Recently, a friend of Kristen’s on Facebook posted a GIF that showed the evolution of a desk. In 1980 the desk was covered with items: books, newspapers, magazines; a fax, phone, stapler and tape dispenser; a rolodex, clock, globe, calendar, and bulletin board; and a computer and phone. One by one the items on the desk evolved – and disappeared, becoming an app on the computer – as a scrolling mast of years advanced. By current day, only a computer full of apps and a Smartphone remained on the desk.
The GIF represents the possibilities of a digital world. We can, if we choose to do so, conduct our professional and personal lives entirely on, with, and through devices, and a recent Pew study suggests that more and more teenagers and adults are making the choice to go digital. What does this transformation mean?
As teachers of reading and writing, we recognize that our own desks – and those of our students – are markedly different than they were even just a decade ago. We accept that, as the National Writing Project asserts, “digital is,” and we wonder how we can help adolescents to become critical readers in a world where they encounter short-, mid-, and long-form texts through their devices on a daily – and even hourly – basis.
For us, reading is not an isolating activity. Digital tools allow individual readers to connect to a network of readers; texts of all kinds can be shared quickly and widely. Digital tools also allow readers to share their reading experiences – before, during, and after – with others. In a digital world, reading is visibly social.
This model suggests that readers encounter texts in a variety of ways. They may receive them from others, somewhat passively, or they may actively seek out new reading material by surfing without much intention, stumbling through sites with some intention, or searching with focused intention.
How do we help students develop their comprehension skills as they encounter and engage with Kindles and Nooks, RSS feeds and Twitter, hypertext fiction and digital textbooks? How do we help them to read critically in a world where information flows constantly? And perhaps most importantly, how do we help them to leverage the possibilities within a network of readers?
As we consider these questions, we look forward to the #engchat session on October 5, where we will discuss what it means to be Connected Readers.
The research and writing process for this book took over two years, though it was well worth the effort. Combined, Kristen and I visited a dozen classrooms, interviewed nearly two dozen students, and surveyed 800 teens about their uses of digital reading devices. We discovered that reading was about much more than just the device; it remains, at the heart of it all, a conversation about words, stories, and ideas. Here is the official “blurb” from the back of the book:
As readers of all ages increasingly turn to the Internet and a variety of electronic devices for both informational and leisure reading, teachers need to reconsider not just who and what teens read but where and how they read as well. Having ready access to digital tools and texts doesn’t mean that middle and high school students are automatically thoughtful, adept readers. So how can we help adolescents become critical readers in a digital age?
Using NCTE’s policy research brief Reading Instruction for All Students as both guide and sounding board, experienced teacher-researchers Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks took their questions about adolescent reading practices to a dozen middle and high school classrooms. In this book, they report on their interviews and survey data from visits with hundreds of teens, which led to the development of their model of Connected Reading: “Digital tools, used mindfully, enable connections. Digital reading is connected reading.”
They argue that we must teach adolescents how to read digital texts effectively, not simply expect that teens can read them because they know how to use digital tools. Turner and Hicks offer practical tips by highlighting classroom practices that engage students in reading and thinking with both print and digital texts, thus encouraging reading instruction that reaches all students.
We summarize our model in this graphic, and hope that it sparks conversations about the nature of reading in a digital world.
Check out the first chapter on NCTE’s website as well as our companion wiki. We look forward to continued conversations about connected reading among teachers, parents, and, of course, our students.
Earlier this month, Kristin Ziemke and I co-authored a blog post in response to Nancie Atwell’s blog post about the role of technology in her classroom. In short, the response to our response has been, well, overwhelming and positive. As so many of us in the world of English language arts prepare to head to DC this week for the NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE annual convention, I wanted to capture just a few of the smart, thoughtful, and creative ideas that our colleagues have shared over the past few weeks. A few other edubloggers have jumped in with their insights:
Julie Johnson reminds us how “When using technology in thoughtful and authentic ways, our students are given one more avenue for both consuming and producing text. In a true digital workshop, students have choice in how they read, respond, and write. Sometimes they choose traditional tools, at other times they chose digital tools.”
Franki Sibberson demonstrates that, in a “workshop of the possible,” digital reading and writing are parallel to print literacies because “The key is that the teaching focuses on the writing, not the tool.”
