Operation Lift Up Thine Eyes

Photo courtesy: elenahneshcuetphotography on Flickr CC

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone but I’m on a secret mission at my school. Libraries have always been a place of sanctuary for those who find the social culture overwhelming or less than friendly. I’ve decided to take that role one step further and become proactive rather than just offer a haven. My secret mission is to find ways to boost  the growth of that positive culture of support learning communities are meant to have. I want to try and shift general student culture a little from the teen gossip/judgement/exclusion/bullying that is a  growing global trend. I want to try and move kids closer to a culture of acceptance/self-confidence/assistance/inspiration. I’m convinced the library can play a central role so I have several small operations I’m launching from our corner of the school.

OPERATION: 43 THINGS

43 things is a social media site all about setting goals and supporting others to meet their goals. Participants are able to blog about their progress, give and receive ‘cheers’ for their progress, comment to encourage others and share tips on how they’ve succeeded in reaching a goal. On Thursday I introduced 43 Things to one of the classes I teach in Library. Last week I had them think about some goals for their wide reading. On Thursday they set up accounts, typed in their goals and blogged about why the goal/s they set were worthwhile to them. Being the social media savvy bunch that they are, they also quickly found each other on the site, subscribed to each other and ‘cheers’ and positive comments flew back and forth. The classroom teacher and I are ‘following’ them too to monitor appropriate online behaviour and to offer our positive encouragement. So far it’s been very successful.

OPERATION: TED Talks Thursdays

I’ve started a school account for TED Talks and am compiling a play list for TED Talks Thursdays. Starting on March 22 we will be showing a single TT on a fortnightly basis in the library on the big screen. I want to amaze, amuse and inspire the kids; I want them to think about possibilities and get a glimpse of the people out there in the real world making a difference. TED Talkers are truly passionate, often wonderfully geeky (that’s a compliment) or unique and they make our world so much better. Excellent examples of why we should value uniqueness and accept others for who they are.

OPERATION: Poster Plaster

There are a heap of great motivational posters out there that go waaaaay beyond those fuzzy waterfall photos with syrup-y sayings under them (guaranteed not to grab any kids attention never mind consideration). I’ve been busily collecting samples on my Pinterest board and am hunting up places to purchase or recreate where possible. Here’s a link for the place to purchase the Holstee Manifesto and the Cult of Done Manifesto. I want to put some of these high impact posters up around the library and around the school.

There are a couple of other plans rolling around the back of my mind but these are my current plans. I think they fit in beautifully with our school motto — “Lift Up Thine Eyes” and I’m looking forward to observing and noting any effects they may have at school. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Diving into Digital Fiction: The Year 8’s Try it On

As stated previously, thank goodness for school breaks, what would educational bloggers do without them?

Photo courtesy: t-dot-s-dot Flickr cc

After all my digital fiction groundwork, a couple of meetings with the collaborating teacher (Leanne) and a few emails, we introduced her Year 8 English students to digital fiction midway through Term 4. We decided to approach it from an exploration perspective rather than an in-depth assignment. I was especially glad we had when the intro session discussion revealed that almost none of them were even aware digital fiction existed (we thought this might be the case).  Two of the students read manga online and one student had heard of fan fiction. None of them had used an e-reader although many were aware of Kindles (none had seen one). They all knew you could ‘read books on an iPad’ but none had tried this.  I should also mention the level of interest in reading was average or below average for this group; this was one of the reasons the teacher initially approached me.

After a brief discussion about what they already knew, I showed them several examples on the IWB (interactive white board) and talked briefly about the differences and about the idea of linear and non-linear stories. The teacher allowed them to explore the different types of online fiction and the stories on offer for the rest of the session. During the second session they were to decide on one to read and review. Because the students would have only two weeks to do this, if a longer piece of fiction was chosen the student was only required to review the equivalent of one chapter (to be negotiated with the teacher).

