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: 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: Locating and Selecting – Part 1

Photo courtesy: metro centric on flickrcc

Photo courtesy: metro centric on flickrcc

The official facebook page of Inanimate Alice is a great place to start exploring other transmedia storytelling. It’s most recent entry featured an article from the Globe and Mail and it mentioned a digital short story that fits the bill for my Year 8 class.

J.R.Carpenter explains about her work CityFish on Facebook:

CityFish is a hybrid word, title of a hybrid work, tale of a hybrid creature. Part classical parable, part children’s picture book, CityFish is a web-based intertextual hypermedia transmutation of Aesop’s Town Mouse Country Mouse fable.

It reminded me a little of another site (not trans media) that I ran across several years ago. It still exists and after reviewing it again I’ve decided to include it on the list. On its front page the author describes it as:

a show of hands is an electronic narrative. The story customizes itself around your reading, using an adaptive hypertext system

Students will need to register in order to use a show of hands effectively and this is one of the considerations I need to take into account when selecting resources for this group. The others are:

  • does anything need to be downloaded
  • will the site be blocked at school
  • will the student have a handheld device to use the resource (some I’d like to investigate are for iPhone/iPod)

One of the transmedia stories I didn’t choose to include was Azrael’s Stop. It looks and reads beautifully but because it was delivered on Twitter and because it is effectively an ‘event’ that is over, there didn’t seem to be much point. Still worth a look to understand what is possible.

Plan B: Breaking-out the video clips for Book Club

Early Week 4, Term 1

I’m not sure if they were just being nice to the ‘new girl’ but I’ve really lucked out – I get to run lunchtime Book Club at my new school!

Last week 30 or so enthusiastic readers and web addicts showed up and we talked about what the ‘veterans’ had done in Book Club last year and what they’d like to try this year.  They are really keen to go to the movies again this year to watch a favourite novel-turned-into-movie.

With that suggestion under my belt and the knowledge that the Head of  Library had a new big screen installed at the end of last year so we could promote all things library, it seems a very logical step to get into Book Trailers – both watching and creating.

There is certainly no shortage of information out there regarding the making of book trailers for teachers/schools (future post) but I wanted to start my club (well two clubs now! Junior/Senior) looking at proper professional trailers and deciding what makes the good ones work then moving on to view student creations before having a go at creating some ourselves.

Black skid marks on yellow rubber

Screeching to a halt

Most publishers now have their own trailer channels on You Tube, what a great idea! But I don’t need to explain that the sites most people use everyday; Flickr, YouTube etc. are  blocked by public school departments. I’m a solutions kind of girl so am skipping over that discussion to begin my quest to find a way for Book Club to access some of the Book Trailers I’d really like them to see.

Our school uses Moodle as its LMS (learning management system) and it automatically blocks links from YouTube. Once I have a bit more time I intend to learn how to embed video onto Moodle – I read through the material last night but it’s a bit complicated and I want Book Club to watch them this week if possible.

Plan A: I thought about loading up some good examples onto VodPod but found on experimentation that it too is blocked because it is a video site.

Plan B: A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on Richard Byrne’s blog Free Technology for Teachers about Vu Safe. As he describes it:

VuSafe offers a password protected environment in which you can post videos for your students to watch without exposing them to the comments, advertisements, and automatically generated related videos found on YouTube.

When you get to the sign-up page – take note! Only your school administrator can do this. Once a school is signed up then the teachers can populate it with the clips they want and organize them for classes.  I’ve just shot off an email request to our eLearning Coordinator.

Plan C anyone??

UPDATE: March 26th

The IT powers-that-be have listened to staff and consented to unblock the YouTube site, so while we still can’t put YouTube links on Moodle, we can directly access anything we need from YouTube, hooray!