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.

Professionally Engaged

Photo courtesy: ganesha.isis on Flickr cc

I love being part of the TL professional community; knowing there are hundreds of TLs out there sharing, watching each others backs, advising and growing better together – it is such a buzz! I also enjoy writing so am pleased when I can combine the two. Writing opportunities have been coming in at a comfortably steady pace this year.

This term I’ve had three writing tasks on the bubble.

1/ Finding out and experimenting with digital fiction has been a focus for me this entire year. I’ve been blogging about it as I go (more to come in next post) and Pat Pledger of Pledger Consulting contacted me about the possibility of contributing to an upcoming publication. The book is a collection of practical ideas for TLs – things they can apply now to their services and programs. I’ve contributed a chapter explaining about Digital and Online Fiction, how to use it, why try it and many links to examples suitable for high school classes.

2/ FYI is a magazine published by SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). They approached me about contributing to the next issue (Term 1, 2012). The theme for the upcoming issue is: Learning Communities so I wrote an article about the PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) I’ve been developing for the Year 9’s at the high school. We are about to launch this with them in a couple of weeks. Very exciting, more to come in a post and of course the article.

3/ I am also a freelance writer of teaching notes for HarperCollins Publishing. My latest assignment – writing teaching notes for an upcoming picture book entitled “Fearless in Love” — a story about one very lovable dog. Writing for picture books allow me to revel in all the fun I used to have with my students in a past primary school library job. Fun! You can find some of the other Teaching Notes I’ve written by clicking on the Teaching Notes tab at the top of this blog.

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: 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.

Diving into Digital Fiction: Some IF and CYOA

Photo courtesy: enersauce on flickrcc

Photo courtesy: enersauce on flickrcc

The line between digital fiction, fiction and gaming is very fuzzy indeed. Choose Your Own Adventure books (CYOA) have always been popular in primary school libraries and books like Encyclopedia Brown adventures provided a little interactivity. So it was not surprising to see that there was so much out there in these areas. Interesting that they are all branded as games not stories.

Choice of … series

This site has several genres of story that  follow the traditional ‘choose your own adventure’ format. I expect it will be blocked at school, but I should be able to request that it be unblocked. So far I’ve played:

Choice of Broadsides

Multiple-choice swashbuckling naval adventure, in the spirit of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, with a dash of Jane Austen.

It was fun being able to choose an all woman crew for the ship – a little gender equality goes down well with me. And one really has to pay attention to details in this game – your crew depends upon you. This I’ll definitely include for the Year 8’s.

Choice of the Vampire

I’m not a big fan of the vampire/horror genre but this is well-written and takes place in ah historic setting so offers a bit more than Twilight-type stories.

Begin your two-hundred year journey as a vampire in New Orleans, 1815; choose whether you will seek love, power or redemption as you negotiate the growing-pains of the young Republic.

Choice of Romance by Heather Albano

Play as a young aristocrat who comes to court looking for love… and catches the monarch’s eye. Will you find true love? Gain a crown? Lose your head? Choice of Romance is a text-based multiple choice game of romance, deception and court intrigue.

CYOA stories are written from the second person point of view (which takes a bit of getting used to) , and Choice of Romance is on par with some of the lighter pulp romance (think Georgette Heyer, Mills and Boon) Because I’m planning to share with year 8’s I had to work my way through this clicking on the ‘naughtiest’ options to see how much sex might be included. It is very light on; I saw it described as ‘low steam factor’ on another site – I ended up sleeping with the King (how does one say ‘no’ to the King?) but it was described only as ‘beyond my wildest dreams’.

PS Of Note: it is possible to choose a same sex option for this story. Iam interested to see that it is an example of inclusive fiction rather than exclusive , but am undecided at this stage whether the teacher will be comfortable with the mention of sex  of any sort in the story given the age group.

I’ve just discovered that there is also the possibility of putting these stories on hand-held devises for a low cost.

Lost Pig

Another adventure game, described on its site as:

… a text adventure game ( also known as “Interactive Fiction”) about an orc named Grunk and a pig who would much prefer to remain lost. The story is told entirely from Grunk’s perspective, in his own words (just words – no pictures), so the player gets to experience the world through Grunk’s unique point of view.

This really did feel more like a game than a story but I will make it available for students as an option to explore from home. It needs specific game software loaded to play it.

Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual: Interactive Illustrated Stories from Retropolis and Beyond

This website has plenty of eye appeal and humour, it  is retro-sci-fi at its quirkiest and its fun to explore all the other parts of the website. The site  has two kinds of stories:  the first are interactive, the second are non-interactive, serial stories with the current one having updates added every Monday and Thursday. As well as the story, the characters carry along with them items such as ID cards that give more back-story when you click on them.