Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

E-literature posting

July 14th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The aim of my group’s presentation was to educate pre-service teachers on the nature and value of the little-known genre of e-literature. Through reading Hayles’ article and browsing the e-lit collections I was able to understand that e-literature is uniquely different from the popular digest of “ebooks”. That is, electronic literature is an entirely different platform for presentation of ideas; it involves moving parts and flashing signs that are all supposed to illustrate an abstract idea.This, admittedly,  made me nervous at first. How could I ask students to analyse a piece of e-literature when I myself am completely new to its format? The format of eliterature seemingly pervades typical literary analysis….I am completely unprepared to teach my students. Yet, the processes of teaching and learning are paradoxically connected; to teach is to learn and to learn is to teach. Thus, why should it be difficult to introduce this into a classroom setting—even if the teacher admits that she/he is still unfamiliar with the subject?

The issue with e-literature for me lies in its uncommonness. How will it be received by students and parents who are yet to become comfortable with comic books in the English Language curriculum? Most e-literature, that is, appears to be ‘a game’ or ‘video’ —not an ‘educational tool’ for most parents. How do we overcome these barriers? What’s shocking to me is the fact that through all my education I have never heard of e-literature. This is possibly due to the fact that its production involves a digital skill base that not all artists are familiar with. Whatever the issue, the fact that there lies scant review of the genre despite its age makes me question the value of e-literature. What more, I found that most of its works were too heavy-handed in their depiction of the abstract—there’s essentially little for the students to guess and unravel in most works. Sure, there are some solid artistic pieces such as “Girls Day Out” (the one Prof.Dobson showed in class) but for the most part, I wouldn’t use more than two or three pieces within the course of a school year. I enjoyed looking at this subject and exploring vintage computer operating systems, but ultimately, I would not throw out classical texts anytime soon.




Tags: Seminar Prompts

2 responses so far ↓

  • sambee // Jul 16th 2013 at 12:15 am

    When you question how you would teach e-literature when you have very little expertise in the genre, I felt like I completely identified with your concern! Before I started my practicum, I was really afraid because I felt a tremendous pressure to be the “expert” in my field. However, as I quickly found out, students don’t need teachers to be repositories of facts and experts in everything because students have cell phones in their pockets and can access information just by asking google. E-literature is a perfect opportunity for exploration with students because there isn’t the same pressure to be an expert – the genre is too young to have any real experts. Thus, teachers are able to have a more reciprocal learning relationship with students.
    I, like you, am also very surprised that all in all my years at UBC I had never heard of e-literature. Then again the books I read in my undergraduate courses were largely written by people who died hundreds of years ago. Because of this, I can see where you are coming from in questioning the value of e-literature because not enough time has passed to be reflective of the genre. However, I do think there is value for teachers and students in becoming participants, not just scholars, in this budding field. How to justify it to administrators and parents, on the other hand, is a good question that I don’t have the answer to.

  • TMD // Jul 19th 2013 at 7:04 am

    Dear Natalia, Irene, Adam, Natasha and Katarina,

    I couldn’t find a group post on this topic, so I’m responding to your presentation last Friday here. Thanks for your thoughtful discussion of e-literature. You raised some interesting points and alluded to some good resources for teaching e-literature (e.g., Chris Mott’s materials at UCLA introduced by Natalia are very helpful). The summary of the article was perhaps a little long. It may have been more productive to limit that portion of the presentation to 10 or 15 minutes given the class had presumably read the article, and to jump rather more quickly into an activity and discussion so that individuals could express their opinions.

    In the presentation the group did give a strong impression of dislike for e-literature and the Hayles reading, intentionally or otherwise. I got the sense that you didn’t come across compelling examples in your search.

    To be sure, one does have to sift through and be prepared to encounter some pieces that don’t appeal in the journey; and yet, persisting will reveal many rich examples. Consider, for example, the following:

    Poetry: “Faith” (Kendall):
    Illustrated Prose: “Lasting Image” by Guyer and Joyce:
    Transmedia: Inanimate Alice (Pullinger and Joseph):

    Blog, text, and twitter fiction is also worth exploring. Consider these Twitter “novels” by some key novelists: . There is an article by Unsworth (2008) that alludes to a number of additional texts appropriate for the high school setting. It is on the class blog under 2012 presentations, e-literature. And, of course, one mustn’t overlook the interesting affordances of engaging classes in writing in “multisequential” formats.

