Practical Teaching Ideas

Teaching Digital Literacy with Inanimate Alice


An extremely useful and engaging resource for teaching and learning about digital literacy, ICT, and language, is the interactive multimodal fiction series Inanimate Alice. Some have declared that, “there is nothing else like it on the net,” and I tend to agree.

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The main Inanimate Alice website <> allows students to interact with each of the multimodal episodes where user interaction is required to advance each story. The website also contains:

  • A gallery of student and teacher created content, which students are encouraged to contribute to.
  • A series of interactive travel journals which follow Alice, aged 18, during her gap year in Indonesia and Japan. The journals contain a mix of audio, visuals, films and interactive word games.
  • Links to associated sites where students can download templates, images and sound effects in order to create their own Alice adventures, for example:
  • A link to the development blog for the latest Alice episode so that students can provide input and ask questions.

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Most educators are extremely familiar with the teaching and learning goals of language and ICT. However, many are not as confident when it comes to the idea of ‘digital literacy’. Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy, “it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy”. It is much more than just the combination of the terms, digital and literacy. A digitally literate person possess a range of digital skills, they have the ability to engage in online communities and social networks, they possess critical thinking skills, and perhaps most important of all, they are able to find, capture, evaluate, and interpret information. To follow is a short practical guide for how to use Inanimate Alice in an EFL or ESL context.

Some important things to keep in mind before teaching with Inanimate Alice include:

  • Most episodes have been translated into Japanese, Indonesia, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. These translations are easily accessed and give teachers and students the opportunity to move between the student’s first language and the one which is being learnt.
  • There is plenty of support for teachers that wish to use Inanimate Alice which includes a Facebook page, various classroom blogs, various teachers’ wiki sites, and educator packs which are available from the official Inanimate Alice website. Examples of these links include: Facebook, university sites (here, and here), ICT and educational reviews, and school blogs.
  • There are currently five episodes completed, with a sixth in production, and a plan to make a further four. The episodes span Alice’s life from the age of eight through to her early twenties. The stories become more complex and more interactive as the episodes progress.
  • There are many approaches that can be taken with this resource, which include: literature and narrative study, developing English language skills, development of reading skills, creative writing, group discussion and collaboration, digital literacy, social studies, and personal development.

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One approach that I have employed is to use Alice as a way of introducing students to digital literacy, while at the same time developing their English language skills, reading skills and discussion skills. Whenever possible, I try to use a class blog or wiki as the means by which students complete work during a teaching sequence involving Alice. My teaching sequence usually follows the following plan, with each session being between one to five lessons long.

Session 1: Introduce the print version of Inanimate Alice.

  • Discuss the title of the story – Inanimate Alice. What does the title mean? Do students recognize any words, or parts of words? What information can we obtain from the dictionary? What do we think the story will be about?
  • Read one-third of the print version as a whole class. Have the students generate questions and ideas (T-chart) about the story as each part is read. Model questions and ideas as necessary (think aloud).
  • Have students read the remaining two-thirds of the story in groups and allow them to discuss and share their ideas. Groups are asked to write down three important questions and three important ideas from the remaining two-thirds and post these on the class blog.
  • Reflect on the work produced. Discuss inference and ‘reading between the lines’.


Session 2: Introduce the digital version of Inanimate Alice.

  • Watch Episode 1 of Inanimate Alice using a Smartboard or data projector with the whole. I generally prefer to watch it first with no sound, and then a second time with sound. This enables me to discuss the different elements, and how the visuals and audio add/create different ideas and feelings.
  • As a whole class compare and contrast the print version and the digital version.(T-chart, or through blog entries)
  • Have students reflect on the various strategies they used to make sense of the two different versions.

2015-12-05 (8)From here, depending on how much time I have, I usually continue with sessions such as; Session 3: Narratives and the structure of stories, Session 4: Inference and reading between the lines, Session 5: Creative writing and writing an episode of Inanimate Alice, and Session 6: Making our episode digital. For ideas about how to expand these latter sessions, or for other approaches to Alice, I would strongly suggest looking at the two educator packs that are available for Inanimate Alice: Pack 1and Pack 2 These packs will aid you if you seek to use Inanimate Alice to teach digital literacy, character development, making connections, building schema, to teach critical thinking and evaluation.

The first pack contains resources and lesson plans, focusing on the development of digital literacy. There are four lesson plans in this resource, addressing:

  1. Connections between story and medium
  2. Linking narration and autobiography with sound effects and music
  3. Multimodality and autobiography
  4. Character development and progression

Each of these plans is supported by a number of ready-to-use student resources.

