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 3: 80 Days

80 Days by Inkle books is an interactive book based on the text Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. It comes in a downloadable app format, for iOS, Android and PC. It incorporates fully interactive animations and harnesses the challenge of completing a round the world trip in 80 days. The application is rated M on the GooglePlay store, as such the age recommendation for this interactive book should be 15+ years. The quality of the content is high with interactive activities in each city, route planning and conversation. There is potential for this text to be used in the Geography or English curriculum.

80 Days harnesses the excitement of a choose your own adventure in an interactive app. There are many digital affordances and features which have been integrated into the storyline. At certain points of the text the user, playing as Mr Fogg’s valet – Passepartout, make choices regarding the next phrase of text, which impacts future options and potentially your standing in Mr Fogg’s eyes. The user interacts with a world globe to identify the next leg of the journey. They are also in control of finances and explore the bank to ask for a loan, or the market to buy and sell possessions. It is possible to see the routes which some other players are making in real time, although there is no interaction with them.

The app is presented in a clear and consistent format. All cities and scene changes use the same colours (mainly black, grey and white), images and font. While there are no clear instructions, how to guides or tutorials provided at the beginning of the game, most of the icons make it clear what their purpose is. Around the World in 80 Days is the basis of this text-based game. However, the focus of this app is more about the journey and end goal than the original story. As an app, the interactive book fits the screen of the device to the correct proportions in either landscape or portrait mode. While text appears on screen to help progress the game, creative license has been taken with the content and context. There is also no narration of the on-screen text.

As a game based on a written text, it may be best if the user has a general understanding of the original work. Without this, the pretence of the app, or the significance of places or objects may be lost on the user. However, use of the interactive book may encourage someone to seek out the original work to read. The interactive book can be enjoyed with or without the prior knowledge of the text.

The app is designed for user interaction with the storyline which provides a different experience each time it is played, as different choices are made (Itzkovitch, 2012). Kelly (2015) agrees with this as he highlights the replay-ability of the game due to the number of different routes around the world which can be taken. User intuition is a necessity to interpret comments from non-playable-characters for efficient actions.

An M rating limits the audience of the app. It is not clear why this rating was given, but through exploration, this reviewer has not identified any elements which warrant this. There is a one-off cost associated with the download. The version reviewed (Android) was $5.99. Being sold as a premium game is in contrast to current trends, where free app downloads, which utilise in-app purchases, are on the rise (Miller, 2018).

The integrity of the original text within this format is questionable. Artistic license is taken relating to conversations, travel routes, transport options, and the new Victorian steampunk setting. However, despite these additions, this reviewer agrees with Jayanth (2014), that the premise of this interactive text is accurate to the original. The digital features integrate narrative text, of a similar tone to Jules Verne, into the game environment seamlessly and encourage user participation through moments of choice in text direction and actions.

Elements of quality literature within this text include the need to consider various issues in making travel decisions, and the tone and vocabulary used. The user is guided to make decisions which will benefit Mr Fogg and their journey. There are consequences if poor decisions are made, such as Mr Fogg losing too much health, running out of money or taking too long to complete the journey. The tone used throughout the new text is similar to the 1871 original and created using similar language features.

80 Days is an interesting and engaging interactive book. It uses the digital environment to put a classic story in the hands of those more inclined towards apps and games. The main elements of the original text can be found within the app, along with multiple opportunities for user interaction. Overall, this text included a good amount of classical content while becoming updated for a different type of audience.

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

inkleStudios. (2014, May 14). Introducing 80 days [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/leHaJNhBn1M\

inkle Ltd. (2019). 80 Days. Retrieved from https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.inkle.eightydays&hl=en_AU

Itzkovitch, A. (2012, April 12). Interactive eBook Apps: The reinvention of reading and interactivity. UX Magazine. Retrieved from https://uxmag.com/articles/interactive-ebook-apps-the-reinvention-of-reading-and-interactivity

Jayanth, M. (2014, May 8). Verne and Victorian Futurism [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.inklestudios.com/2014/05/08/victorian-futurism.html

Kelly, A. (2015, October 13). 80 days review. PC Gamer. Retrieved from https://www.pcgamer.com/au/80-days-review/

Miller, G. (2018, December 10). How the rise of in-app purchases is influencing the mobile gaming industry [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://gamblingaffiliatevoice.com/news/how-the-rise-of-in-app-purchases-is-influencing-the-mobile-gaming-industry/?fbclid=IwAR3KFS6Ydmsu1S0l-6kXBaqEQSTi7CULsaw3LlUBGu2QkcN1htSJxlZ-1C8

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