Part B: Critical Reflection of Digital Literature Experiences

Digital Texts

What makes a good digital text?

Within each of my reviews (50 Below Zero, Green Gables Fables, and 80 Days) I referred to the qualities of good literature as identified by Walsh (2013) and Yokota and Teale (2014). The key points of analysis of a digital text become how it engages the reader (Walsh, 2013) and how the reading experience is enhanced (Yokota and Teale, 2014).

A good digital text can mean different things to different reader groups. As Walsh (2013) comments, young readers require texts with solid narrative structure and a variety of vocabulary, whereas older readers need complex plots and characters for analysis. Yokota and Teale identify 3 questions which form the basis of their criteria, which are integrated into my reviews.

Through exploration of different types of digital literature, the application of these criteria have been observed in different ways. What is obvious throughout this exploration is that the digital elements used must add to the story and the reader’s experience.

What counts as a digital text?

A digital narrative is a story which has been designed and created specifically for viewing on a digital device. Unsworth (2006) and Lamb (2011) have similar points of view on what digital literature is.

According to Unsworth (2006), digital texts fall into three categories:

  • Digitally augmented
  • Digitally re-contextualised
  • Digitally originated

Lamb’s (2011) labels of eBooks, enhanced eBooks, and interactive storybooks fall into Unsworth’s (2006) final category. These are texts which are born digital and have no hardcopy format.

The important factor when identifying if a text would be considered digital literature would be to consider its origins and current format. There are many types of digital literature already, and there will be more to come.

What purpose do digital texts serve?

Digital texts can serve to increase access to reading material and opportunities to increase literacy and explore different formats of text.

Walsh (2013) highlights the world outside the books through discussion forums, author websites, research into books, and hyperlinks within texts. All these can help to engage students who might not necessarily be readers. Through digital texts, readers can use text to speech, hyperlinks, music, and interactive features to assist with comprehension. Students can incorporate the multimodal elements to become active participants in reading.

Experience Comparison

I am a print reader. I like the feel of a paper book in my hands, being able to flick back and forth as I make a connection to something earlier in the text, being able to see how much I have read versus how much still to go, I like the smell of a well-loved book, and looking at texts displayed on a bookcase. I think I will always prefer a printed book.

Jabr (2013) and Cull (2011) discuss some impacts of digital learning, and my experiences studying online suggest similarly that comprehension is impacted through reading course material on screen. Printing readings to highlight relevant facts by hand and copy notes from the screen is still beneficial.

While exploring various digital texts for this task, the ones I enjoyed the most were those which were most like print books (eg. your standard print to digital eBook). Except for the texts chosen for review, which were enticing because of the story they tell.

Contrary to several opinions (Walsh, and Skains), exploring Inanimate Alice as part of the semester content was not a pleasurable experience. As a digitally created text it contains many features which make it quality digital literature, including music, moving images and interactivity. But I found the whole experience quite distracting. It was difficult to focus on the actual text and take it all in. In contrast, 80 Days as a game-based narrative also included these elements but to a more subdued level, which enabled a high level of focus on the story being told.

Opinion and Application

The digital text I most enjoyed was the enhanced book Green Gables Fables. This text is a vlog adaptation of the story Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. It highlights issues and themes from the original text and places them into a 21st century setting.

Green Gables Fables could be implemented into the Australian Curriculum English (literature strand) or Media Arts (or as a cross-curriculum topic). In English the videos could be used as part of a text study; and in Media Arts, as an example of script writing, filming and editing skills.

Due to the short nature (4-5 minutes) of each episode it would be possible to watch a selection of episodes within class time. Activities which could be undertaken include:

  • Making a comparison between issues and themes in the videos and their own experiences;
  • Analysing the vlog for narrative and language elements;
  • Comparing vlog to original text;
  • Analysing the vlog for media elements;
  • Creating their own vlog based on a book they are interested in;

By incorporating a different style of text into English (enhanced book, as opposed to book), a wider range of students may engage in the text and the activities. Incorporating a creative task, such as making a vlog, empowers students in their learning; they become ‘active knowledge developers’ (Hur & Sub, 2012, p.324). In addition, students are developing new skills for the future.

New digital texts and digital adaptations of old texts are on the rise. It is necessary to stay abreast of developments and be critical of digital text choices for use in the classroom.

References

AnneWithAnE. (2013, August 9). AnneWithAnE. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/greengablesfables/videos

BradField Company. (2019) Inanimate Alice. Retrieved from https://inanimatealice.com/

Cull, B. (2011, June 6). Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe. First Monday 16(6). Retrieved from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3340/2985

Hur, J. & Suh, S. (2012). Making learning active with interactive whiteboards, podcasts, and digital storytelling in ELL classrooms. Computers in the Schools, 29(4), 320-338. doi: 10.1080/07380569.2012.734275

Ingold, J. & Humfrey, J. (2014). 80 Days [Mobile application]. Cambridge: inkle.

