Upon Reflection: Reading Literature in a Digital Age

FutureLearn

I’ve long been intrigued by the ways in which technology is changing the ways (or not) we read and write. When someone mentioned a site called FutureLearn, and its free MOOC-like open course offerings, and a six week class called Reading Literature in a Digital Age, I was curious about the exploration.

So I dove in.

I’m glad I did.

Although some of the course material moved away from my main interest point, particularly as we explored modernity in Ezra Pound poetry, I kept finding my way back to the topic of digital reading in fascinating ways. The course mixed short video lectures by Professor Philipp Schweighauser (at the University of Babel), articles and inquiries, comments by participants and short quizzes of understanding.

WWWeb as Remediation Sponge

Here is a list of reading techniques we explored over the six weeks. Some I knew (but maybe with another name) and some I was only vaguely familiar with.

  • Hyper Reading (the way we scan digital text in an often non-linear fashion, seeking information that meets our needs)
  • Social Reading (annotating text with others in online spaces, so that the crowd understanding of a document can lead to a larger understanding of a text)
  • Close Reading (looking at the text and only the text, with very little context outside of what is on the page or the screen.)
  • Distant Reading (analyzing multiple texts with algorithms to determine patterns over time or central points that might be obscured by a closer look)
  • Surface Reading (examining the materiality of the text itself — the physical object — as well as all of the surrounding elements of the main text, such as title pages, copyright information, layout design, etc.)

At one point, we were asked to write a short essay on which of these reading strategies we most use, and I wrote this, thinking as much about my students as about myself as a writer:

These days, I am most attuned to the idea of “surface reading” because I am intrigued by the changes afoot in the world of literacies. The materiality of the “text” is an interesting notion, made even more so by the ways that we interact with screens in our daily lives (for good or for ill). As a teacher of young students, I am always struck by the disconnect between the literacies of our education system (paper-centric) and the literacies of their lives outside of school (screen-centric) and struggle with finding a bridge between the two. Therefore, paying close attention — “surface reading” — to how the materiality shapes our reading experiences, through media and through interactive elements and through access (or who does not have access) must become part of the conversations and considerations of expanded notions of literacy. I am also personally intrigued when discovering a new kind of text — who wrote it, who published it, how was it put together. Can I replicate it? With “surface reading”, I have an in-road to understanding the text in whatever form it might take. And if I can understand it, if I can peek beneath the covers to see how it works, maybe I can replicate it (remediate it?) myself as a writer, and then teach that new kind of writing/composing to my students, too. Giving them a chance to move from consumer to creator — sparking agency — is always my goal.

What the course reminded me of is how literacies is in the midst of a shift, and yet that shift is anchored in the traditional forms of texts in many ways. I appreciated the deep dives into various ways of looking at texts in various forms, and came out of the course with a better understanding of how researchers and lay readers approach texts in different ways, and seek different elements of understanding.

new media meets old media

I have now signed up for another course in a few weeks, called Teaching Literacy through Film. Wanna join me?

Peace (it’s in the text),
Kevin