#MondayBlogs Bringing literature back into social media zombies lives

In his fourth guest blog, James Wood discusses how we can use Social Media and digital interaction as a new platform for literacy development.

social media

In my last blog I talked about how interactive media might be effecting literacy skills and becoming a problem of addiction for people. Well, what if I told you that, in some ways, it could actually be very beneficial for literacy skills as well? The Dawn of the Unread series has a YouTube channel with over 50 videos that include ‘how to create a comic’, and the Nottingham essay series. The app includes games and competitions that inspire proactive reading in young people. Moreover, the social media presence of Dawn of the Unread on Facebook, Twitter, Storify, Tumblr and, most recently, on Instagram (thanks to placement student Connie Adams) aim to have a positive effect on literacy levels. In using a wide variety of formats and platforms, the project offers numerous access points to all types of readers. The instagram blogs, for example, have a small synopsis under each image, so that education operates in small incremental ways. Used constructively, social media can create gateways into reading.

Dawn of the Unread’s online comics are an example of how literature is increasingly being published online and utilises interaction to enhance learning and concentration on reading. This use of the online world to publish books and texts of all kinds is dramatically on the increase. Digital downloads are a massive part of authorship and publication now, and by encouraging this, writers can broaden their reach and develop their own audiences. The interactive world is a massive part of the future, so why shouldn’t authors use it to their advantage? It’s great for engaging people who don’t often read, to be pulled in by online publications that interest them. It’s becoming increasingly easy to share and publish online, as well as advertise.

However, as my last blog suggested, some interactive media is a hindrance for literacy development, such as those cat videos that feed us with a rush of Dopamine! So what can be done to social media so that it educates and develops literacy skills?

Well for starters, adding more educational posts to social media sites, or even creating a bespoke social media site could help better direct learning. There may be room within the market for a kind of hybrid educational tool that blends the principles of Google scholar… but on Facebook. This will give online users the chance to filter their social media experiences to make them more educationally beneficial.

Another way interactive media could be used to educate young people and develop their literacy skills, is through games. Large numbers of young people play computer games or own a gaming console. This entertainment system could be adapted online to create games that are perfect for learning yet fun, without making the player feel they are just for educational purposes. This is an idea that has already been experimented with, for example the Dawn of the Unread app originally used games to encourage reading and set readers tasks that sent them across the city. (Now this functionality has been stripped out and the app just provides information on the literary figures featured in the comic.)

Pokemon Go is a game that many young people enjoy and spend many hours on, and the reason for this is they get a sense of achievement when they catch and build up their collection of Pokemon. Well what if a game could be created that produces a sense of achievement in ticking off books that you have read, that the game or app recommends? To find out more about how gaming is beneficial for learning and literacy, follow scholar and author James Paul Mcgee’s work or read his book What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy.

Using rewards which still provide that rush of Dopamine is another way the interactive world can encourage reading. Like with games, social media websites could provide online competitions for young people, such as taking a photo of you reading a book in an interesting place, writing a 100 word short story in which the winner gets their work shared and published, or other incentives. Or how about the reward of reading itself? Social media could encourage reading by rewarding young people for finishing a book, and online software could work to match young people to their literacy skill level so that they enjoy reading and develop at the same time. I once led a year 7 reading scheme which aimed to do that same thing. After a book was read by a pupil, they did an online quiz which helped to tailor individuals to their literacy level, and I saw students more engaged in reading as they were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment when they finished a book and got to move up a grade in difficulty as well as being merited by teachers for doing so.

Another problem is books are ‘going out of fashion’. However, some books such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, have always been in fashion, why is this? Well, it appeals to young people and creates a fan base as well as a trend in itself. The more time we spend online, the more we turn to ‘trending’ topics in order to help direct our leisure and learning. By sharing pictures of yourself reading on social media sites this would help to normalise reading and potentially help to make it a more attractive option for leisure. The hashtag #Fridayreads on Twitter is one such way in which readers from around the world are able to share their favourite books.

friday

Dawn of the Unread editor James Walker uses #FridayReads to keep a record of books he’s reading and posts a favourite quote from the book.

By using some of these methods it might be possible to re-established reading on these digital platforms. Some sites are already starting to do this. The digital world offers an infinite array of distractions, all vying for our attention. Therefore, it’s important that we find ways of scaffolding learning to help direct younger readers. Social media is full of words, people write posts, and others read those posts, it could even be argued that people are reading and writing more than ever, albeit in byte-sized chunks. But what is the nature of what they are reading? In the opinion of some, the content of social media websites is not educational. As someone who has helped mentor pupils in schools, I believe that tailoring social media experiences to become more academic, yet fun, is really important for their intellectual and emotional development. Interactive media is a major part of today’s society, and so we should explore ways to harness this engagement to help develop literacy levels. Dawn of the Unread editor James Walker is so appalled at literacy levels in the UK he described them as “a form of child abuse” in the project manifesto. If you have ideas on how we can address this together, or want to respond to this or other posts, please leave a comment. We are always listening.

Further reading:

Call out: BME writer needed for the last chapter of our comic

Dawn of the Unread is an interactive graphic novel that is available across all media platforms (iPad, Android, iPhone, website) and aims to raise awareness of Nottingham’s literary history. The narrative is a loose twist on the zombie genre: ‘When the dead go unread there’s gonna be trouble. Writers from Nottingham’s past return from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memories alive: boooks’.

