The story’s the thing: Digital fiction

Canadian author and educator, Kate Pullinger visited my university last week, and since then I have been thinking about ‘the book’ and where it is going in the digital future.

Pullinger says that stories are an important teaching tool for teachers of all subjects. How true. As a writer and lecturer in creative writing and new media at Bath Spa University in the UK, Pullinger believes that ‘the way that we read and interact with text and stories may well have changed fundamentally in 20 years’ time’ (1) , and that the ebook is only a small change in that evolution.

Digital fiction

Pullinger has written traditional fiction like The Mistress of Nothingfor which she won the Governor-General’s award in 2009.

However, her experimentation with digital fiction and the future of the novel is of increasing interest. Her digital works include, e.g. Inanimate Alice  and Flight Paths . The text is sparse and the format relies on the integration of text, image, sound and animation.

Flight Paths: A Networked Novel


Her work with digital story telling and school students is clearly influencing the direction she is pushing the traditional novel. For example in 2011 she was involved with 5 secondary schools and 5 digital writers in a collaborative arts-in-schools project called Ebb and Flow.

And an interesting outcome of her digital story venture, Inanimate Alice, is that school students are now adding to her published ‘novel’ online. She is intrigued herself that students at a US school began adding a fifth chapter to her four-chapter, pre-teen/teenage digital work. The students’ classroom teacher encouraged the kids to contribute text and images to the story and create a new adventure for Alice, which they loaded up onto the Internet, challenging notions of authorship, and demonstrating that fiction can evolve imaginatively, textually and collaboratively. Teenagers are reading books after all.

Live creative writing: ‘Memory Makes Us’

While in Brisbane, Pullinger also took part in an IF:Book Australia event, on 9 July at the State Library of Queensland. The project was called ‘Memory Makes Us’ . Pullinger explored memory as a collaborative and creative event, connecting and combining memories contributed by members of the public with her own experience to create a new work. This included text and images. As she wove together her own and others’ stories, the creative work was streamed live on the Internet and broadcast on the big screen at Federation Square in Melbourne.

Strange as it seems, to me it was more exciting to know that as the story evolved it was projected live into a living breathing city, than that it was simultaneously projected on the Internet. Why? What is the difference? It’s all out there. Is it because I can imagine Federation Square and people reading the screen as they pass by? Is it that I can imagine the particular but imagining the complexity of worldwide participation is too much? Does knowledge of a place make up for anonymity of place?


(1) Pullinger, Kate. (2011). Education: Classroom innovation: Strategy/Comment: Comment: Educators need to utilise the explosion in digital writing. The Guardian, London, UK, 11 Jan, p. 5.

Performance poetry, courage and wonder

There’s always more than one way of giving a speech or telling a story.

Sarah Kay, a performance poet, combines her two loves, theatre and poetry, and fuses them magically to be a performance poet. She is inspiring as a poet, performer and educator, because she really believes in rediscovering “wonder” – seeing the world and our lives afresh, using poetry to “entertain, educate and inspire”.

At school and college she proactively encouraged others to use performance poetry to express themselves, to be heard, and is the founder of a youth project Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression) which supports this aim.

Steps towards creativity
Sarah’s steps towards realising her goal to be a performance artist:

Step 1: “I can” – having the courage to grow, explore and take risks.
Step 2: “I will” – enacting ideals, sticking to the task, doing the hard work.
Step 3: Finding you – infusing your work “with the specific things that make you, you”,what I would call finding your voice, using, as Sarah says, past experience to “dive into the things you don’t know”.

Sarah’s exercise to get started with poetry
1. Write down a list of ten things you know to be true.
2. Share your list with someone else – connect and combine stories.
3. Use this list to connect with what you feel passionately about. You might end up with a poem worth sharing and performing. Create poems that only you can create – these are the ones that will resonate.

Sarah Kay: “If I should have a daughter”

Sustainable education – and a touch of creativity

Education that is sustainable certainly needs an input of creative thinking, problem solving and problem reframing.

Professor Paul Kim, from the Stanford Graduate School of Education is a man after my own heart. Professor Kim has long had an interest in technology and education, and his model for educational design, for teaching now and in the future, focuses not just on the technology, but on the whole picture. This means including the idea of sustainability.

Kim talks about designing “learnable moments”, not just about distributing hardware to students in need. He also encourages inspiring students “with wisdom” – using our creative approach to education to work towards sustainability. It’s no good giving students new technology unless we have a creative plan for how that technology can be continued into the future, based on their needs and context.

He uses the ADDIES model for educational design – Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation and Sustainment.

To put this into action we need creative problem finding, creative problem solving, and a willingness to take risks and live with uncertainty. And that’s only the start.

Paul Kim – Designing a new learning environment