A compelling aspect of exploring digital literature is that, at its heart, lies the appeal of good old-fashioned storytelling. Humans are storytelling creatures. We have been for thousands upon thousands of years, predating the advent of writing. Stories helped our ancestors pass on knowledge, share history, and create meaning in a world of randomness and chaos (Delistraty, 2014). A human brain responds uniquely to a good story, the cortex lighting up as if the events or descriptions in a book were really happening. Stories are a fundamental human communication method (Widrich, 2012).

What is eminently exciting is that we are living in a time where the ways to tell a good story are expanding. Authors are no longer confined to the written word, on pages, tucked away in physical books. The rapid expansion and ongoing convergence of media forms has given us the tools to tell stories in new ways: transmedia mashups of sound, word, and video, interactive reading experiences, nonlinear pathways through texts, hyperlinking, participatory and social reading experiences, and emergent narratives shaped by the user. Although many offer suggestions (Unsworth, 2006; Lamb, 2011), these digital stories are becoming increasingly hard to categorise as forms intertwine in creative and unique ways (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Making these developments even more revolutionary is the fact that these tools of authorship and creation are available to anyone with a device or internet connection. Authorship is democratising – anyone can be a storyteller, have an authentic audience and a meaningful voice on a world stage (Richards, 2010). This is particularly useful when considering narrative creation as a teacher; putting digital authorship tools in the hands of students, letting them create rather than only consume, is a powerful pedagogical imperative (Tapscott & Williams, 2008). The value of leveraging digital storytelling in education is strong, as it allows students to explore their inner voice, create meaning for themselves, and then share their experiences and perspectives with a wider community (Rosenthal, 2015). This can be a platform for transformative, meaningful learning allowing students multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression.

It’s important for teachers and other stakeholders to understand though, that digital literature and the tools to create digital literature should not be considered as the only option – that all reading and story creation needs to be solely digital. It’s not a case of digital OR physical, it’s a case of digital AND physical. Students need a balanced mix of media and mediums, one which a skilled teacher can traverse and draw out the unique intricacies, the pros and cons, of each (Sadokierski, 2013). The role of the teacher is to manage this pedagogical mix (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Because there are differences here. While the message remains the same (“a good story is a good story”, as I mentioned in the Module 1.2 discussion forum) the medium it comes wrapped in requires proficiency with different literacies in order to unpack the semiotic resources entangled within the artefact (Walsh, 2013). Traditional reading literacy revolved around the decoding of text, but if we expand our notions of what reading is (and should be): “Reading is the process of constructing meaning from symbols”, we can expand reading literacy to the comprehension of visual elements, layout, sound, navigation, interactive elements, participatory networks, and even gameplay design and mechanics (Leu et al, 2011; Walsh, 2013).

Many have claimed that the partial move to digital-based stories are diluting the experience of reading – that there are too many distractions and so children (in particular) lose the hermeneutic immersion required for deep reading (James & de Kock, 2013). They are not wrong. There are many examples of digital stories which are low-quality, don’t offer the opportunity for adaptation or feedback, accessibility or usability restrictions, or contain a poor “goodness of fit” between their designed elements (Roskos et al, 2014). It’s important to also consider physical issues such as eye-strain on longer stretches of screen-based reading (Huang, 2012) and the technical limitations of going digital such as battery, internet connection, licensing, purchasing, and equitable access.

These are not reasons to avoid digital literature, though. They are considerations for teachers to face, to understand the variables, and to plan and implement carefully and with a pedagogical purpose (“complexity and all”, as I mentioned in the Module 2.3 discussion forum). Quality digital literature needs to be selected and evaluated and aligned with learning outcomes. This is often tricky in the overly curated app stores and when considering budget, DRM, and licensing issues. Alternative means of sourcing digital texts exist however via public domain, creative commons, and free for personal use literature. 

In summation, literature in digital environments contains much potential – both in the reading and the creating – for students: the amplification of voice, the connection of readers to one another, sharing perspectives and opinions, creation over consumption, developing skills and transmedia literacies, and simply enjoying the eternal joy of reading a good story. Knowledgeable teachers will be able to evaluate digital literature with a “teacherly eye”, consider it’s uniqueness, and embed it within units and learning at school effectively (an example of this can be seen in this blog post).

 


References

Delistraty, C. 2014. The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/

Huang, H. (2012). E-reading and e-discussion: EFL learners’ perceptions of an e-book reading program. Computer assisted language learning, 26(3).

James, R. & de Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: The rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book, English Academy Review: Southern African Journal of English Studies, 30(1).

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1).

Richards, R. (2010). Digital citizenship and Web 2.0 tools. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(2), 516-522.

