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What Pottermore Points Us Towards

by Ryan Bretag | @ryanbretag

J.K. Rowling's announcement of Pottermore points us towards a new context for literacy, a context where the book and therefore our habits of reading are evolving through the affordance of digital tools and digital texts. Watching this video introduction by Rowling herself speaks to these changes:

  • There is a uniqueness to online reading
  • Creation of new reading experiences
  • The innovative possibilities of online books is growing and powerful
  • The importance of "you" to the reading of books—the immersion and social aspects possible in the digital world with social media
  • The Digital Generation expects a different experience
  • Digital reading creates a new level of relevance for readers
  • Sharing, participating, and rediscovering are keys to a reading experience beyond just that between the author and the reader or a face to face environment
  • Shaping and personalizing the experience
  • The power of story-telling (Sony calls this "the future of story-telling) with multimedia, gaming, and social media



The trademark for Pottermore shows the leveraging of the social and the connected: “providing multiple-user access to a global computer information network, [...] on-line chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among users in the field of general interest [and] on-line facilities for real-time interaction with other computer users concerning topics of general interest.” When you couple this with the eBook release, this  shifts the notion of the reading experience to one aligned with How People Learn and what Kevin Kelly calls Booking:

Booking produces relationships. Booking is a process that connects readers, authors, characters, ideas, and stories into complex webs. There will be a million ways to weave these relationships—including the ancient path of a linear story that runs interrupted on deadtree paper. But that is but one way to weave the web. (Kelly)

What does this mean for our habits as readers? How is this shifting the vary notion of reading and reading experiences? How does the customized and social possibilities afforded by digital reading require a rethinking of pedagogy? What does this do the value of reading digitally and social media tool utilization with reading? What does this mean for our beliefs about literacy and teaching literacy? What does this mean for the classroom and the evolution of how we approach literature and other texts?

Rowling herself speaks to the movement to eBooks:

It is my view that you can’t hold back progress. E-books are here and here to stay. Later than a lot of people, I for the first time downloaded e-books and it’s miraculous for travel and for children in particular. I feel great about taking Harry into this new medium. (Rowling)

But, more important than just digitizing the Potter series, Rowling is taking the digital experience further and exploring the edge of possibilities with digital reading: "We knew there was a big demand for ebooks, but ... I wanted it to be something more than that. I wanted to pull it back to the reading, to the literary and story experience..."

This is exactly what Booking points to and what the Horizon Report has been predicting because of the potential of digital texts:

Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. (Horizon Report)

And, this is key. The experience of reading digitally and the realization of just how powerful it can be especially when connected to new and powerful reading habits, literacy, and engaging, immerse experiences. And, how powerful it is when it leverages networks, connections, and social learning.

For teachers, this is a challenge (it surely was for me until I viewed it as a reader and not a teacher). Do we hold on to our beliefs about the smell and feel of a book, the ways we want reading to be because it is what we know? Or, do we embrace what is possible for literacy, for engagement, for life? As Rowlings herself points out in the video, "The experience of reading requires the imagination of the author and the reader work together." This has always been the case. She just plans to take it to a whole new level. What about schools? What are they doing to understand and leverage this shift?

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