    Ultimately, the idea in introducing different modalities and approaches in ELA classrooms is not to “throw out the classics,” as you suggest above, but to balance selection in literary teaching to draw in more examples from different cultures, genres, etc. — that is to say, to position alternate selections alongside “the classics.” This is particularly important in diverse settings such as Canada where there have been huge demographic shifts since the time the school canon was established in the mid part of the last century.

    I’ve written a little on this topic recently in the introductions to Part 1 and 2 of the following text: James, K., Dobson, T.M., Leggo, C., Eds. (2013). English in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Creative and Critical Advice from Canada’s Teacher Educators. Toronto: Pearson. Perhaps I’ll conclude by offering these excerpts:

    **Excerpt from “Introduction to Part I: Including Diverse Learners” (Dobson, 2013)**

    Contemplating the question of language and nation building, for instance, Mullaney (2010) remarks on the way in which language, literature, and the field of English literary studies itself are integrally linked to imperialism:

    The emergence of the academic study of English as a distinct discipline coincides with the expansion of Empire in the nineteenth century and the need, on the part of the colonizer, to find a common language through which to rule and unite the spaces of Empire. In this, language is an instrument of conquest and literature its repertoire. The subsequent privileging of English, its institutionalizing as the language of Empire, suggests that Empire and the development and study of English literature were mutually constitutive of each other. (pp. 33–34)

    In Canada, where nineteenth-century colonization coincided with the development of public education, the language of instruction remains the language of the colonizer (be it English or French), and the school literary canon has long reflected the veracity of Mullaney’s assessment. Even as that canon has expanded to include diverse texts from “world literature,” those texts are necessarily read in the lingua franca, English, and this has implications for their interpretation.
    —–End excerpt from Dobson (2013)——

    **Excerpt from “Introduction to Part II: Engaging Diverse Knowledge Frameworks” (Dobson, 2013)**

    Graff (2007) notes that in English-speaking countries, the study of literature as an academic discipline is relatively new. Until the later decades of the nineteenth century, “the idea had hardly arisen that the literature of one’s own language needed to be taught in formal classes instead of being enjoyed as part of the normal experience of the community” (p. 19). The rise of literary studies in English, as established in the introduction to the previous section, was strongly associated with imperialism: defining a canon of “great works” for teaching within and beyond England played an important role in facilitating the transmission of the English language, presumably used within these canonical writings in an exemplary fashion, as well as the transmission of English culture and values to colonies around the globe (e.g., Mullaney, 2010). The study of such literary classics at the time was deemed particularly important for “cultivated gentlemen” of the empire (Graff, 2007, p. 20). Graff cites Carl Becker on the goal of education in the late nineteenth century: “the end desired was the disciplined and informed mind; but a mind disciplined to conformity and informed with nothing that a patriotic, Christian and clubable gentleman had better not know” (p. 21). Such attitudes, although perhaps somewhat tempered, persisted in English literature studies for much of the discipline’s history. As Bolter (2001) observes, “In the 19th and 20th centuries, when the canon of literature was often taken as the definition of a liberal education, the goal was to give everyone the experience of reading the same texts – Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and so on” (p. 11).
    —–End excerpt from Dobson (2013)——

    Ultimately, your presentation reflected a great deal of work and I appreciate the contribution. These comments are intended as fuel for thought as you further contemplate the topic and the question of selection in your own classrooms.

    Best regards,


    Works Cited

    Dobson, T.M. (2013). Including Diverse Learners. In James, K., Dobson, T.M., Leggo, C., Eds. (2012). English in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Creative and Critical Advice from Canada’s Teacher Educators. Toronto: Pearson.

    Dobson, T.M. (2013). Engaging Diverse Knowledge Frameworks. In James, K., Dobson, T.M., Leggo, C., Eds. (2012). English in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Creative and Critical Advice from Canada’s Teacher Educators. Toronto: Pearson.

    Mullaney, J. (2010). Postcolonial literatures in context. London: Continuum International Publish-ing.

    Unsworth, Len. (2008). Multiliteracies, E-literature and English Teaching, Language and Education, 22:1, 62-75.

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