Little Green Librarian

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

Digital storytelling: Context

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.



Board of Studies NSW (2012). EN3-3A [webpage]. Retrieved from

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.

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