• Noni Harrison

Digital Literature Experiences

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

When comparing different forms of literature, it is apparent that digital literature is still in it’s infancy; therefore, there are multiple definitions and terms that, at times, are used interchangeably. Holistically, digital literature can be defined as multifaceted literature presented in an electronic or digital fashion, which goes beyond the capabilities of print literature to create interactive reading experiences (Lamb, 2011; Walsh, 2013; Engberg, 2014). Effective digital literature offers the user agency over their experience, while embedding elements of interactivity and/or multimedia to enhance the narrative. Handler Miller proposes that digital literature always includes; a narrative, characters, interactivity, nonlinearity, immersion, participation, and navigability (2014). These elements work to enhance learning, heighten the literacy experience of users and engage users in ways that traditional modes may not. Digital literature takes advantage of tools that many young people use to communicate, which increases reader motivation. As O’Connell proposes, “when students experience a seamless digital ecology that transcends boundaries there are increased opportunities for authentic and meaningful learning to occur” (p. 7, 2014). A good digital text increases reader motivation and enhances their literacy experience.

Digital literature includes a variety of tools to enhance the reading experience and assist students of all literacy abilities. Grant posits that “interactive characteristics of an electronic book aid in reading comprehension by allowing the students to get immediate feedback” (p. 306, 2014). Interactivity is valuable to the digital reading experience, as it envelops the reader and immerses them in an active and multisensory manner; however, it also possesses the ability to “break up the cohesiveness of a narrative”, so should be used wisely (Handler Miller, 2014). Ultimately, the dynamic nature of digital text means that readers can actively process the information, which can lead to deeper understanding of the text (Grant, 2004). Carrasco corroborates these findings by stating that good digital text has “the capacity to keep the child entertained and help with a child’s early literacy” (p. 39, 2014). However, a gap in current understanding of the value of digital text surrounds the most effective interactive or multimodal features and combinations that benefit readers (Carrasco, 2014).

Screen-based reading behaviour has some similarities to print reading; however, a different set of literacy skills are needed when reading on screen. Many studies have also shown the effects of screen-based reading, which include cognitive lethargy and lower comprehension levels (Singer & Alexander, 2016). My reading experiences support these findings, as I find it difficult to keep track of my digital readings and manipulate them when unpacking the text. My eyes also become tired when reading at length from a screen. I try to print many of the longer texts, so that I can highlight, annotate, order, compare, and organise the ideas. I am cognisant of this when using digital text with my students. My intention is that they are engaged and supported by digital tools. The skills needed to read digital text effectively include foundational literacy skills, as well as information literacy skills needed to navigate, access and assess information (Cull, 2011; Leu, Forzani, Timbrell & Maykel, 2015). As technology changes, functions will allow readers to manipulate text in a similar way that they do with print. We already see this emerging in the highlighting and annotating tools that are often available for e-books. These tools and other accessibility features can provide more support for learners, which increases the equity of reading.

Of the examples of digital literature reviewed, I most enjoyed First World War: The story of a global conflict. This example of interactive-journalism presented events of the First World War in an interactive and engaging way. Primary source material and insights from historians are intertwined to produce a captivating recount of the major events of the war. To incorporate this in my college, I would use it in a learning experience for the Year 9 World War One History unit. Students could examine the effects of the war from the different perspectives presented and analyse a selection of the primary sources. I could then engage the students with other digital and print material to support further exploration. The learning experience could culminate in a formative assessment task whereby students create a digital display of the effects of the war in a chosen region. The opportunities to support and incorporate digital text into learning programs is vast and exciting. O’Connell asserts it is the role of the Teacher Librarian to embrace and promote the new learning ecology that comes with digital text and to continue to support traditional and emerging reading trends (2014). For this to be successful, we need to ensure our students have equal opportunity to take advantage of digital texts. Unfortunately, digital text can deepen the digital divide if readers cannot access the required device or internet speed to use the text (Ewing, 2016). Therefore, a policy of digital inclusion should also be implemented to ensure equity of access for all users.


Carrasco, J. H. (2014). Reading highly interactive electronic storybooks vs. minimally interactive electronic books: Relative influence on time on task, narrative retell, and parental perceptions. Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au

Cull, B. (2011). Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe. First Monday, 16(6). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v16i6.3340

Engberg, M. (2014). Digital fiction. In Ryan, M., Emerson, L., & Robertson, B. J. (Eds.), The johns hopkins guide to digital media (pp. 138-143). Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Ewing, S. (February 25, 2016). Australia’s digital divide is narrowing, but getting deeper. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/australias-digital-divide-is-narrowing-but-getting-deeper-55232

Grant, J. M. A. (2004). Are electronic books effective in teaching young children reading and comprehension? International Journal of Instructional Media, 31(3), 303.

Handler Miller, C. (2014). Digital storytelling: A creator’s guide to interactive entertainment. doi: 10.4324/9780203425923

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au

Leu, D. J., Forzani, E., Timbrell, N., & Maykel, C. (2015). Seeing the forest, not the trees. Reading Teacher, 69 (2), 139-145. doi:10.1002/trtr.1406

O’Connell, J. (2014). A multidisciplinary focus on 21st century digital learning environments: new program at CSU. In S. -K. L. S. -K. -K Loke (Ed.), Rhetoric and reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology (pp. 201-210). ASCILITE.

Singer, L. M. & Alexander, P. A. (2017). Reading Across Mediums: Effects of Reading Digital and Print Texts on Comprehension and Calibration. The Journal of Experimental Education, 85(1), 155-172. doi: 10.1080/00220973.2016.1143794

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

#DigitalLiterature #screenbasedreading

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