & de Kock, 2013, p118), so their interaction with The Sneetches is likely to be very intuitive. The standard structure of Oceanhouse Media’s book apps also allows the user to become familiar with the format, increasing accessibility to all of the titles. The simple interaction between user and app means that even very young readers will be able to traverse the app with ease. Thus, the usability of The Sneetches is broad. The reusability of the app means that, much like a child’s favourite print-based text, The Sneetches can be read repeatedly.

Intrinsic motivation for young readers of The Sneetches takes the form of assisted reading mechanisms. Tapping on words and pictures elicits assistance in the form of word highlighting and audio assistance. This is particularly useful in The Sneetches, due to the use of invented words, such as “thars” instead of “theirs”, and difficult character names. This feature allows weaker readers to read on without losing meaning.

The presentation design of The Sneetches is simple and consistent across the titles in the series, while also remaining true to the design of the original text. In this way, the illustrations from the original text set the tone for the design of the app. For example, the initial selection buttons are in the shape of the stars that grace the bellies of some of the characters. The serif font used for the bulk of the text is also similar to the font used in the print version of The Sneetches. It is possible that this decision was made purely to keep with the design of the print version, which is disappointing, as studies suggest that serif fonts slow the lexical processing time of readers (Moret-Tatay & Perea, 2011, p623).

Over all, The Sneetches is a solid example of an interactive storybook that caters to a broad range of users. The value of this text is in its longstanding status as good literature and its exploration of social issues in an accessible manner. While it may not have significant digital enhancements, The Sneetches, like other quality interactive storybooks, is a valuable addition to the primary classroom.

 

 A Calendar of Tales (Online eBook and downloadable PDF)

http://www.acalendaroftales.com/

A Calendar of Tales is a collection of short stories by author Neil Gaiman, available for free as both an online eBook and a downloadable PDF. While the collection is presented in two digital formats, it is actually the manner in which the text was conceived and created that sets it apart as a valuable example of digital literature.

Over a twelve-hour period, Gaiman released twelve prompt questions, corresponding to the months of the year, through his Twitter page. Fans responded by giving Gaiman interesting answers. He then selected his favourite responses and wrote one short story for each month of the year, resulting in the collection as it now stands. To extend the project, Gaiman made audio recordings of himself reading each of the tales aloud, and fans further contributed art and video animations inspired by the stories, which are now part of the online eBook. This project can be categorised as an interactive creation.

Those familiar with Gaiman’s traditionally published novels will find some of his trademark quirky fantasy elements within the twelve stories. The thread of time and Gaiman’s masterful writing style hold together the diverse tales, ensuring content quality while simultaneously appealing to a wide audience. It is perhaps Gaiman’s experience as a writer and establishment as a favourite author of many in the fantasy genre that adds the most value to A Calendar of Tales as a piece of quality digital literature.

In the classroom, A Calendar of Tales could certainly be analysed at the text level. The online eBook has a number of excellent digital features, such as embedded artworks, audio and video that go beyond the scope of even the PDF version, making it an excellent set of texts to directly compare. However, the value of this text lies in its ability to inspire collaborative writing projects with real audiences. A Calendar of Tales allows students in Years 5 and 6 to engage with the Thinking imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically sub-strand of the NSW English K-10 syllabus (outcome EN3-7C) by innovatively adapting what they read to create something new. The ongoing free access to the finished product of this project means that students can retrieve, re-imagine and remix ideas that Gaiman and his fans have created.

Navigation of the PDF version of A Calendar of Tales is linear, but the online eBook has several options for navigation. A side panel allows users to jump to the tales for each of the months, while scrolling with the mouse will allow users to access each tale in calendar order. Users can choose to either listen to Neil Gaiman reading each tale or to read it for themselves in a pop-up window. The winning fan artwork for each month is featured in the centre of the screen, but other fan contributions are scattered around the edges. Clicking on an image thumbnail will allow users to inspect it in more detail. There are several digital affordances in this text that are of particular value. The way that all clickable items are affected by scrolling, while the background remains relatively static suggests that these elements moving in tandem are part of a group. Another key digital affordance is the clear indication of hyperlinks through a consistent background of either white or black. Feedback to the user occurs whenever a hyperlink is clicked and through movement of items due to scrolling.

Users are intrinsically motivated to explore by the way in which some images and text appear to be hidden behind static branches. Scrolling reveals each partially hidden item and brings onto the screen more items again. Another presentation design feature that becomes more noticeable when scrolling through from January to December is the subtle changes to the tree branches and sky in the background that reflect the changing seasons of a northern hemisphere calendar year. These small design details encourage exploration and add to the value of this piece of digital literature. Further, each of these enhancements has a role to play in the overall experience of the text, ensuring there is no unnecessary distraction for readers through overreliance on “bells and whistles” (Lamb, 2011, p17).