Cathy Mere describes the possibilities of what technology can offer her students including the fact that digital tools are “ONE option of many possibilities,” “A way to connect with other learners,” and “A place for students to have a voice TODAY.”
Finally, Jessica Lifshitz rethinks how her students work as readers: “Because now we are not just reading alone in our classroom, now we are reading in a great big world of readers. And it feels so much bigger, and better, than just us.”
It is simply amazing to me how powerful teachers’ voices can be when we reach out and share our thinking. I look forward to doing much more of this over the coming week at NWP and NCTE 2014, as well as on our new Teacher-Writer Network page on FB.
Thanks again to all of you for sharing your insights on teaching digital reading and writing. Let’s keep the conversation going.
To return one more time to Avi Itzkovitch’s thoughts on ebooks, he defines interactive ebooks as “apps designed specifically to utilize the powers of tablets to enable users to interact with the storyline in sight, sound, and touch.” There are a variety of interactive ebooks available, and my colleague Rob Rozema has recommended Frankenstein (iPad App) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (iPad App) as two popular examples. I would also encourage you to check out his book, Bent Not Broken, which he has now made available for free.
For Rob’s book in particular, he weaves the personal stories of refugees with a history of the war in Liberia end Sierra Leone. While many e-books are made for entertainment purposes, I appreciate the work that Rob put into his project, both as a researcher/writer and as someone interested in digital literacy. He was able to incorporate documents and video available in the public domain with his own multimedia including audio and video recordings as well as interactive maps of the region.
In addition to apps that are specifically designed for tablets, I would also like to introduce the idea of “transmedia storytelling,” described by Laura Fleming in this manner: “Transmedia storytelling exemplifies learning in the twenty-first century by merging the concept of storytelling with that of the listener-learner and the resulting emotional engagement with the pervasiveness of media” (p. 371). She builds on Henry Jenkins and his colleagues’ ideas of participatory culture and, I would add, connected learning. Finally, the Transmedia Storyteller defines this process as “telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration.”
One of the transmedia stories that Laura has studied and used with her own students is Inanimate Alice. Here is a description from the homepage: “Set in a technology-augmented near-future, Inanimate Alice tells the story of a young girl who grows up to become a videogame designer at the biggest games company in the world.” In her article, Laura describes the educational possibilities of InanimateAlice, and transmedia more broadly, as:
Inanimate Alice is a bridge to literacy that today’s young learners inherently connect with and understand. Readers go to the story for inspiration, creative writing, and multimedia text analysis. It offers engaging materials enmeshed with educational guidance to be delivered across structures in a variety of formats. (pp. 375-6)
In short, I see the possibilities of composing an interactive ebook in much the same way as I do composing a transmedia story. Thus, for teachers aiming to support their students as they develop texts that include interactive features, I would encourage us all to consider the ways in which we may use blogs, websites, or wikis as a tool for production. In other words, students can compose a lengthy, significant text (like a book) and have it spread across multiple pages on a website, embedded with multimedia.
Tools for Creating Interactive eBooks
As noted above, to officially produce an interactive ebook, as compared to a transmedia story shared across multiple platforms (primarily the web), specific software will be needed. There are two primary tools for creating interactive ebooks, and they come from the tech giants that you would expect: iBooks Author (which forces users into Apples proprietary format and to distribute their work via iTunes) and Adobe InDesign, a part of their professional suite of tools in the Creative Cloud. In keeping with the free and open source ethos of this series of blog posts, however, I will offer two alternatives.
First MegaZine 3 (First Version Available as Open Source), is described in this manner: “MegaZine3 recreates the look and feel of actual books or magazines on the screen. And much more… all kind of multimedia content like video and audio and interactive forms, games and quiz are supported.” While I have not used MegaZine, I did take a look at some of their samples, including brochures, books, magazines, and reports. I’m sure there are other publishing tools that allow for the types of embedded multimedia that MegaZine offers, too, but the fact that the first version is available under an open license makes this particularly appealing.
