Digital Social Reading (DSR) is a relatively new concept that refers to “a wide variety of practices related to the activity of reading and using digital technologies and platforms (websites, social media, mobile apps) to share with other people thoughts and impressions about texts” (Pianzola 2021, 4). In education, DSR has been used to engage students in online literature discussions that extend the classroom space and support both teenagers’ extensive reading in a foreign language and digital literacy development. Indeed, when reinforcing in class book discussions with online conversations, teachers can transform reading in a mediated social activity that “creates a foundation for reading communities and enthusiasm” (Barrett 2014, 143).
Tips for Digital Social Reading Project
Tip 1: Choose a digital platform that fits your needs
There are several platforms that can be used for digital social reading. Here are just a few: Glose for Education, SocialBook, Edji, Hypothes.is, ActivelyLearn.
When selecting a digital social reading platform, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it a platform that works on different devices (i.e. mobile phone, tablet, and computer)?
- Does it allow for the kind of interaction that takes place on social media while also fostering some degree of formality?
- Does it allow students to annotate and comment directly on the text?
Remember that different platforms offer different opportunities for learning, and that you also need to address privacy and safety concerns.
In our project, we used Glose for Education. Glose for Education is a collaborative digital reading platform similar to social media that allows students and teachers to read and engage with each other through the e-books they share in their digital classroom. It is available on any computer, tablet or smartphone and it employs different gamification and learning features to make reading easy, fun, and collaborative.
Here are some good reasons why teachers and students should use it:
- create a private classroom and securely invite students to join
- add books to the classroom by buying or renting the titles available in the in-app bookstore or import (copyright free) content
- share reading assignments on the classroom homepage or directly in the text margin by adding notes with multimodal prompts (text, voice messages, pictures, web links, etc.)
- allow students to read and contribute to the book discussion by annotating, highlighting and reacting in the text margin of the same digital text, thus making reading exciting and collaborative
- follow and track students’ progress thanks to reading statistics
- identify struggling students and highlight top performers
- read digital texts from any place and any device
- read offline after first access
- customise their reading experience by changing the background theme, font, and size to whatever works best for them (there’s also a dyslexia font available)
- react to their reading and share with their friends in the text margins through annotating, highlighting, posing questions, and posting emojis
- use the integrated dictionary to look up for the definition or translation of a word (multiple languages are available); bookmark definitions/words on their personal collection
- activate text to speech for automatic audio reading of any e-book
- track their reading statistics by adding daily reading goals and gaining badges
Tip 2: Divide students in small groups (5-6 students per group) and set up a schedule and ending date.
Tip 3: Design pre-reading discussion activities with the aim to get students interested in the book/topic(s) and activate their prior knowledge Design post-reading discussion activities to help students critically and creatively respond to the text in line with the new mediation scales of the CEFR (2018; “expressing a personal response to creative texts; analysis and criticism of creative texts) and in preparation to the digital storytelling process at the end of the project.
Tip 4: Facilitate during-reading discussion by using both general (i.e. Share a moment in the chapter that stood out to you) and specific prompts (i.e. why is character X doing this at this moment?)
These prompts should promote students’ text-to-text, text-to-self and text-to-world connections, and should be “open-ended, spark interest, and often begin with why, tell me about, or explain” (Larson 2009, 640). Also, prompts should promote students’ “understandings of, and connections to, themes/“big ideas” and personal interpretations of the text” through exploiting the affordances of multimodality (Elliot-Johns 2011, 170).
For example, students could be asked to choose a music that captures the mood of the chapter/text, or an image to represent the setting, or record their voice while commenting on a picture of an annotated quote. This would help students in critically exploring the characteristics of literary devices, such as theme and mood, while also building the multimodal competence necessary for curating a digital story. You could also ask students to examine plot, perspective, and voice through comparing the same story across different formats and media (Thompson & McIlnay, 2019, 71). Pose follow-up questions only if the discussion stalls (Collwell et al. 2018). That is, be present but not too much!
Tip 5: If it is the first time your students participate in an digital book club, you could give them sentence starters to scaffold their asynchronous discussion about books (i.e. I wonder..; I want to piggyback on…; Can you explain…; I agree with…because…; Based on the text, I think…, etc.) as well as support them in using textual evidence to construct arguments and track changing perceptions (see Jocius & Shealy 2017).
Tip 6: Organise face-to-face book discussions to build on the results of the online discussions and develop a stronger sense of community.
Obtaining the books
Public Domain Books
Public Domain Books are an ideal source to be used in a Digital Social Reading Project. They are books whose intellectual property rights have expired and are available for public use. This means that they not only can be read online for free but can also be reused and remixed. Even though there are some texts that are already born open source, public domain books are usually classics (e.g. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) while more recent books do usually have copyrights. There are several public domain books databases, some of which are listed below:
Renting e-books might be another great option. Check with your school library or the public library in your area if they have e-books of the titles your students have chosen. Most public libraries rely on specific e-reading apps (e.g. MLOL, Overdrive, Libby). They have quite a wide collection of e-books in English. If not, ask the library if they can buy the e-book(s) you’re looking for.
Another option could be to ask your school to allocate some money to buy the e-books for the project. E-books are usually licensed for a single user. This means that you cannot buy one copy and share it with multiple users. However, there are some online book companies and platforms which allow you to buy e-books in bulk.
Glose for Education
Glose for Education has an in-app bookstore with 1 million eBooks and AudioBooks available including +4000 free titles. Books can also be purchased in bulk. For more information, click here.
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Pianzola, F. (2021). Digital Social Reading: Sharing Fiction in the 21st Century. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Thompson, R., & McIlnay, M. (2019). “Nobody wants to read anymore! Using a multimodal approach to make literature engaging”. Journal of English Language and Literature, 7, 21-40.