Little Green Librarian

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

A reflection on digital literature

September7

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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/

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