Thursday, September 06, 2007

Where are the books?

office space
It’s interesting how much energy has already gone into researching how electronic forms of ‘the book’ may benefit young readers. This work is dominated by experimental approaches that use e-books (sometimes referred to as ‘living books’). Most of this research involves interactive animated multimedia children's books – usually on CD-Rom which, more often than not, are versions of a print-text original. You could almost see this as the safe area of research into digital literacy. After all book-reading has for so long been seen as a cornerstone of early literacy education and later on as a benchmark of the educated, cultured and critical adult reader that new technology really ought to be pressed into service to develop these valued pursuits. An alternative view admits that reading on screen is a very different matter, and that screen-based technologies are allowing people to communicate in new ways, that are unrestricted by the traditional constraints of bookspace. Despite efforts to create a satisfactory way of enabling extended, immersive reading on handheld devices (such as the Sony Reader), it seems from book sales figures that this kind of reading is best done from traditional print. Let’s face it e-books have never really taken off, but other forms of screen reading/writing continue to flourish. Isn’t it time we started thinking more intelligently about the affordances of the page and the screen? And whilst we’re doing this, perhaps we could re-think what’s valued in literacy and what’s important in early literacy.

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