Now that Gaiman’s project is complete, users cannot interact with the author in the creation of tales any longer, however the more projects like this that take place, the more opportunity there is for interactive creation of literary texts. A Calendar of Tales shows what is possible when established authors interact meaningfully with their fans, as well as inspiring other collaborative efforts.

 

References

Board of Studies NSW (2013). Suggested texts for the English K-10 syllabus (4th ed.). Retrieved from: http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/assets/global/files/english-k10-suggested-texts.pdf

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), 107-123. doi: 10.1080/10131752.2013.783394

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Larson, L. C. (2009). e-Reading and e-Responding: New tools for the next generation of readers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(3), 255-258. doi: 10.1598/JAAL.53.3.7

Lie, J. (2012) An interactive documentary: Merapi: Stories from the volcano: A study guide by Josephine Lie. Retrieved from: http://www.merapistories.com/files/MerapiStories_OfficialStudyGuide.pdf

Moret-Tatay, C., & Perea, M. (2011). Do serifs provide an advantage in the recognition of written words? Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23(5), 619-624. doi: 10.1080/20445911.2011.546781

 

Image source: Tablet by lcr3cr. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/ipad-learning-tablet-computer-907577/

Digital literature environments: Exploring the possibilities

July28

A person using a tablet computer.

When I completed my initial teacher training, over ten years ago, digital literature was only just beginning to be discussed in the context of education. In those days, incorporating digital content into a lesson was a risky business, due to the inevitable technical issues of having only two computers in your classroom that may or may not have been connected to the intranet, let alone the internet, on any given day. Even booking a time slot in the computer room didn’t guarantee that the digital content you might have wanted students to engage with could be delivered. As a result, many teachers incorporated digital elements into their lessons in the most shallow of ways, (publishing a piece of writing on the computer, playing an “educational computer game”, or messing about in Microsoft Paint or KidPix) just in case something went wrong and they needed to fall back on their Plan B.

Fast forward to the present day, and you could be forgiven for believing that the best part of a century had gone by, rather than a mere decade. The rate of change in the technology we use is much faster than it has been in the past (Darnton, 2009, p21). So fast, in fact, that educational policy and curriculum reform can hardly keep up (Leu, McVerry, O’Byrne, Kiili, Zawilinski, Everett-Cacopardo, Kennedy & Forzani, 2011, p8). Unfortunately, this means that the digital literature environments in our classrooms are generally still not a reflection of the collaborative, creative digital literature environments that our students engage with elsewhere on a daily basis.

Coming into this subject, I had a basic understanding of some aspects of digital literature environments. In my work at a New South Wales government primary school, I deal with digital accessibility issues for students on a daily basis, and have been trying to meet the demands of the Australian Curriculum for multimodal texts, while maintaining a standard of quality that I would enforce for all non-digital texts I select. However, my initial readings have taught me a lot already about digital literature environments. Of particular interest have been the suggested selection criteria for digital texts (Yokota & Teale, 2014, p580) and the exposure to digital text formats I was only peripherally aware of, such as digital graphic novels (Moorefield-Lang & Gavigan, 2012), enhanced e-books (James & deKock, 2013) and transmedia novels (Lamb, 2011).

Some of the readings have also challenged my thinking about what constitutes a digital literature experience. For example, the idea of the real-time digital banter (that a person might today engage in on, for example, a Facebook thread or a private message application) being considered a performance of a work (Rettberg, 2012) provided food for thought about possible classroom application.

I believe that most teachers want to utilise digital content in their classrooms, but many either approach it as a consumable to entertain students or cannot find the time to explore the varied options available, so only use what is familiar to them. Both approaches are insufficient if we want to move beyond the shallows and pursue depth with our students in digital literature environments. I look forward to learning more about the tools and strategies teachers can use to bring digital texts to their classrooms, and the role of the teacher librarian in both curating digital literature for students and helping to manage the shift in thinking required to give digital literature environments and tools the place they deserve in schools.

 

References

Darnton, R. (2009). The information landscape in The case for books: Past, present, and future (pp. 21-41). New York: PublicAffairs.

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), 107-123. doi: 10.1080/10131752.2013.783394

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning & Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

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Image source: Tablet by fancycrave1. Public Domain. http://pixabay.com/en/ipad-tablet-technology-touch-820272/

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