Second, I’ve done just a little exploration on Sophie (Open Source – Mac/PC/Linux), which is billed as “software for collaboratively authoring and viewing rich media documents in a networked environment.” Much like what I have experienced with iBooks author, the interface for Sophie appears to have multiple options for laying out the page and embedding multimedia. And, like MegaZine, there are examples of Sophie projects to explore.
As I conclude this series of posts on ebooks, I continue to think about the amazing opportunities now offered to our digital readers and writers. As someone deeply interested in digital writing (with all its affordances including the use of links, images, and video), I’m genuinely curious to think about the ways in which we can support our students as they both comprehend and create a lengthier texts.
Many teachers are now having their students compose on blogs and wikis, use discussion forums or social networks, and create digital stories or other types of video projects. I wonder what might happen if, much like a portfolio, students might collect many pieces of digital writing and compile them in an ebook? Could one interactive feature also be in “author’s commentary,” much like the director’s cut on a DVD where we get insights into why and how the film was shot?
Personally, I look forward to continuing my own exploration of ebook publishing as I begin writing a professional book that will incorporate many multimedia components. As you continue your thinking and teaching, I will be curious to know what you and your students are working on, too.
Fleming, Laura (2013) “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar,” Journal of Media Literacy Education: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/jmle/vol5/iss2/3
As mentioned in our introduction to this series of blog posts, we are heading into the world of e-reading for the next few days, considering what it might mean for us as digital writers and rhetors. Today, I want to explore the first type functionality made available to typical ebooks.
These books can be as simple as a PDF document, or they can be comprised of “flowable” text that allows for font size adjustment. Probably the most common formats for ebooks are the Kindle and iBooks formats as well as the more ubiquitous ePub. Some of the essential features for ebooks in these formats include:
Basic search and annotation: users can search for particular words or phrases using an integrated search function. Additionally, users can “highlight” selected passages that can be collected by the ebook software as a set of notes.
Readability features: because of the digital nature of the text itself as an XML or HTML5 format, Michael Wesch reminds us that the content and form are separate. Thus, flowable and adjustable texts have become the norm. No longer do we need to tell students to turn to page X. Instead, we can have them search for words and passages.
Use of external computing functions: another useful feature of eBooks is the connection to the dictionary and web browsing functions. Finding a definition or more information about a word or phrase is, quite literally, at one’s fingertips by simply pressing and holding a word and launching these additional features.
These features — while not nearly as snazzy as some of the ones we will explore in our next two posts on enhanced and interactive ebooks — are nonetheless quite useful for readers. Moreover, they are important for us to remember as writers, too. Are there ways that we can use images within our digital writing, for instance, to maintain the exact size, shape, and color of a particular font? Might we use certain words, alone or in combination, together to signal certain sections or transitions in the texts (without necessarily using sub headings, bold or italics)? Are there ways to hide other “Easter eggs” in our very basic ebooks that would reward a savvy user?
Basic eBook Examples
Project Gutenberg is probably the widest known site, providing tons of texts that exist in the public domain and available in a variety of ebook formats. Additional sources for public domain ebooks include Amazon, Feedbooks, and your local library’s ebook service. As noted above, there aren’t too many features that these texts have, but the one specific advantage to getting the book in an ebook format — as compared to a straight up PDF — is that the book will have flowable text. For instance, here are two screenshots of from the Kindle App showing some of the features noted above.
Tools for Creating Basic eBooks
Finally, what tools can we use to create ebooks — in the flexible, flowable ebook format? As I explore software packages and web-based solutions over the next few blog posts, I am sticking to free, open source options. So, please know that there are other programs out there for creating ebooks, and I suggest using Alternativeto.net as a resource for finding them.
So, given the free and open source requirement, for standalone software there are a few options. A standalone program such as Sigil or eCub, both ePub editors, as well as the Mobipocket Creator, could do the trick. For the iPad, there is Storykit, which is simple yet quite useful for younger students. A search of the iTunes store also yielded Quark DesignPad, though it looks from the reviews that an upgrade to the pro version might be necessary to get the types of features that would make it truly useful. Finally, you could use the open source Scribus and then share it as a PDF.
Again, I wonder how we can remediate and use text in innovative ways, perhaps speaking directly to the reader in a basic ebook format? Of the tools listed above, are there ones that you have experience using and would you recommend it to others?
