Printed books all share identical physical traits–pages, a cover, and heft (that is, tangible matter). Although content varied, the definition of a book was never queried. The days of simple definitions are gone. Now we discuss narrative non-linear platforms or multimedia interactive hypertexts, and e-books, eBooks, or are they E-Books?
I know the easy answer is: it doesn’t matter. What’s in a name, after all? Well, actually quite a lot. If books are no longer easily classified, then names do matter, and categories, definitions and distinctions must be clear, so the public can be educated about what types of texts are available, and how to engage with them.
Researchers (Lamb, 2011, Rettberg, 2012) have attempted to assign criteria and categorise the increasing array of digital texts. Having agreed upon categories will also make it easier to work out what can be called digital literature and what should be dismissed. Currently the boundaries are blurred and the choices subjective. Researchers also argue these types of texts are here to stay (Darnton, 2009, Edwards, 2013), and that teachers need to bring them into class rooms (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012, Lamb, 2011). I wish it was easy to find them.
High quality digital literature balance elements of text, artwork, interactivity, and subject matter in fresh, usable, and enlightening ways, offering readers an enriched experience (Houston, 2011, Unsworth, 2005). Emotional power is also necessary. That they offer participatory connectivity (Skains, 2010) is touted as a major bonus. I am not sure this is true. People have been sharing stories forever, and the web 2.0 affordances are just new ways of uniting readers.
Having spent much time lingering over The Artifacts (Stace & Hare, 2011) and re-reading Rules of Summer (Tan & Kentley, 2013), I can see much value for students. Although I want to recommend them to my boys purely as recreational reads, I am convinced their value lies more in critical discussion and interpretation. Two years ago, I worked with a teacher on a Year 8 English unit, comparing print and online books. These types of texts would fit perfectly into such a unit. During the last two weeks of this term, I plan to share the interactive version of Rules of Summer with all my year 9 classes and discuss the likelihood of them seeking out such texts for themselves. I am keen to see their reactions.
It’s very hard to nominate one digital text as my favourite. I like them all equally for different reasons. Rules of Summer has value in that it can be shown in two formats. It’s a perfect entry in to comparing and contrasting print texts with interactive ones, and it offers much in the way of wonder and beauty. Its ambiguous messages allow room for interpretation and discussion.
The Artifacts, on the other hand, shows what can be achieved with the right combination of story, art and digital affordances. Stace’s story is original with no previous life (as far as I am aware) in print form, and it is likely that parts of the narrative and images were informed by the possibilities of the interactivities and the added features of music and sound effects. The opportunity to discuss the collaborative process of how writer/artist worked with the coder allows students to think more deeply about the technology that influences so much of their lives. Too often, young people remain consumers of the digital devices, instead of taking on more participatory roles, such as developers or creators of content.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was a guilty pleasure. The thought of not actually reading, just watching, put me very much in a relaxed study environment, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I should. My school is all-boys, so I would struggle to make this relevant to their lives. However, it does contain several educational opportunities in a range of subjects and year levels. In a very literary sense, episodes could be used as a way to illustrate the point of modernising texts (we do this with Shakespearian texts all the time). Specific episodes could act as good examples of vlog posts – how to attract viewers and entertain them, and keep them watching. Its Meta level is another aspect that has value in Media or Senior English classes – Pemberley Digital (2014) is actually a website hosting the entire Lizzie Bennet story, lifting this from a frivolous use of four minutes, to a clever self-referential example of intertextuality.
There is value in all texts. Print, e-book and interactive. Just as there is with film and music. As more quality digital texts become available and accessible, we will develop new skills and learning. As we move from the predictability of the bound physicality of the book, to the undefinable texts of a changing and complex digital environment, the challenge remains the same: To create powerful stories that can connect us with each other.
Biancarosa, G. & Griffiths, G.G. (2012). Technology tools to support reading in the digital age. Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, 22(2), 139-160. Retrieved 23 August 2014 from http://futureofchildren.org/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=78&articleid=577§ionid=3990
Campbell, A. (2008). The Flat. Retrieved 16 August 2014 from http://dreamingmethods.com/theflat/.
Edwards, J. T. (2013). Reading beyond the borders: observations on digital ebook readers and adolescent reading practices (ch. 9). In J. Whittingham, & IGI Global (Eds.), Technological tools for the literacy classroom (pp. 135-158). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Houston, C. (2011). Digital Books for Digital Natives. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 9(3), 39-42.
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading Redefined for a Transmedia Universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.
Mitra, S. (2013). Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud. TED Talk. Retrieved 31 August from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3jYVe1RGaU.
Pemberley Digital, (2014). The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Retrieved 27 August 2014 from http://www.pemberleydigital.com/the-lizzie-bennet-diaries/
Rettberg, J.W. (2012). Electronic literature seen from a distance: the beginnings of a field. Retrieved from http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2012/41/walker-rettberg.html.
Skains, R. L. (2010). The Shifting Author—Reader Dynamic: Online Novel Communities as a Bridge from Print to Digital Literature. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(1), 95-111.
Stace, L., & Hare, D. (2011). The Artifacts.
Su, B., & Green, H. (Writers). (2012). The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Episodes 1 – 100. J. Powell (Producer). YouTube. Retrieved 3 August 2014 from http://www.lizziebennet.com/story/
Tan, S. (2013). Rules of summer. Sydney: Lothian Children’s Books.
Tan, S., & Kentley, T. (2013). Rules of summer Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/rules-of-summer/id705751146?mt=8.
Unsworth, L. (2005). Learning through web contexts of book-based literary narratives in E-literature for Children: Enhancing Digital Literacy Learning (1 ed.). Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. Retrieved 15 August 2014 from http://CSUAU.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=198496.