Digital reading and humanities education

Keywords: semiotics of culture, reading comprehension, digital culture

The paper focuses on the problems of reading and teaching literature in the context of digitalization and offers solutions for facilitating a meaningful dialogue with cultural heritage. Both divergence and convergence of media pose a challenge to the conventional ways of teaching literature based on source texts, as both processes entail diversification of media channels and dispersion of content across them. Reading in the digital age is characterized by an increasing multimodality, variability and fragmentariness of texts. The best practices of digital learning platforms allow synthesizing heterogeneous versions of the original into a coherent whole, which results in a new type of text characterized by expression in a (multimodal) language, boundedness and structuredness. The systematization of varied resources on a digital platform is supported by mythological, scientific and play-type modelling.

The project Education on Screen developed by the Transmedia research group at the University of Tartu provides a methodological and technological framework for teaching literature under the circumstances of digitalization. The project offers a selection of open digital learning platforms aimed at secondary school students and a general audience. Each platform explores a key text of Estonian culture and their film adaptations against the background of universal cultural processes: Literature on Screen based on Old Barney or November by Andrus Kivirähk, History on Screen based on Leelo Tungal’s trilogy The Little Comrade, Identity on Screen based on A. H. Tammsaare’s Truth and Justice, and Estonian Film Classics based on Oskar Luts’ novel Spring and other texts.

The pedagogical approach is informed by the semiotics of culture and trans­media research and implies that each artistic text exists in a series of possible versions in different discourses and media, which are rarely taken into account by school education. The digital learning platform supports the dialogue with cultural heritage through a variety of versions, while taking into account the vernacular skills and literacies acquired by students in the digital environment.


Maarja Ojamaa (b. 1983), PhD, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics, Research Fellow (Jakobi 2, Tartu 51003),

Peeter Torop (b. 1950), PhD, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics, Professor of Cultural Semiotics (Jakobi 2, Tartu 51003),

Aleksandr Fadeev (b. 1989), MA, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics, Doctoral student (Jakobi 2, Tartu 51003),

Alexandra Milyakina (b. 1991), PhD, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics, Junior Researcher (Jakobi 2, Tartu 51003),

Merit Rickberg (b. 1991), MA, University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics, Doctoral ­student (Jakobi 2, Tartu 51003); Head of Juri Lotman Semiotics Repository at Tallinn University,