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,




Berry, David M. 2012. Introduction: Understanding the digital humanities. – Understanding Digital Humanities. Toim D. M. Berry. Basingstoke-New York: Palgrave Macmillan, lk 1-20.
Brillenburg Wurth, Kiene; Espi, Sara Rosa; van de Ven, Inge 2013. Visual text and media divergence: Analogue literary writing in a digital age. – European Journal of English Studies, kd 17, nr 1, lk 92-108.
Bruns, Axel 2009. From prosumer to produser: Understanding user-led content creation. Ettekanne konverentsil “Transforming Audience” Londonis 3.-4. septembril 2009.
Burgess, Jean; Green, Joshua 2018. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Chandrashekar, Ashok; Amat, Fernando; Basilico, Justin; Jebara, Tony 2017. Artwork personalization at Netflix. – Netflix Technology Blog 7. XII. (26. VI 2021).
Fadeev, Aleksandr 2020. Acquisition of artistic literacy in multimodal learning via inter­semiotic translation. – Punctum. International Journal of Semiotics, kd 6, nr 1, lk 133-159.
Hartman, Douglas K.; Hagerman, Michelle Schira; Leu, Donald J. 2018. Toward a new literacies perspective of synthesis: Multiple source meaning construction. – Handbook of Multiple Source Use. Toim Jason L. G. Braasch, Ivar Bråten, Matthew T. McCrudden. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, lk 55-78.
Herman, David 2009. Narrative ways of worldmaking. – Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research. Toim Sandra Heinen, Roy Sommer. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, lk 71-87.
Hunt, Peter 2000. Futures for children’s literature: Evolution or radical break. – Cambridge Journal of Education, kd 30, nr 1, lk 111-119.
Ipri, Tom 2010. Introducing transliteracy: What does it mean to academic libraries? – College & Research Library News, kd 71, nr 10, lk 532-533, 567.
Jenkins, Henry 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York-London: New York University Press.
Jenkins, Henry 2009. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge (MA)-London: The MIT Press.
Jenkins, Henry 2010. Transmedia education: The seven principles revisited. – Confessions of an Aca-Fan 21. VI. (26. VI 2021).
Kembellec, Gérald; Broudoux, Evelyne (toim) 2017. Reading and Writing Knowledge in Scientific Communities: Digital Humanities and Knowledge Construction. London: ISTE, Hoboken: Wiley.
Klastrup, Lisbeth; Tosca, Susana 2004. Transmedial worlds: Rethinking cyberworld design. Proceedings of the International Conference on Cyberworlds 2004, IEEE Computer Society. Los Alamitos, CA. (13. VII 2021).
Kress, Gunther 2003. Literacy in the New Media Age. London: Routledge.
Kress, Gunther 2014. Reading, learning, and “texts” in their interaction with the digital media. – Tidsskriftet Viden om Literacy, kd 16, lk 56-67.
Lepik, Peet 2007. Universaalidest Juri Lotmani semiootika kontekstis. (Tartu Semiootika Raamatukogu 6.) Tartu: Tartu University Press.
Liestøl, Gunnar 2007. The dynamics of convergence and divergence in digital domains. – The Ambivalence of Convergence. Toim Tanja Storsul, Dagny Stuedahl. Gothenburg: Nordicom, University of Gothenburg, lk 165-178.
Lim, Hyo Jin; Jung, Hyekyung 2019. Factors related to digital reading achievement: A multi-level analysis using international large scale data. – Computers & Education, kd 133, lk 82-93.
Lotman, Juri 1999 [1984]. Semiosfäärist. – J. Lotman, Semiosfäärist. (Avatud Eesti raamat.) Tlk Kajar Pruul. Tallinn: Vagabund, lk 11-25.
Lotman, Juri 2000 [1990]. Universe of the Mind: A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Lotman, Juri 2002 [1978]. Kultuuri fenomen. Tlk Silvi Salupere. – Akadeemia, nr 12, lk 2644-2660.
Lotman, Juri 2006 [1970]. Kunstilise teksti struktuur. (Avatud Eesti raamat.) Tlk Pärt Lias. Tallinn: Tänapäev.
Lotman, Juri 2016 [1967]. Kunst modelleerivate süsteemide reas. – J. Lotman, Kultuuri­semiootika. Tekst – kirjandus – kultuur. Tlk Pärt Lias, Inta Soms, Rein Veidemann. Tallinn: Tänapäev, lk 8-31.
Lotman, Juri 2016 [1981]. Kultuurisemiootika ja teksti mõiste. – J. Lotman, Kultuurisemiootika. Tekst – kirjandus – kultuur. Tlk Pärt Lias, Inta Soms, Rein Veidemann. Tallinn: Tänapäev, lk 234-240.
Lotman, Juri; Mints, Zara 2016 [1981]. Kirjandus ja mütoloogia. – J. Lotman, Kultuurisemiootika. Tekst – kirjandus – kultuur. Tlk Pärt Lias, Inta Soms, Rein Veidemann. Tallinn: Tänapäev, lk 273-298.
Lotman, Juri; Uspenski, Boriss 1999 [1973]. Müüt – nimi – kultuur. – J. Lotman, Semiosfäärist. (Avatud Eesti raamat.) Tlk Kajar Pruul. Tallinn: Vagabund, lk 187-218.
