Digital texts – the actual, the good, and the purpose
In an early blog and forum post for this subject (Simon, 2018a), my top-of-the-head definition of digital literature mostly encompassed re-contextualisations of print literature (Walsh, 2013) available on various digital platforms. I personally used these mostly as a matter of convenience, according to access or price considerations. Since writing that my horizons have been greatly expanded.
I have learned that there is no agreed-upon, standard definition for digital literature (Groth, 2018). Instead definitions seem to run the continuum from any text that you can experience on an electronic device (which I would personally define as digital texts rather than as digital literature) to only works that incorporate both textual or narrative qualities of literary merit plus an inextricable link to the digital medium on which they were created to be experienced (Groth, 2018). My preference is for a definition somewhere between these extremes. At this point, my working definition would be: a work with a substantial contribution of written text with literary characteristics that is published and intended to be experienced via a digital device. This allows for a fairly wide range of examples and levels of quality.
So, what makes a work of digital literature or a digital text a “good” one? I agree with Walsh (2013) that there should ideally be a synergy between the literary textual elements and the digital features (or affordances). An effective digital text goes beyond the written words and static illustrations and, while it may be able to be printed out and experienced in that format, a printed experience would be a diminished one. I consciously used the word text, because a particularly strong example of a digital text that I came across in my explorations was a digital information text sold through iBooks by Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre (Carson, 2017). The text incorporated multimedia and interactive features in and engaging way that extended the information provided in a way that was congruent with the narrative and disciplinary content (Kao, Tsai, Liu, and Yang, 2016). It was also appropriate to the age level (K-2) in terms of interest and the variety of reading levels in that range. Unfortunately, I got stuck on the term “literature” in the assessment task description. I do not consider information texts as “literature”, no matter how high the quality of their writing.
I think digital texts serve the purpose of informing and communicating and telling stories, just as texts in other mediums have throughout time. While I think that there are shifts in the balance of the skills we harness when reading in digital environments, I think the essential core of communication skills remains relatively constant. This is somewhat contrary to the views put forward by some relatively alarmist voices in the field (Leu, et al., 2011; Wolf, 2010), as I mentioned in my response to this forum post (Simon, 2018b).
Digital versus print reading experiences
I was captured by the merging of dystopian science-fiction and an escape-room puzzle mechanic in a personal favourite find, Device 6 (Simogo AB, 2014). The experience used the capability of turning the tablet in different orientations to help immerse you in the geographical space of the created world, while at the same time engaging you in interactive puzzles in order to progress through the plot. It combined my passion for reading and my passion for escape rooms in a way I have never encountered in print. I was hooked – I just wish they had more titles in that vein and that I could use it in my professional context.
While I was intrigued by transmedia pieces such as Green Gables Fables Trotter, Whitson, & Harmon, 2015) I did find them hard to navigate and get fully involved in. I suspect being part of the initial roll-out event gives following the range of social media a more natural and organic feel, which may contribute to immersion in the story world. I found it tedious and dis-engaging.
Issues of access and ephemerality also proved quite frustrating. Many works of digital literature referenced in module readings were difficult or impossible for me to locate over the past six weeks.
Putting my pick into practice
Of the works I reviewed, from my perspective as a primary school teacher training as a Teacher Librarian, I particularly liked Wuwu & Co. (Step In Books, 2014-2018). One way of incorporating Wuwu & co. into Year Three English would be in a small group reading scenario. After the instructor demonstrated use to the class through the intro scenario, groups could take their own copies. Each iPad app could serve a group of 5. Each student would control the iPad for one rescue mission text and VR scenario.
Response activities could include:
- composing written or comic/storyboard retells of the VR sequences;
- creating a group storyboard (and possibly an animated or VR scenario) for a 6th creature’s story
As the app costs approximately AU$10 per copy, finding learning experiences that limit the number of apps needing to purchased would be preferable.
Note: For informational purposes – this assessment received an HD (just). The main criticisms were that the tone was not quite right for a scholarly review and that there were too many references and not enough space for my own opinions. The length was also an issue – while I was within the +10% leeway using the word count on the blogging platform, Word counts differently and assessed my posts as over that cutoff. Finally, for the critical reflection it was noted that it would have been good to reflect more on the pieces that I reviewed in the other section of the assessment – a requirement that I would argue is not clear in the terms of the assignment, but, c’est la vie.
Carson, N. (2017). Early childhood edition – wetlands. NSW: Central Coast Council. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/early-childhood-edition-wetlands/id1244087687?mt=11
Groth, S. (2018, May 20). Still defining digital literature [Blog post]. Retrieved July 24, 2018 from http://thewritingplatform.com/2018/05/still-defining-digital-literature/
Leu, D. J., McVerry, J. G., O’Byrne, W. I., Kiili, C., Zawilinski, L., Everett-Cacopardo, H., . . . 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
Simogo AB. (2014). Device 6 [Mobile software application]. Retrieved from iOS App Store.
Simon, M. (2018a, July 13). My (limited) experience with digital narratives and synergy [Blog post]. Retrieved July 21, 2018 from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/mrssimonsays/2018/07/13/my-limited-experience-with-digital-narratives-and-synergy/
Simon, M. (2018b, July 15). A critical reading of Leu’s “new” literacy [Online discussion comment]. Retrieved from Charles Sturt Univeristy website: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/discussionboard/do/message?action=list_messages&course_id=_32816_1&nav=discussion_board_entry&conf_id=_59197_1&forum_id=_125929_1&message_id=_1852533_1
Step In Books. (2014-2018). Wuwu & co. (Version 1.9) [Mobile software application]. Retrieved from Apple AppStore (iOS only).
Trotter, M., Whitson, A., & Harmon, M. (2015). Green Gables Fables. Retrieved from http://www.greengablesfables.com/
Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).
Wolf, M. (2010). Cassandra’s thoughts about reading and time. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 36(1), 39 – 40.