Beyond the Book October 14, 2014Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings.
Tags: fiction, reading, writing
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Yesterday I had the great pleasure to attend a talk by Kate Pullinger entitled ‘Beyond the Book,’ part of the Digital Fiction strand of the ‘Off the Shelf’ Sheffield Literary Festival. Kate is the power behind Inanimate Alice, an online transmedia story; the networked novel ‘Flight Paths‘ and the 14-18 Now project ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier.’ In her talk Kate provided more detail on each of the aforementioned projects, outlining how digital technologies have enabled hybrid forms of literature and facilitated a greater degree of participation and collaboration.
I found what Kate had to say fascinating and unsettling in equal measure. Fascinating because of my interest in the different ways we are appropriating technologies, specifically in learning, but also in creative endeavours. I guess I was unsettled due to the three different ways in which literature affects me: as Head of eLearning and someone who promotes and supports the use of digital technologies; as a writer, albeit not one of fiction; and as a reader of fiction. Clearly then I lean towards the notions Kate outlined and am keen to learn from those who use technologies in new ways, so that I am better informed when advising and supporting colleagues and students. As a writer of non-fiction, I’m often trying to convey a message; sometimes that’s in support materials for others, project proposals, evaluations or reflective pieces. Whenever appropriate and where it enhances the message, I try to employ different media, but here is where the tension begins to emerge. If I know who my audience will be, then that may constrain me in serving their needs. For example, in providing an introductory guide to a new software application, a five-minute video screencast might make the most sense, for all sorts of reasons. Yet if my audience prefers paper-based, ‘recipe’-style guidance, then that is what I’m obliged to provide. In producing a report of a particular project, whilst I might feel audio interviews with some of the participants provides a rich narrative, the readers of the report might be more predisposed to plain textual summaries. As a writer then, I’m constrained creatively to some extent by the boundaries imposed on me by my audience. I wonder if writers of fiction are similarly hobbled.
The tension becomes heightened when I reflect on my preferences as a reader. I’m now on the other side of the fence and become the recipient of literature written by others. How do I feel when given the choice of opting for stories delivered in different ways through different media? As Kate introduced samples of Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths, despite being impressed by how they had been produced and the ways in which they were being used and enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel some degree of conflict. In an attempt to establish why, I thought about how I read and what my expectations are from a story, which is doubtless a rather personal thing for each reader. For me, good fiction should transport me (or my mind?) somewhere else and whilst it might not be quite what Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow,’ when immersed in a story, the passage of time melts away. I feel part of the story, either as observer or participant. I control the pace, re-read when necessary or even skip forward a line or two! The words on the page act as a bridge between me and my vicarious participation in the story through the characters. I’m able to do that because I have become familiar (and comfortable) with the linear way in which text is presented in the pages of a book. Images might supplement the story, though should be used in such a way that they don’t conflict with those the reader has generated within their imagination. One example might be the maps that Tolkien included to help the reader appreciate the geography of Middle. At least that’s what I first thought, but then my mind went back to my younger years and my enjoyment of children’s and superhero comics. I felt no less immersed then where the text was an equal partner of the imagery, though even those texts observed the same conventions of linear flow. Although Inanimate Alice for example, flows in a linear fashion, I am required to relinquish some element of control of pace to the writer, only able to move forward when the media have finished their display. Perhaps it’s that, for me, the media add nothing to the story and may even detract from it? Whilst I’m trying to conjure mental pictures of Alice, her surroundings, her relationships with her family and so on, I’m being distracted by background music, flashing images and split screen displays. I wonder if there’s a link here with gaming environments, or at least those with a clear narrative, characters and plot. Gameplay often allows progress through the narrative as a result of exploration, theory testing, experimentation and repetition. I’m not a gamer at all, so have no experience of navigating through different forms of narrative, so I wonder if someone who enjoys gaming might be more inclined towards digital fiction than I? So many questions!
Perhaps my problem has been that I’ve tried too hard to see digital fiction as a subset of traditional, textual fiction, whereas they’re actually different subsets of the parent set, fiction? I think I can resolve this internally by seeing two different branches of storytelling; one which conforms to my preconceived expectations and another, which I can allow to be free to be what it will and enjoy it for what it is.
Kindle. Noun … or verb? November 2, 2011Posted by IaninSheffield in Teaching Idea, Tools.
Tags: blog posts, kindle, PDF, reading, research
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Amazon’s recent release of new versions of the Kindle finally tipped me over the edge and I shelled out £89 for the Kindle 4.
The Amazon Kindle 4 (aka Kindle 4th Gen, Kindle Touchless or just plain Kindle) was announced as a sidenote to the colour Kindle Fire and touch-enabled Kindle Touch. But in many ways it was the most significant of the three, because of its extraordinary price. (TechRadar)
And those who know me well will know how important the last two words there are to me! (Even if we here in the UK are being stung in comparison with our cousins across the Pond!)