On the 8th of each month a new comic is released and is created by different artists and writers. These include: Alison Moore, Eddie Campbell, Hunt Emerson and Nicola Monaghan. Each writer explores one iconic figure from Nottingham’s literary past that includes: The 5th Duke of Portland, Slavomir Rawicz, the fictional hybrid Byron Clough, Alma Reville (Mrs Hitchcock) Alan Sillitoe, D.H Lawrence and many more. This is literature in its most diverse sense, exploring medieval ballads, black-letter verses, poetry, philosophy, literature, and reportage.

Dawn of the Unread was created to raise awareness of the importance of libraries and independent bookshops. We wanted to raise the question of what happens to writers if their work is not preserved and accessible. However, one thing that became pretty evident early on was most of the writers resurrected from the dead tended to be Caucasian males. This got us thinking: what happens to all of the stories of BME writers who never made it into the library in the first place. How can we celebrate their lives? How can we ensure their stories are preserved and celebrated?

Writer needed

We want you to pitch a small synopsis of a story that involves a real BME literary figure for our final chapter. Your story must address the following issues:
• Your synopsis should be no more than two paragraphs. It should also include an additional paragraph on your chosen literary figure. As a general guide, all the information should fit on one page.
• Your story must feature a library, bookshop or reading in some capacity. This doesn’t have to be on the nail. For example, in Nicola Monaghan’s story Psychos, a disused library is used for an illegal rave. That’s it.
• Your character needs to fight the cause for black/Asian writers, pointing out their absence from our story so far. One thing I am particularly interested in is a story that addresses the concept of ‘zombie’. This can be traced to Haiti and voodoo culture. Perhaps your literary figure is sick of other culture’s narratives being hijacked by the West…
• Your literary figure needs to be from Nottingham. Duh!
• Also include a small biog. Tell us who you are why you want to be involved in this graphic novel.

General information/criteria

• You will be given a script editor to help you through the process so don’t worry if you haven’t been published before. Your idea is what matters.
• You must be based in the East Midlands (we will cover travel costs for editorial meetings)
• You must be from a BME background. Age and gender are irrelevant
• The fee is £250 for 8 pages (remember this is a graphic novel so words are precious)
• The publication date would be 8 May 2015 but we need the approved script by 8 January 2015
• Closing date for your synopsis is 8 October 2014.
• The shortlisted writers will be announced at the Festival of Words event Zombie Mastermind (with Lydia Towsey), in the spoken word tent ‘Word Space Two’ at Old Market Square, 3 – 4pm on Sunday, 19 October
• Send your synopsis to info@writingeastmidlands.co.uk
• The successful writer will be notified via email on 23 October 2014

For further information on this project see http://www.dawnoftheunread.com

Renaissance One: Creative Saloooon

Top right Jean 'Binta' Breeze, bottom left Melanie Abrahams, bottom right, James Walker (me)

Top right Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, bottom left Melanie Abrahams, bottom right, Ahem.

Melanie Abrahams is the creative director of Renaissance One, which offers mentoring and advice to emerging writers about all facets of the creative industries from launching and touring a performance to how to earn an income. One way she promotes the local literary scene is through a Creative Salon, whereby a selection of writers are invited to share their experiences and projects with other professionals.  This is then followed up by a Q&A.

The event was hosted on 2 November at Embrace Arts, University of Leicester. It was my first public talk about Dawn of the Unread outside of Nottingham and I shared the stage with Aly Stoneman, Bubba Bennett and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, with guest readings from Panya Banjoko and Joe Coghlan.

Although DOTU has a very specific focus on the Nottingham literary scene I was keen to get over to Leicester because they have such an incredibly supportive literary scene, something raised by Bubba Bennett when he produced handouts for the audience on every spoken word event in the city as well as statistics regarding the demographics of attendees. Any event I’ve ever been to at Leicester has always been very well attended. I’m not entirely sure why this is but it’s certainly something that Nottingham could learn from.

In the talk I outlined the methodology to DOTU and explained how you identify a problem and then put together a project. This was a diluted version of the manifesto I’ve recently written. A manifesto sounds very serious and so it should be. There’s no point embarking on a project unless you know where you are heading and why.

One emphasis of the talk was the importance of diversifying content as a means of building audiences and new partnerships. I have some very ambitious targets for how many people I want to engage and this talk is one of the many ways in which these ambitions become a reality. Sure enough, I met many interesting people and below is a little teaser of what we talked about and how conversations can shape the direction of a project.

Lydia Towsey is involved with the running of Everybody’s Reading in Leicester in October 2014 and so there are obvious links there. However, I also discovered she’s a complete Zombie nut who is putting together a show about reading and zombies. We’re planning a cuppa for the end of the month so watch this space.

Carol Leeming has a blog whose title is inspired by a Sillitoe short story (the same story that inspired Nicola Monaghan’s blog). Her work and promotion of black female writers also ties in with our themes around race.

Panya Banjoko is someone who I’ve had in mind for a long time to coordinate a response to the race issues raised in the project with Mouthy Poets. But I discovered she’s also recording testimonies from Black servicemen from WWII. There are many parallels about ‘forgotten histories’ that we could link to.

Michael ‘Sureshot’ Brome is a poet who works in a prison and was interested in how DOTU could be used to address literacy in prisons, an area I hadn’t considered before. He mentioned an inmate who had a quote tattooed on his arm but didn’t know who it was by. His comments related to my discussion of Agnes Richter’s mental jacket and how fashion and literature can work well together and raises the possibility of exploring the realtionship between body art, fashion and literature.

The digested read: You can’t go home again.