Lotman, Juri; Uspenski, Boriss 2013 [1971]. Kultuuri semiootilisest mehhanismist. – B. Uspenski, Vene kultuuri jõujooni. (Avatud Eesti raamat.) Koost Peet Lepik, B. Uspenski; tlk P. Lepik. Tartu: Ilmamaa, lk 207-239.
Mangen, Anne; van der Weel, Adriaan 2017. Why don’t we read hypertext novels? – Convergence. The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, kd 23, nr 2, lk 166-181.
Manovich, Lev 2003. New media from Borges to HTML. – The New Media Reader. Toim Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort. Cambridge-London: The MIT Press, lk 13-25.
Manovich, Lev 2012 [2001]. Uue meedia keel. Tlk Ellu Maar. Tallinn: Eesti Kunstiakadeemia.
Milyakina, Alexandra; Ojamaa, Maarja; Pilipovec, Tatjana; Rickberg, Merit 2020. Literature on screen: Teaching adaptations with a multimodal course. – Media Practice and Education, kd 21, nr 3, lk 229-239.
Murray, Simone 2018. The Digital Literary Sphere: Reading, Writing, and Selling Books in the Internet Era. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Ojamaa, Maarja; Torop, Peeter; Fadeev, Aleksandr; Milyakina, Alexandra; ­Pilipovec, ­Tatjana; Rickberg, Merit 2019. Culture as education: From transmediality to transdisciplin­ary pedagogy. – Sign Systems Studies, kd 47, lk 152-176.
Ojamaa, Maarja; Torop, Peeter 2020. Kultuuripärand ja digitaalne lugemine: raamatu ja platvormi vahel. – Methis. Studia humaniora Estonica, nr 26, lk 51-68.
Pennington, Martha C.; Waxler, Robert P. 2018. Why Reading Books Still Matters. The Power of Literature in Digital Times. New York-London: Routledge.
Popovič, Anton; Macri, Francis M. 1977. Literary synthesis. – Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, kd 4, nr 2, lk 118-132.
Rau, Martina A. 2020. Cognitive and socio-cultural theories on competencies and practices involved in learning with multiple external representations. – Handbook of Learning from Multiple Representations and Perspectives. Toim Peggy Van Meter, Alexandra List, Doug Lombardi, Panayiota Kendeou. New York: Routledge, lk 17-32.
Rickberg, Merit 2017. Kahest vastandlikust tendentsist ajaloohariduses. – Acta Semiotica Estica, kd 14, lk 46-68.
Riley, Madeline; Machado, Lauren; Roussabrov, Boris; Branyen, Tim; Bhawalkar, Parth; Jin, Eugene; Kansara, Apurva 2018. AVA: The Art and Science of Image Discovery at Netflix. – Netflix Technology Blog 7. II. (13. VII 2021).
Ritzer, George; Jurgenson, Nathan 2010. Production, consumption, prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital “prosumer”. – Journal of Consumer Culture, kd 10, nr 1, lk 13-36.
Salmerón, Ladislao; Strømsø, Helge I.; Kammerer, Yvonne; Stadtler, Marc; van den Broek, Paul 2018. Comprehension processes in digital reading. – Learning to Read in a ­Digital World. Toim Mirit Barzillai, Jenny Thomson, Sascha Schroeder, P. van den Broek. ­Amsterdam: John Benjamins, lk 91-120.
Salupere, Silvi; Torop, Peeter; Kull, Kalevi 2013. Beginnings of the Semiotics of Culture. Tartu: University of Tartu Press.
Schnapp, Jeffrey; Presner, Todd 2009. Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0. (27. VI 2021).
Scolari, Carlos A. 2013. Lostology: Transmedia storytelling and expansion/compression strategies. – Semiotica, kd 195, lk 45-68.
Scolari, Carlos A.; Masanet, Maria-José; Guerrero-Pico, Mar; Establés, María-José 2018. Transmedia literacy in the new media ecology: Teens’ transmedia skills and informal learning strategies. – El Profesional de la Información, kd 27, nr 4, lk 801-812.
Shibata, Hirohito; Omura, Kengo 2020. Why Digital Displays Cannot Replace Paper. The Cognitive Science of Media for Reading and Writing. Singapore: Springer.
Spink, Bec 2014. Social & community driven learning. – CSU ThinkSpace 3. VIII.
Sukovic, Suzana 2016. Transliteracy in Complex Information Environments. Amsterdam jt: Chandos Publishing.
Svensson, Patrik 2012. The digital humanities as a humanities project. – Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, kd 11, nr 1-2, lk 42-60.
Toolan, Michael 2010. Foreword: Lost and found in the reading machine. – Literary Education and Digital Learning: Methods and Technologies for Humanities Studies. Toim ­Willie van Peer, Sonia Zyngier, Vander Viana. New York: Information Science Reference, lk x-xxiv.
Torop, Peeter 2019. Kutuuridünaamika ja kultuurisemiootika väljavaated. – Akadeemia, nr 12, lk 2217-2231.
Tso, Anna Wing-bo (toim) 2019. Digital Humanities and New Ways of Teaching. (Digital Culture and Humanities 1.) Singapore: Springer.