On Thursday (19th of November) I started the final unit of the term with my English 102s at Grant MacEwan University (Edmonton, Alberta). After essays and other academic texts, our final study would focus on the multimodal narrative, Inanimate Alice.

Before I began the lesson I recalled what I had done with other classes (mostly media or creative technologies while at De Montfort University in Leicester, England). But this time, it would be a little different. I could incorporate more of a “literary” analysis as this was for an English class…right?

Interestingly out of about 30 students, only one admitted to having read something similar to Inanimate Alice (but when he was “younger”). I gave a background to Inanimate Alice. I introduced the students to Alice, to Brad. I also explained what Alice’s parents do. We talked about setting and character development, noting that Inanimate Alice can be read as a bildungsroman.

We agreed to spend the remainder of the lesson reading Episodes 1 and 2. Students were also given time at the end of the lesson to reflect on their first-time reading a multimodal narrative. Some of the questions I asked them to think about included:

  • How reading this online fiction is different from reading the essays in the course books or reading the texts for your research assignment
  • What can readers infer about the identity of Alice? What traits does Alice seem to possess?
  • 1 instance of foreshadowing
  • Complete this sentence: “I think the author is trying to say….”

These students have had plenty of opportunity to respond to literature. They all understand what a story setting is and how to examine character development. However, until we slowed down and re-read each screen of Episode 1, the students found it difficult to answer the aforementioned questions. Only when we paused on a screen and analysed the role of sound (it’s speeding tempo and increasing volume), the role of image (the gravel road, jerking in and out of a downward view), the role of text (the comforting voice of mother Ming) and reader interaction (the blurring arrows urging the reader to click on), we were able to recognise foreshadowing. Josh reads this scene as: “The text reads “Mum says, John knows what he’s doing, he’ll be back soon. That’s what she said yesterday and the day before. But not today.” This text suggests that unlike before, the mother, Ming, can no longer comfort Alice because she too may be worried about when John will be returning, foreshadowing that something may have happened to him.” Looking for a different example of foreshadowing, Ivy interprets: “[a]n example of foreshadowing is that Brad is becoming more animated, he first appeared as a stick figure in the first episode but his images is constantly progressing. I believe as the episodes progress he’ll become an actual person.”  Jamie also had a different view of foreshadowing: “An example of foreshadowing is expressed by the speech bubble that states Alice is the girl always losing her parents. The whole scenario of it appearing seemed out of place, perhaps hinting at a hidden importance.”

Slowing down and performing this kind of close reading proved powerful for the students (and me too!). In turn, they clicked back to individual screens and reread the multiple modes. When asked how this online narrative is different from some of the texts students have read in the past Tasha explained that Inanimate Alice is very “different [from] reading a book, essay, or text because there are many different sounds, moving pictures, and games that could distract you from the text that you have to read. It helps you to visualize what is going on… Also the speeding and slowing, and the type of music makes you more emotionally involved in the story. For example, in the second episode after Alice finds her parents, a softer music is playing and it gives you a sense of relief.” Another student, Matthew, noted: “The audio is very context sensitive, as with the pictures. When the story gets more intense the music speeds up.”  Many of the students also enjoyed the required elements of interactivity. Not only the clicking of the arrows (which Matt likens to “the equivalent of turning a page in a convential text.” ) but the puzzles too. As Kalmy explained, “It also allows us to interact with the story as well (ie: selecting the clothes she’s going to wear).”

My English 102 students began to read as transliterate readers. Scott put it succinctly:

“The growth in [t]ranliteracy as Alice grows in age in my opinion is the author/creators way of expressing how the general public views this mixture of media, text, and story. We’re still developing a bridge between all of our learning tools. While everyone is structured to learn how to read and write the old fashioned way, new forms of literacy tools are developing.”

Since our first class, students are now becoming producers of their own texts. Their creations (an example of differentiated instruction) will, in turn, reinforce the importance of reading all modes simultaneously. Students can choose one of the following activities:

  • Write a letter to the authors: Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph

** Use strong English, give examples
** ask at least two questions
** length should be two paragraphs

  • Create a podcast reflection of Episodes 1 and 2 (include the link to your podcast and e-mail me the HTML and the written version). Analyse the role of multimodality. You might use http://www.mypodcast.com// or http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
  • Create a google map of places from the first two episodes of Inanimate Alice (include the link to your map in the comment and e-mail me the HTML). For each place marked on the map include:

**analysis of the story related to that area
**and a link to an image

While the students are crafting their responses, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s class because I as Brian sees it, “Inanimate Alice is the next generation of text, designed to incorporate all of the modern technologies of today.”



You can follow along on our class blog.