A nontraditional English course that ran during the Fall 2017 semester was Digitalit. This class’s content included various types of digital literature, such as generative poetry, GIF novels, and Twitterature.
For the course’s final, students were invited to create a large-scale piece of digital literature. Because the course was designed in an open pedagogical fashion, students had the freedom to propose their own project ideas for the final assignment.
But having nearly free reign over a final project didn’t solve one of the major problems surrounding the creation of digital literature in an English class: knowledge of technology. One of the greatest barriers in the course for students was the inability to recreate the works read in class because of the technical knowledge required.
With a bit of patience, however, students who had no prior knowledge of how to use software such as Twine began creating sophisticated projects worthy of the “digitalit” genre.
One of these students was senior English major Lindsey DeRoche. DeRoche dove headfirst into the digital playground by creating a massive hypertext work titled Not Afraid of the Dark.
Not Afraid of the Dark uses both verse and prose to submerge the reader into an interactive story. By clicking certain words on each page, the reader plucked into various places in DeRoche’s hypertext universe.
In her final blog post for the course, DeRoche describes the hypertext as “a hodge-podge collection of verse and prose, illustrating my thoughts on the world, my personal experiences, and things that I am passionate about”.
The open-source tool Twine was used to create DeRoche’s final project. This software allows users to create interactive, nonlinear stories and games. While the software is easy for users to get into, having a small amount of technical know-how can allow the user to create advanced, branched storylines.
In her blog post, DeRoche said that she used Twine because it has the ability to make reading “extraordinarily interactive”.
And her work is extraordinarily interactive. Clicking on words will bring you to an entire page of text that almost seems to be DeRoche’s inner, interpretational narrative of the word. Certain words will even bring you to videos, further illustrating how a simple word or phrase can carry a heavy connotational weight.
Because we get to see the inner workings of her word associations, DeRoche’s hypertext feels highly personal. When reading the “I” pronoun in an anecdotal tale within the hypertext, it is easy to believe that Lindsey herself is the “I”. When clicking on a word that brings the reader to a music video, the reader can believe that the song lyrics are not only symbolic to DeRoche’s life, but that she carries those lyrics on her shoulders every day.
Utilizing technology not only as a platform for creativity, but to enhance creativity was an idea that many students in the Digitalit course had to warm up to. Many days of the class were spent arguing whether or not a work studied in the course was actually literature or not.
According to DeRoche’s blog post, she also struggled with the duality in arts and technology, but in the end, saw how complimentary they can be:
“Often, technology and creativity/art are seen as binary opposites. I’m guilty of thinking with this very mindset, that technology is cold and lifeless, and you can’t breathe a human vibe into it. But, when we studied GIF novels, like Zac’s Haunted House by Dennis Cooper (which I LOVED, as our class knows), I was reminded that technology can be immensely artistic and intentionally ambiguous, allowing for projection of meaning and strong artistic expression.”
When asked whether or not Digitalit would be helpful to those who typically work with traditional forms of literature, such as novels, DeRoche said that anyone can benefit and learn from the course.
“Everything is moving in the digital direction. So, even the future poets and novel writers should be exposed to what is becoming the norm, and the way of the future,” said DeRoche.
DeRoche also noted that the class can be helpful for liberal arts students looking to give themselves an edge in a world where content is rapidly consumed and shared online:
“A lot of us, myself included, want jobs that revolve around writing once we graduate, and the web is where people are starting to go for their writing. It’s cool that PSU and Ann are helping indoctrinate us with a class.”