Before my next post, we will have a guest post from someone who has done a great deal of thinking about e-reading: Heidi Perry of Subtext. This is a very useful e-reading app for the iPad, allowing teachers and students the ability to communicate during the reading process. As always, I appreciate your comments and questions so we can keep the conversation going!
By now — in fact, right now — there is a very good chance that you are reading text on something smaller than a typical computer screen, perhaps your smartphone, tablet, or e-reader. And, that means that the opportunity to interact with this text has, quite literally, come straight to your fingertips. While scholars of digital writing and rhetoric have long been interested in what this means for us as writers, it is in this existing world of e-reading where our blog posts for the next few days will take us.
So, let me introduce myself first. I’m Troy Hicks, an associate professor of English from Central Michigan University, and your guest blogger for the next few weeks for the Hack and Yack series. I have been working on a study of adolescents’ digital reading habits with my colleague Dr. Kristen Turner from Fordham University, and they have collected nearly 1000 responses to a survey that asks teens to reflect on both what and how they read, in school and out. We are writing a book for NCTE as a follow-up to their policy research brief, “Reading Instruction for All Students.” Part of our work is to identify how to help students read. Equally important, for those of us interested in digital literacies, we are trying to identify when, where, and how students read, too.
We begin with the understanding that many teachers are, rightly, concerned about their students access outside of school to digital devices and the Internet. Thus, part of our work has been to confirm a great deal of the existing data about device ownership and access to the Internet as reported by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. And, we are finding very similar percentages in terms of the number of teens who have devices and access to the Internet from our rural, suburban, and urban samples of students. In short, most kids have devices and access. This is not to say we are completely over the hump of the digital divide, because we are not. Yet, knowing that well over half and upwards of 80% of our students are reading on digital devices, we really do need to start teaching reading and writing as if every student has a device in her pocket because, most likely, she does.
In particular, Turner and I have also been interested in how students are using these devices as readers. While some teens do report being distracted by digital media, just as many adults are, a number of them are also reporting strategic uses of smart phones and tablets as reading devices. Using a variety of techniques to select books, skim the news, and engage deeply in various forms of online reading, the teens are not, as some would argue, “too dumb for complex texts.” This, however, does not mean that we can’t teach are digital natives some new tricks. While many of them know about social networking and photo sharing, fewer of them know about tools like Feedly or Pocket. Thus, we are very interested in teaching them about how these tools can enrich their (digital) reading lives.
Over the next two weeks and four blog posts, I would like to share some of my current thinking about what it means to be a digital reader, and what implications that might carry for us, too, as digital writers. To begin, I would encourage you to review Avi Itzkovitch’s “Interactive eBook Apps: The Reinvention of Reading and Interactivity.” In this thorough post about different types of interactive ebooks, Itzkovitch describes three types including basic ebooks, which essentially mimic paper, enhanced e-books which may include multimedia components, and interactive ebooks which demand a level of participation from the user. I’ve also recently seen the terms “fixed format,” “enhanced,” and “flowable” used as terms to describe digital books, too. Here is a visual way of thinking about it that I have shared in some workshops.
Since so many people are talking about how e-books work, as well as how they work for us (or not) as readers, the next three posts will explore each of Itzkovitch’s categories in more detail, as well as provide examples. By mid-month, I will look at a variety of the basic e-book formats such as ePub and Kindle. Then, during the week of January 20, we will explore what happens when print is re-mediated in the digital environment, adding some measure of interactivity. Also that week, we will look at some multimedia publications and how they make different demands on the reader. Finally, toward the end of the month, I will wrap up the series in reply to any questions or comments as well as provide a list of various e-publishing resources.
As digital writers, we need to become increasingly aware of why and how our readers find our work, click on our links, examine our images, and then share what they have read. A few questions for you to consider (since this is meant to be a “yack” session, after all):
As a digital reader, how would you describe your experience with ebooks? Hypertexts? RSS feeds? Other forms of digital reading?
As a digital writer (and rhetorician), what are some of the considerations that you need to make for your audience? What are the affordances and constraints of various digital reading platforms (web-based, ebooks, tablet vs PC)?
I hope to shed some insights on this process over the next few weeks and look forward to the conversation with all of you.