On 29 October in The Octagon, an AHRC funded workshop brought together international scholars researching digital reading with teachers and students from the locality to discuss what use might be made of digital reading and social media tools in the classroom.
In the opening paper, Joachim Vlieghe and Geert Vandermeersche from the University of Ghent outlined the ways in which the emergence of new platforms and digital tools is offering new opportunities for readers to engage with texts, other readers and authors. They reported on a study they conducted with trainee teachers using Goodreads, a popular book recommendation site with over 30 million members. This research has recently been published in the journal New Media and Society, and offers valuable insights into the potential pedagogical uses of such sites, while also recognising the strong misgivings teachers have about the kind of discussions and interactions that take place in such seemingly free environments.
In the discussion that followed, teachers from local schools and colleges commented that while they found such resources interesting and potentially valuable, the demands of delivering targets and rigidly teaching to the curriculum meant that in reality they had little time to explore or incorporate them into their classes. The discussion also focused on how sites such as Goodreads come and go, or are bought out and commercialised by large corporations (Goodreads is now owned by Amazon), and how they might in fact mimic rather than offer an alternative to the ways in which literature is taught in the classroom.
BU colleagues Julian McDougall and Richard Berger then presented the findings of their AHRC funded project exploring videogames as ‘authorless literature’. The study, which involved lecturers and students on BA English at BU, set out to explore whether the skills typically developed by students of literature could be applied to videogames, with students turning the tables on their lecturers by teaching them how to play L.A. Noire. A study guide based on the project has been produced and is available to download at http://cedare-reports.co.uk/digitaltransformations/
Also receiving support from the AHRC through the Digital Transformations call, Bronwen Thomas and Julia Round reported on the first of their projects to be funded, Researching Readers Online. This project involved an online survey of users of book-related online forums, and focus groups with students, local writers, librarians and members of local reading groups. The project was in part motivated by the desire to explore how teachers of literature might learn from the kinds of discussion and engagement taking place online, but the findings in fact challenged many existing preconceptions about ‘digital natives’ and their reading habits and preferences.
This was the penultimate event organised by Julia and Bronwen as part of their latest AHRC award, supporting the establishment of an international Digital Reading Network. Previous events included a symposium held at BU in June 2014. The final event will take place in early 2015 in London, bringing together publishers, writers, charities and public sector organisations to discuss the issues raised by research in this area.