Little Green Librarian

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

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.

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.

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

Moorefield-Lang, H., & Gavigan, K. (2012). These aren’t your father’s funny pages: The new world of digital graphic novels. Knowledge Quest, 40(3), 30-35.

Rettberg, J.W. (2012). Electronic literature seen from a distance: the beginnings of a field. Retrieved from http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2012/41/walker-rettberg.htm

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


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