The literature review questions posed to the students covered:

  • their thoughts on what digital fiction is and how it differs from traditional novels
  • title, brief summary and the other titles they looked at before settling on the one they reviewed
  • discussion of the digital/interactive techniques used by the author, why they may have been chosen and the effect on the story (eg. distraction, add-on, enhancement, essential).
  • students overall opinion of their chosen type of digital/interactive/online fiction and some discussion on their preference between it and traditional novels.
Results were interesting. The teacher reported that interest and engagement were high. Students’ responses confirmed  our perception of increased level of engagement; Leane thought the written opinions were more detailed than usual. Most students chose to review Inanimate Alice and Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Was this perhaps because they were the most familiar forms? We should include a question next time about why they chose the stories they did. We should also include some exploration questions about the author to help students better understand their motives for using certain devices and techniques in their works. The biggest surprise? Many of the students expressed a preference for the traditional delivery of a story via a book over the the digital method.
The good news was that word spread amongst the teachers about using the digital fiction. I also collaborated  to introduce this with one of the Year 9 classes. We modified some of the questions and the teacher reported high levels of engagement for this class too. I did not get to debrief with the teacher but she was keen to do this again next year. I look forward to further developing this look at new forms of fiction in 2012.

Diving into Digital Fiction: Book Camp pt. 2

Is there such a word as ‘backblog’? If there is I have a serious case of it. If there isn’t such a word, I claim it as my own.

This photo courtesy: kodomut via Flickr cc licence

Last post I started to unpack the many discussions that took place at BookCamp during the Melbourne Writers Festival. I was eager to attend BookCamp to hear Kate Pullinger talk about her journey as an author with digital (in particular, transmedia) fiction. I was not disappointed!

The topic under discussion for the session she led was:

Why do we read? What do the new technologies offer to stories?

We first tackled the question of why we read fiction.

  • to escape, to relax, for enjoyment
  • to discover (empathy, other ways of thinking)
  • to inform

Included in this was discussion on what we want as a reader from the experience.

  • good writing
  • a good story
  • experience of being taken away – a connection to the writing

We then turned to the big question. What does that mean in terms of digital transformation? We identified books as a form of content management/delivery. Their advantage is one of minimal technology – no computer, no electricity, no downloading etc.. One still has to learn how to use them.

What happens when you take the content beyond the book? How do you retain that ideal reading experience?

Kate gave us a walk-through of a chapter of her transmedia fiction, “Inanimate Alice“. She spoke of how the work took on a life of its own (unanticipated) in terms of pedagogy/education. Schools were using it as a gateway into digital literacy and multimedia. Fanfiction popped up then started flooding in. We watched an example of some authored by year 5’s at a local school.  Kate spoke of some of the decisions she made while writing IA that addressed the ‘why we read’ issues.

  • the story is told in first person narrative – for engagement purposes
  • no representation of faces in the illustration side of the work – they trialled that and the reader response was not as good. Readers wanted to imagine Alice for themselves.

We moved to discussing the evolution of story-telling. Stories in the 19th Century depended heavily on detail. Kate had a quote (must find out whose!) about literature from that time containing “a continual rain of detail’. With the advent of cinema there was a move toward economy of detail and a stronger emphasis on action/plot. Digital fiction removes the detail further by supplying the visual in a fashion not disimilar to picture books. Text and visual still need to work together. Visual literacy is necessary to understand the story.

We went on to explore the relationship between interactive/digital fiction and gaming. What gaming can bring to story-telling is the notion of play. Kate’s research found there is a divide between those who want to be told/given a story and those who want to have control and make choices over the story. Kate spoke of how they(creative team) worked hard on the design of Inanimate Alice so movem nt into more interactivity occurred pleasantly and inobrusively. They were aware of the importance of enhancement but not at the expense of the story.

The dicussion turned to the question of whether some genres or types of stories leant themselves to digitial/interactive story-telling better than others. The biggest barrier at this point it was agreed was the screen experience. As screen technology improves more people will be willing to experience stories from them.

 

 

Diving into Digital Fiction: BookCamp: The Story of the Future

Thank goodness for term breaks! It allows us time to catch up on our blogs.

Back in September I had the good luck to run across BookCamp organized by the Melbourne Writers Festival and if:book Australia. It was described in the program as:

… an ‘unconference’ and its mission is to explore the future of new book technologies – and consider how storytelling can be supported or transformed by new media. An ‘unconference’ turns the centrally-programmed, top-down traditional conference model on its head. It’s a one-day, open, user-generated conversation where participants choose the agenda. Three international guests – Kate Pullinger (UK), Kassia Krozser (US), Hugh McGuire (Canada) – will act as provocateurs to spark conversation and ideas, while participants form groups to discuss, design, debate and create. Bookcamp is for writers, readers, typographers, cover designers, technologists, gamers, booksellers, literary agents, publishers and geeks – all those with a stake in the future of books.