So what is there to add? Well after just a week’s use, let’s move past the functions and features and look at what this pocket-sized wonder has done for me. I read books and it let’s me do that very effectively, though it also lets me add highlights, bookmarks, clippings and notes. Further still I can share some of those annotations with the wider world and can check out what others are ‘posting.’ Given that in addition to sharing notes with the public at large, you can also ‘follow’ people of your choosing. That set me wondering if there was any mileage in Language Arts or Librarian colleagues being able to have students ‘share’ their reading experiences with one another? Of course that can be done in class or through a book club, but surely the asynchronous opportunities present an affordance not available from paper-based media?
Perhaps surprisingly though, reading books was not my first consideration in getting a Kindle. It was more about the chance to read journal articles, research papers and even blog posts at a time and place to suit. Getting PDFs onto the Kindle couldn’t be easier really. I can either plug it into the computer with the USB cable (supplied) and drag and drop the files into a folder on the device, or rather interestingly I can email them direct to my Kindle account, which then synchs those files. To get blog posts across, I have been using an online service called SENDtoREADER (registration required, but free) which provides a one-click bookmarklet to send any web page direct to the Kindle – easy-peasy!
So barely a week in and I’m loving the ease of use, from both the reader and user perspectives … and there’s still plenty more to explore!
#TwitterBookRead September 1, 2010Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Inspiration, research.
Tags: books, collaboration, Curriculum, reading, research, twitter
Well that proved a really interesting experiment . . . but did I gain anything from it?
If you missed the tweets, yesterday I tried using Twitter to record my progress and any points of interest as I read a book – Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. There’s a little more about it here. I guess I wanted to find out whether it added anything to the process of reading, reading for academic purposes that is, as opposed to reading for pleasure. Had I been reading the book sans Twitter, I’d have made notes as I went. If you want to pick up the record of what took place, there’s a Twapper Keeper archive here, but because a few Tweets didn’t have the hashtag, I scanned back through the stream and pulled them into the document below:
On the ‘upside’ then:
- 140 characters meant I had to really focus on the contents and structure of the ‘notes’ I was taking, so that they still carried meaning.
- The ‘chronology’ of the stream means the notes follow the order of the book.
- Having occasional comments from other tweeple challenged me to revisit some of my notes and rephrase them, or think more deeply about what I’d noted.
- It’s very encouraging when others are taking an interest in what you’re studying (a very important point methinks!)
On the ‘downside’:
- I perhaps wasn’t as prolific in my notetaking as I would normally have been, conscious of not wishing to pollute the Twitterstream too much with my ramblings (folks can get very tetchy!)
- Sometimes squeezed a little too hard to fit the message into 140 characters and consequently may have lost meaning.
- The ‘linear’ nature of the stream meant that cross-linking ideas and concepts wasn’t really possible; I’ll often take notes in the form of a mind map, if I think I can gain something.
- Although the stream is linear, some of the additional comments and follow-up replies come out of order. This can make the archive a little hard to follow.
So weighing the balance of the above, the obvious question I guess is ‘what next?’ How (or should) I take it any further? Well it’s a start and having done it once, repeating the process with another book would enable some of the wrinkles to be ironed out. I certainly think I’d like to be on the receiving end; watching someone else take the lead and contributing as an observer. With that in mind, earlier today John Pallister made a couple of interesting comments by way of follow up:
Now there’s an idea! If other people undertook the task when they’re reading, we could begin to form a library of summaries of interesting literature. Better than simple summaries though because they would have the additional layer of comments from others who had joined in. #TwitterBookRead as John termed it. It’s a win-win-win endeavour surely:
- the reader is perhaps encouraged to think more carefully about the ‘notes’ s/he is making, in the same way creating a blog post often makes us think twice before hitting the keys
- collaborators/observers can dip in and out as they are able, enjoying the opportunity to contribute to the final product
- all get access to a swelling archive of summarised books, enabling them to make a more informed choice before parting with their hard-earned on the full version . . . or maybe find inspiration and pointers to books they might have otherwise missed.
Anyone up for taking this further?
And perhaps this doesn’t have to be restricted just to the edtech community in Twitter. Surely there are potential benefits for our learners, whether they be students in higher ed or primary or secondary for that matter. Working together to review/summarise/précis books or longer articles using the 140 character format could involve a host of different skills. In a single activity, there are opportunities to work up through the levels in Bloom’s taxonomy, undertaking increasingly complex tasks, leading to a higher levels of understanding surely than just reading an article/book sitting at a desk or lounging on a couch? Reading with a purpose surely?
Just needs fleshing out a little. Anyone?