Part A: Context for Digital Story Telling Project
I am the Teacher Librarian at a high school who also teaches English and Literacy across all stages. For the past three years I have focused heavily on Stage 4 English, having had a number of Year 7 classes per year. This subject and grade is especially dear to me as I feel this age is most willing to engage in the creative and extracurricular pursuits that allows me to meld the subject’s literacy focus with the goals and objectives found with my library practice.
In 2020, our English faculty designed and implemented a new unit for Year 7 English. Entitled ‘Narrative Through the Ages’, it explores the concept of storytelling across many modes. From myths and fables, to visual texts, through to the future of storytelling in the guise of multimodal, immersive digital literature. The unit culminated in a task in which students had to produce a ‘digital storybook’ that told a fable of their own creation. It was, in truth, very similar to our own task, though on a smaller scale.
The teaching of this new unit fell, unfortunately, immediately within our distance learning period – resulting in staff not fully realising the potential (and problem areas) of the new unit, and students not benefiting from the same degree of direct instruction and modelling. As such, many students did not reach the creative heights they are capable of. What’s more, students who have diverse learning needs struggled to employ their usual enthusiasm and tenacity without that hands-on approach from the classroom teacher. Most students submitted fairly simplistic texts comprised of a sentence or two on a slide with an accompanying image. No regard was given for the ‘multimodal’ components of the task barring a very small smattering of students across all eight classes.
The example of digital literature I have chosen is a semi-modern retelling of the Greek myth, ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’. I chose to recreate this myth because it is the first text our Year 7 students study in this unit and it allowed me to mirror their own task in such a way as to give them a working example of how various tools, resources, and styles could be combined in new ways. It was important to me that I utilised tools and materials that were free, sharable under Creative Commons, and wherever possible, use resources students were already familiar with. As such, my digital text is based on Google Slides (2020) – completely sharable within our school IT infrastructure and can be happily distributed via Google Classroom – and I have used Canva (2020) and Pixabay (2020) to produce almost all image content. These three core resources are ones I already utilise heavily with my students, and they have the added bonus of leading neatly into discussions of plagiarism and copyright.
This retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur was designed to be delivered in a variety of modes as it will be shared across at least four different members of staff all of whom have different teaching styles and have students of diverse needs. For our accelerated Year 7 class, I envision this being delivered as part of a flipped learning sequence in the lead up to the time working on the assessment in class or in the form of readily available extension material for students to work on at their own pace. For the mixed ability classes or classes with students on plans requiring more explicit instruction, this lesson has been designed to sit neatly into our 100 minute lessons, allowing students to work individually or as a class. The text is interspersed with short comprehension questions and writing prompts – not to tax the student’s reading experience but to add more interactivity as well as provide a marker of accountability for the students.
Initially I had grand plans for what I wanted this text to be. I was very excited by the assignment and envisioned short films of costumed characters from Greek myth directly addressing the student and drag and drop, escape room style prompts – but my excitement vastly outstripped my technological capabilities. Ultimately, I elected to adopt the lens of the mobile phone, inspired by Alan Bigelow’s text ‘How to Rob a Bank’ (2011), which I explored in the second assessment task. I did so partly because while I had enjoyed this text, it had some elements that I was not entirely happy with and wanted to try my own hand at, but also because it allowed me to incorporate a fun transmedia anachronism into the myth by drawing on social media and digital formats our students use on a daily basis, an element deemed essential by Lamb (2011) in new forms of YA storytelling. It paved the way to present Theseus as a loveable dope – brave and likeable if self-centred and arrogant. In the end, I am happy with what I produced, despite it being a little too image heavy to be completely practical on our school’s wifi. I have plans to adjust and recreate in the future but have retained the excitement that this unit and assessment has instilled me. I have great hopes for the future of digital literature and am beyond eager to share this emerging artform with my students.
Part B: Digital Story Telling Project
Please note: I believe I have made the story a little too long and/or image heavy. As such, when in ‘present’ mode, please wait for the progress bar at the bottom (next to ‘Exit’ on the toolbar) to fully load and disappear otherwise the hyperlinks won’t work. Apologies!
Part C: Critical Reflection
At the commencement of this unit, I do not believe I would have felt well versed in the concept of ‘digital literature’. If pressed I would have discussed digital formats of texts such as eBooks and eAudiobooks, happily delving into a discussion of the unique challenges of copyright, access, and licensing that surrounds them. I would also have touched on the topic of augmented reality story telling through the lens of virtual reality google schemes such as Google Story. I would have said that I was interested in the concept but unfamiliar.
Studying this course has opened my eyes not only to the future potential of digital literature, but also to the degree in which I am already keenly immersed in digital literature in my teaching practice. I routinely utilise platforms such as Instagram to tell stories to my student on behalf of the library – having Instagram ‘takeovers’ hosted by fictional characters to promote events and resources, a series of videos in which I was bitten by a zombie in the library and slowly turning over the course of a week for Halloween, the advertising and recommending of fan based and produced appropriations and reimagining of texts (YouTube channels, select Tumblr accounts, and so forth). What I have learned is that ‘digital literature’ is a broad term and, while it is still an emergent artform, it has certainly started to grow roots.
As educators and purveyors of literature, it is critical that we keep abreast of current trends. This is not a new practice for teacher librarians but it no longer just the texts themselves that we must be familiar with, but the manner in which they are accessed and consumed. Bowler (2012) supports this notion when he states that “reading is no longer an exclusively book-bound experience [but one that] traverses multiple platforms: books, games, computers, and increasingly, handheld mobile devices” (p. 32). It is with this idea at the forefront that we can embrace not only the ideas of what digital literature CAN be, but what it already is. Something that is new, excited, and worthy of study – but also fraught with challenges. It is our duty to overcome challenges such as student access and equity, copyright compliant creation, storage, and communication of texts, recognition of value, and the depths of disparity in students digital familiarities and capabilities. Bowler highlights that the next era of reading for children will be a completely new (hypertexted and networked) experience of reading (p. 35) and as such it is up to us as Teacher Librarians and life-long learners to be at the forefront of this wave.
Far from being seen as a daunting task, this is one that should (and I believe will!) be embraced with hearty enthusiasm. We are at the forefront of change, yes, but we are also living in an age of duel technology wonder and ubiquity. Leu (2011) points out that the internet is the best tool ever created to deliver and build skills of literacy and communication – and every one of our students holds its entirety in their pockets every day. Now more than ever is the time to embrace digital literature in our classrooms and our libraries in order to build a stronger, more capable, empathetic, and literate generation.
BenSound. (2020). BenSound. Retrieved from http://www.bensound.com/
Bigelow, A. (2016). How to Rob a Bank. Retrieved from https://webyarns.com/fjfjjf/
Bowler, L., Morris, R., Cheng, I-L., Al-Issa, R., Romine, B., & Leiberling, L. (2012). Multimodal stories: LIS students explore reading, literacy, and library service through the lens of “The 39 Clues”. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 53(1), 32-48
Canva. (2020). Canva. Retrieved from http://www.canva.com/
Google. (2020). Google Slides. Retrieved from http://slides.google.com/
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live
Pexels. (2020). Pexels. Retrieved from http://www.pexels.com/
Pixabay. (2020). Pixabay. Retrieved from http://www.pixabay.com/
Zapsplat. (2020). Zapsplat. Retrieved from http://www.zapsplat.com/