Rosenthal, S.T. (2015). Digital storytelling: What it is… and… what it is NOT. Retrieved from http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/08/18/digital-storytelling-what-it-is-and-what-it-is-not

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Yi Shang, Gray, E. (2014). Young children’s engagement with e-books at school: Does device matter? SAGE Open, 4(1).

Sadokierski, Z. (2013, November 12). What is a book in the digital age? Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/what-is-a-book-in-the-digital-age-19071

Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. D. (2008). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. Penguin.

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Taylor & Francis.

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).

Widrich, 7. 2012. The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

The Beep Moot is a digital story about a family and the apps they use (or more correctly, about the apps which use them). The family likes to get out and about: play sport, eat fish and chips, go to the supermarket, and out for bush walks. Butting into these family moments, however, are a bunch of intrusive interrupters – the beeping and buzzing sounds of Mum and Dad’s app notifications drawing attention away from “the stuff which makes life bright.”

The digital story contends with our switched on, 24/7 connected society – our need to get the latest news, update, or comment pushed to our phones the moment it occurs, and the effect this is having on special moments and interactions in real life. It’s about how our abundant access to information through technology offers the potential for distraction if not managed correctly (Felt & Robb, 2016).

At the international school I currently teach at students begin a 1:1 MacBook programme in Grade 5 and many students begin to get smartphones a lot earlier. It’s a time when students begin to build patterns of technology usage, for better or worse, and a time when many parents begin struggling with technology usage, norms, and rules with their children at home. The Beep Moot was written and designed with this need in mind. So while Grade four and five students are the primary intended audience, parents, and the wider school community are considered here too.

The Beep Moot has the intended purpose of encouraging students (and parents) to consider and reflect – that through reading about this particular family and their struggles with technology interruption they will be able to consider their own technology usage patterns, the effect this can have on people around them, and how to gain a healthy balance and equilibrium.

As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school, learning experiences revolve around enhancing conceptual understandings of big, thematic central ideas. One such central idea which Grade 4 and 5 students explore is “A Digital Citizen is aware of the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living and learning in an interconnected digital world.” Students explore the key concepts of Form – what is a digital citizen, and Responsibility – what responsibility do I have, to myself and others, to enact effective digital citizenship. The Beep Moot will integrate into this unit of inquiry as a reading resource for students and teachers to unpack and tease out the variables together (Guernsey, 2011), exploring the subject area of digital citizenship and the Learner Profile elements of Balanced and Reflective (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2013).

The Beep Moot was written and designed not only with these curriculum needs in mind but also the particular learning needs of the students. Being an International School there is a diverse range of students from many different cultures and backgrounds with differing levels of English. In each class are native English speakers and “Phase 1” ESOL learners. For this reason, The Beep Moot contains a narration track as well as the written text which aids comprehension (Lamb, 2011). It contains bright images, recognisable social media icons, and speech placed at jaunty angles which builds non-textual understanding of the content. The story is not too long, contains situations and places which children will relate to, and humorous phrases and names of the apps.

The ability to tie the subject area, intended purpose, and audience needs together arose via the author, illustrator and designer being the same person. This is important to note, as many existing stories often get ported over to digital in ways, and with features, the original author might not have included; features which don’t have a goodness of fit, or can distract or impede the intended meaning of the story (Roskos et al. 2014).

The digital story has been published on YouTube. This allows a reader to mute the narration if they wish, pause on particular pages, and skip to certain pages. It also allows viewers to leave comments, extending the world of the story into a social network others can participate in and contribute to (Serafini, 2013) and share the story with other interested parties such as friends and family members. YouTube is a website and app available across all major device platforms and operating systems. The story is free to distribute, making it a valuable resource for children, parents, and community members.

The Beep Moot has been influenced by a number of interactive storytelling apps, namely those from developer Slap Happy Larry – The Artefacts, Hilda Bewildered, and Midnight Feast. These illustrated digital short stories can be enjoyed at a surface level, as a bit of entertaining fun, or examined in closer detail to reveal important ideas and messages. The same is true of The Beep Moot. Other influences are the Hairy MacLary series of digital storybook apps for their rhyming scheme, and the Dr Seuss series by Oceanhouse Media for their sense of whimsy and fun.

Check out The Beep Moot embedded below and please visit the YouTube page to add your thoughts and comments.

References

Felt, L. J. & Robb, M. B. (2016). Technology addiction: Concern, controversy, and finding balance. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.

Guernsey, L. (2011). Are ebooks any good? Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2011/06/books-media/ebooks/are-ebooks-any-good/#_

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2013). IB Learner Profile. Retrieved from http://www.ibo.org/contentassets/fd82f70643ef4086b7d3f292cc214962/learner-profile-en.pdf

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Yi Shang, Gray, E. (2014). Young children’s engagement with e-books at school: Does device matter? SAGE Open, 4(1).

Serafini, F. (2013). Reading Workshop 2.0. Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.