literature and digital illlumination

The case for using digital media

Literature teachers do not need to be completely fluent in technology in order to incorporate digital media into their classrooms. Students are often excited to contribute their own expertise to the class, because, for the most part, they have been raised with computers and already feel comfortable with technology and digital production. The recent PBS documentary, Growing Up Online (Dretzin & Maggio, 2008), demonstrates just how fundamentally important technology is to youth today. If we ask students to engage with literature through literacies with which they are already familiar (MP3s, websites, blogs, movies, photoessays), we make literature more compatible with their immediate concerns and relevant cultural registers.

Using digital media updates the study of traditional texts into innovative new avenues, and, at the same time, emphasizes ideas, analysis, critical thinking, and evaluation of rhetorical choices. Digital media helps students see ways to apply literature to their lives; if they engage with literature in familiar ways, then they can see its relevancy in clearer and broader terms. We must help students find meaning in literature in the classroom through the kind of composition and engagement that parallels trends outside of the classroom. In this way, digital media leads to better analysis and textual understanding, engagement and learning.

What we see from the student texts and feedback below is exactly this kind of desire for change—a change that is needed and wanted by students and must be recognized by teachers of literature.

Yellow Wallpaper2

"The Yellow Wallpaper"
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


Plaid Dress

"The Plaid Dress"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay



"What lips my lips have kissed [...]"
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Student responses to the assignment:

"I enjoyed the assignment so I would like to see more like it."

"[...] doing the literal depiction allowed me to show what I saw when I read the text."

"Since I am a very visual learner and enjoy doing artistic things, it really helped me to dive into the text and really try to pull out meaning that I could represent in my own way."

"I think it would be a great idea to incorporate more projects like these in literary classes [...]. It also just gives you a different perspective on things and makes you think differently (along with providing a nice break from [traditional] writing)."

"Using more computer based assignments would probably be good, even if only to keep our digi-crazed society from accusing English programs of irrelevancy."