There are many different tools available in the digital realm that can enhance the experience, analyzing, and critiquing of literature. The tools include things like GIS mapping – which is now being used to bring more than just geographic data to life – visualizations like word clouds, and interactive archiving. As a culture that is obviously not static or stagnant, we would be remiss to continue our scholarly experience of literature without incorporating these digital tools into assignments.
The types of tools used in an assignment must be contingent on the familiarity of the students with the technology and the grade level of the students. For instance, for younger students, I think that visualization assignments might be most accessible. Creating visualizations like word clouds and graphs through programs like Voyant is hugely easy and introductory. The meat of visualization assignments are the conclusions that students can make by analyzing them. It’s all in the questions you ask. For example, when a student is tasked with creating a word cloud for each chapter in a novel, they are in no way mentally engaged. All they have done is to dump words into a processor and press a button. However, when the student is asked to recognize patterns in word usage and compare that to the close reading they have accomplished in class, they might be privy to a new and more extensive understanding of the story as a whole. The combination of close and distant reading can have a tendency to paint a fuller portrait.
The types of tools one would use in assignments must also be based on what the subject narrative is. For example, a mapping assignment would serve little purpose when evaluating a story that is not geographically interesting. Mapping assignments can help bring to life stories that are geographically interesting. Take, for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This interactive map developed by the LOTR Project is a “geospatial timeline” that helps organize and plot the entirety of events in Tolkien’s masterpiece. It adds a new level of comprehension to the story we all know.
A Sample GIS Assignment for a Geographically Interesting Text:
Let’s take a high school English class in which students read one – five chapters of a novel per week. What if, for each block or section of text that bore geographical significance, each student were asked to map it. For each mapping they would have to provide a multimodal summarization of the section of texts. By the end of the unit, each student would have their own individual comprehensive map of the story.
This is beneficial for so many reasons.1. Students could then be asked to compare their map with three other students’ maps in order to draw reader-response conclusions about the way we individually experience texts. (We could also shift the assignment. What if only two or three students mapped each section of text. Then the conclusions to draw at the end of the unit would be on the way we collaboratively experience texts). 2. Students would have a much more complete understanding of the text, because they would have had their hands in it. It would seem as if they had played a role in the developing of the plot, because, in the end, they would be creators of their own retelling. 3. Through this assignment, students would have gained a better understanding of and familiarity with advancing technology and how it can be useful in ways other than social media. This familiarity could give them a significant leg up in the job market. 4. We also cannot fail to mention that the maps would make such excellent study guides to refer to at the end of the semester or year.
All in all, I think that digital tools are enhancing the task of studying literature. They are adding whole new dimensions to the ways we understand narrative (which will, in turn, influence the ways in which we create narratives). The biggest obstacle when developing assignments that incorporate digital tools is the assumption that your students will 1. be open to using new types of technology, and 2. they will be able to use these new types of technology. However, if you have an open student body with uninhibited access to these tools, then they can start literally building on their understanding of literature.