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

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://www.learningandleading-digital.com/learningandleading

Skains, RL. (2010). The shifting author-reader dynamic. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(1), 95-111. doi: 10.1177/1354856509347713

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

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). Retrieved from https://doms.csu.edu.au/csu/file/863c5c8d-9f3f-439f-a7e3-2c2c67ddbfa8/1/ALiteratureCompanionforTeachers.pdf

Yokota, J. & Teale, WH. (2014). Picture books and the digital world. The Reading Teacher, 67(8), 577-585. doi: 10.1002.trtr1262

Review 2: Green Gables Fables

Green Gables Fables, directed by Mandy Harmon and Marie Trotter, is an enhanced book in the form of a video diary (vlog). It follows the storyline and characters of the first three books of the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery. This adaptation provides a modern day take on the storyline of the original, including reference to social media platforms, and altering the age of the character and context of events to engage a 21st century teenage audience. The content is of good quality and the personality of Anne is clearly demonstrated in line with the description from the original text. This enhanced book would suit an audience 12+, and could be used as the basis for a novel assignment in English.

Green Gables Fables uses video and web technology to highlight and represent the main aspects of the original text. The videos are designed to not distract the viewer from the story being told, with basic and consistent setting, and minimal eye-catching elements. References are made throughout the videos to social media platform use and their pitfalls. When the videos were in production, social media accounts for the main characters were also active. This provided an extension of the story in a different online format, and a way for viewers to connect with characters. Kearney’s (2011) description of digital storytelling is highlighted in this adaptation through the creation of vlogs with the inclusion of music, video, narrators voice and emotional content.

These videos use the modern period to tell a classic tale. The modernity of the text is seen through elements of modern language, clothing, and setting. The design and format of the video diaries is consistent across episodes, which helps create continuity through the story. This adaptation into a video diary suits the Anne of Green Gables story well, as a majority of the original books is Anne’s internal monologue.

As described by Wise (2017), stories need a beginning, middle and end, and should be thought provoking. Episodes of Green Gables Fables have clearly identified snippets of the original story which can be condensed and told with a beginning, middle and end within 5 minutes. Like the original text, they leave you thinking about what Anne is going to do next.

The production of the video is well created. The quality of the videos varies from 480p (standard) to 1080p (high definition) depending on the video. Fairclough’s (2018) comments highlight considering the screening platform to determine a suitable filming resolution. Due to the viewing format (YouTube) the low quality of video does not make a big difference in viewing presentation.

These videos are easily accessible and reusable. They are freely available via YouTube, so anyone with an adequate internet connection can view the videos. The production of videos has ended, so the social media accounts for characters are no longer updated, but still accessible. With 4-5 minute episodes, they are easily integrated into a classroom environment for discussion or as the basis of a creative or analytical task. The videos could also be shared with others online. The length also a means that viewers are more likely to be able to watch an entire episode without getting distracted.

Welsh (2014) highlights the ability of video adaptations to take a fresh look on the themes of the original. Hanson (2017) agrees that this vlog maintains the integrity of the storyline. There are a few minor changes to the context of the story: it is now set in the 21st century (not the 1900s), Anne is 17 (not 11), and digital tools and social media are referred to. Despite these changes to keep the story engaging and relevant to modern viewers, the key concepts and issues of the story are still explored.

Elements of quality literature are evident within Green Gables Fables. The series was filmed and uploaded sequentially, with each episode labelled for the viewer to follow the progression. However, it is possible to watch the videos out of order. They are individual, self-contained videos exploring one aspect of the story’s plot/themes. Throughout the enhanced book the viewer can explore the main themes of the original text, including love, acceptance, bullying, friendship, and grief. Through Anne’s description of events, there is opportunity for the viewer to connect with aspects of the storyline and empathise with her. The portrayal of Anne in the diaries is very dramatic and through use of descriptive language she can create vivid images in the viewer’s mind’s eye. The vocabulary used is extensive, and true to the original text in parts. The interweaving of modern and original text lends itself to the authenticity of the video diaries.

Green Gables Fables is a well created online adaptation of the series by LM Montgomery. It highlights themes, language and events from the original texts and adds a 21st century twist. Elements of quality literature are evident throughout along with seamless inclusion of digital affordances. It would appeal to fans of Anne of Green Gables and those new to the story.

References

AnneWithAnE. (2013, August 9). AnneWithAnE. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/user/greengablesfables/videos

Fairclough, S. (2018, July 29). What resolution should I use for shooting video? Camera Jabber. Retrieved from https://camerajabber.com/what-resolution-should-i-use-for-shooting-video/

Hansen, H. (2017, March 29). 7 YouTube vlogs that every literature lover should watch [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.hercampus.com/school/illinois-state/7-youtube-vlogs-every-literature-lover-should-watch

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

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). Retrieved from https://doms.csu.edu.au/csu/file/863c5c8d-9f3f-439f-a7e3-2c2c67ddbfa8/1/ALiteratureCompanionforTeachers.pdf

Welsh, K. (2015, January 13). The best vlog reinventions of classic books. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jan/12/vlog-classic-novels-zoella-jane-austen

Wise, L. (2017, May 30). What makes a great video? Lynda.com. Retrieved from https://www.lynda.com/Business-tutorials/What-makes-great-video/578089/618295-4.html