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  • Writer's pictureNoni Harrison

The Chasm of Digital Literature

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

Digital literature encompasses endless possibilities for creation and exploration. The environments within the scope of digital literature can support learning and comprehension in ways that traditional modes of literature might be limited. The popularity of digital literature has seen a resurgence with the invention of the internet, which has enabled greater access to these resources, for publishers and readers alike.

Technology has changed the way we interact with text. Rettberg (2012), explores the origins of electronic literature and early tools such as Hypercard, but it’s not until reading Lamb’s (2011) paper that I understood the facets of digital literature in a more holistic way. Lamb (2011) points out five Electronic Reading Environments and looks at the ways in which literacy terms have been revised. Lamb (2011) provides a much broader view of digital literature than Rettberg (2012), who focuses on electronic literature as only that which has been exclusively made for digital devices. Technology has added to digital reading environments in a more comprehensive way.

Innovative reading environments have increased reader participation. From the readings so far, I can see there are many benefits of these tools including increased learner support; however, a device should be carefully selected to integrate reading experiences that do not distract or confuse the reader. Both Lamb (2011) and Walsh (2013) examine the enablers and barriers these environments have for students. Each environment offers a text that is non-linear, interactive, immersive, multi-experiential and, most prominently, an experience that the reader has some control over. Transmedia, particularly, can support embedded digital literacy throughout the curriculum. Lamb (2011) describes transmedia storytelling as a multimodal, multimedia story that is non-linear and participatory in nature (p. 15). Walsh (2013) frames this as “hybrid texts and genres”, which can engage students in literature outside the book (p. 186). My department has recently utilised this to enhance a Literature Circle project with Year 9 Adjusted English classes. To explore the book, 1917 by Kelly Gardiner, the groups took advantage of Gardiner’s website along with her blog posts and Pinterest board, which allowed students to explore the text and ideas outside the realm of the pages. This enhanced the reading experience and discussion during the group meetings. As Sadokierski (2013) proposes, digital literature can give us a “richer reading experience”, which supports this experience.

Despite these advantages, a potential barrier of nonlinear text is that readers may become lost due to too much freedom to switch between pages or elements (Lamb, 2011). Jabr (2013), corroborates Lamb’s concerns, as he found that navigational difficulties (due to the landscape of the reading on screen) may lead to difficulties in comprehension and reading fatigue.

So, the question becomes, do we limit the ways in which readers navigate or rethink how we teach and approach these texts? Will traditional methods suffice?

According to Leu, Forzani, Timbrell & Maykel (2015), we must adapt our pedagogy to meet the changing demands of online reading. The distinct differences between online and offline reading require teachers to actively teach the skills to become literate in the digital landscape. Donahoo (2012) also recommends that we adopt a critical eye when selecting digital text. We must employ critical literacy skills with all digital material, so that we are discriminating in our choices (Walsh, 2013). Ultimately, Teacher Librarians can highlight the importance of digital and critical literacy and facilitate the development of these skills for staff and students.


Donahoo, D. (2012, July 17). Improving children’s literature in digital spaces. Retrieved from

Jabr, F. (2013) The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American, April 11. Retrieved from:

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39 (3), 12-17. Retrieved from

Leu, D.J, Forzani, E.,Timbrell, N. et al (2015) Seeing the forest, not the trees: Essential technologies for literacy in the primary-grade and upper elementrary-grade classroom. Reading Teacher, 69(2) 139-145

Rettberg, J.W. (2012). Electronic literature seen from a distance: the beginnings of a field. Retrieved from

Sadokierski, Z. (2013, November 12). What is a book in the digital age? [Web log post]. Retrived from

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).

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Use of digital literature in the classroom can definitely be challenging in terms of access to technology and digital information for staff and students who are up against firewalls, restrictions and


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