It sounded intriguing and exciting (unconference!) and it was a chance to hear Kate Pullinger speak so how could I resist. Thankfully my school is very supportive and so gave me a PD day to attend.

A broad range of topics were suggested by the audience at the start (see photo) and I chose to take part in the following three:

  • Non-linear narrative
  • Why do we read? What do the new technologies offer to stories?
  • Social reading: The conversations that make books
I’ll blog about each but will break it into two posts for ease of reading.

Session 1: Non-Linear Narrative

This session attracted a large group of people. I went hoping to glean a bit more into the writing process of non-linear fiction and hopefully some new sites to explore. However, most of the attendees did not even know what non-linear fiction was and so I ended up showing them examples as we defined what we were talking about. The session was suggested by an author from S. Australia who is writing non-linear fiction for her PhD in Lit and was hoping to sound out an audience. It was interesting to hear her ideas and we also discussed why fiction might be written this way. Many in the audience questioned how difficult it would be to pull meaning from it. There were comparisons made to abstract art and projecting personal meaning that I thought was interesting. We also discussed new understandings of the brain and reading. Someone suggested we read Frank Rose’s book “The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the Way We Tell Stories” (it’s now on my wishlist).

Other sites and books that came up in the conversation:

‘This One Time …’ is a collection of surprising true stories, the sort of stories you might share with friends or hear from a stranger at a party. Someone tells a story, which reminds you of that time that thing happened to you …
Everyone has surprising stories, share them with the world on ‘This One Time …’.

Each mystery takes the form of an illustrated short story, with the reader included as a character in the narrative. The opening establishes the setting, characters, and the problem(s) to be solved. In the middle pages, the reader gathers data (“clues”) about the problem by talking to characters, performing experiments, and so on. The story builds to a “solve-it” page, where the reader is asked to submit a solution to the problem. Doing so directs the reader to an individual appropriate outcome and an exciting conclusion to the story (or in some mysteries, the next episode).

Diving into Digital Fiction: Locating/Selecting Part 3: Web Fiction and Online Novels

Online/Web Fiction

This form of fiction is simply a regular novel or collection of stories that exist online. Web fiction authors often publish on blogs or community wikis. Readers can comment, review, and subscribe to novels if they are still works in progress.

Web Fiction Guide

This is a community site with online novels, story collections and reviews. You can select from categories and one of those categories is young adults. There is quite a collection to choose from, some still being updated and others complete. Readers score the stories and stories are tagged as well so you know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Some of these stories can be downloaded as pdf files so could be loaded on to handheld devices, some are available on Issuu, some  also have podcasts with them so students can read and listen, a bonus especially for ESL students or those with reading difficulties. Novels still in progress often have an rss feed available so you automatically receive the next chapter when it comes out. Here are a few I’ve dipped into (each quite different) so I plan to include:

Scary Mary

Impeccable Petunia 

Mortal Ghost 

Also part of this site is Top Web Fiction a listing of the top rated stories on the site.

One of the downsides of using a site like Web Fiction Guide is it does leave your students the option to go to other categories of fiction, one of which is erotica. This may or may not be blocked by your school filters. Common sense says active supervision is a must if students are the ones searching and selecting stories online.

Fifty-two Stories with Cal Morgan

Fifty-Two Stories is a website run by Harper Perennial (part of HarperCollins) and is a showcase for short stories. Each year a theme is selected and authors contribute their offerings. Each week one story is selected for publication on the site. The theme for 2011 is: ASK. The quality of writing is professional, the stories are for general consumption so again it pays to preview what’s on offer although I haven’t run into anything untoward.

One of the offerings worth a look on this site is  The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, a novella by popular author and screenplay writer, Neil Gaiman.

free-online-novels.com

This is another community offering novels in different genres. It was started by a Christian self-published author so features some of her writings but also contains many other self-published authors. There does not appear to be any mature content stories on this but preview before selecting. I did like the fact that this site includes some online graphic novels. The down-side of this site is that there are no ratings on it so quality is highly variable.