The second pack contains a additional four lesson plans supported by ready-to-use student resources. These cover:

  1. Exploring character development and paragraph structure
  2. Appreciating difference; cultural differences, oral stories and podcasting
  3. Adolescent and young adult issues, for example: peer pressure, friends and school
  4. Life skills; focus on transportation

I strongly recommend that you and your students take the time to interact with Inanimate Alice by visiting

Practical Teaching Ideas

Netflix for Extensive Listening

With Netflix now available in Japan, at ¥650 a month (¥950 for HD), one should consider recommending it to students for extensive listening. One of the highest and simplest correlations for language learning is time of exposure to the target language. With a wealth of material, Netflix allows for plenty of listening time and choice.


As teachers, it would be wise to give some specific recommendations, depending on the students. Master of None is the hottest new television show in the US. It Aziz Ansari, previously in the hit comedy Parks and Recreation, is a 20-something Brooklyn resident with parents from India. It deals with race and human relations in a sweet and funny way, without making fun of people. It does, however have some rough language and a few sexual innuendos, which would be advisable to warn people about if they are sensitive to such things. Best, though, to show students how to read reviews of the TV shows so they are aware of the content before they watch. They could use Netflix, or IMDB, or Common Sense for parents, or choose from another 10 sites. You could even contrast reviews with sites like Christian Spotlight on Entertainment.

The best TV series in the last 10 years is Black Mirror. Netflix allows people to watch many episodes in a row (called “binge watching”) without commercials. Not recommended for Black Mirror as it is so intense, a series of near-future science fiction dystopias. But for something light, a sitcom like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one could watch the 20-minute episodes alone or in a bunch. Netflix allows you to watch on your desktop, laptop, mobile.  With an adaptor like Google Chromecast or Apple TV, you can watch on your regular TV.

Language support is in the form of English Closed Caption subtitles, and for most foreign content, Japanese subtitles. Sadly there are few English subtitles for Japanese content for those learning Japanese.

There are also thousands of movies available. This could conceivably entice students away from their traditional two hours a night of Japanese prime time TV, the quality of which we are all aware.



A teacher could even start a movie discussion group by buying a class set (Premium Subscriptions can be used by 4 people at the same time. See above.) for a short time (minimum 1 month, but you can quit any time), and giving the student the login information. You might think of using a release form or other to protect yourself from accidental exposure of material to sensitive students.


Preliminary Results from a Telecollaborative Exchange between Japan and Taiwan using Facebook Groups

IMG_1836According to David Crystal[1. Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. DOI 10.5785/20-1-80], a British linguist, nearly 3 out of 4 English users are “non-natives”. From a sociolinguistic perspective this means that English is no longer the language of the few, but the lingua franca of the many[2. Canagarajah, S. (2014). In search of a new paradigm for teaching English as an international language. TESOL Journal, 5(4), 767-785. DOI 10.1002/tesj.166] [3. Jenkins, J. & Leung, C. (2013). English as a Lingua Franca. The Companion to Language Assessment IV, 13(95), 1605–1616. DOI 10.1002/9781118411360.wbcla047] [4. Ke, I. C., & Cahyani, H. (2014). Learning to become users of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF): How ELF online communication affects Taiwanese learners’ beliefs of English. System, 46, 28-38. DOI 10.1016/j.system.2014.07.008]. Mutual ownership of English as a lingua franca comes with the shared responsibility of intercultural communication[5. Houghton, S. (2009). The role of intercultural communicative competence in the development of world Englishes and lingua francas. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 15, 70-95. Retreived from] [6. Hülmbauer, C., Böhringer, H., & Seidlhofer, B. (2008). Introducing English as a lingua franca (ELF): Precursor and partner in intercultural communication. Synergies Europe, 3, 25-36. Retrieved from]; however, this can be particularly challenging for those from a homogeneous society like Japan[7. Neulip, J. W., Chaudoir, M., & McCroskey, J. C. (2001). A cross-cultural comparison of ethnocentrism among Japanese and United States college students. Communication Research Reports, 18(2), 137-146. DOI 10.1080/08824090109384791]. And yet, the Japanese Ministry of Education[8. MEXT. (2010, June 21). The Concept of Global Human Resource Development Focusing on the East Asian Region. Retrieved from] has decided that exchanges between Japanese students and East Asian students are vital to Japan’s future. Therefore, finding ways to increase Japanese students’ intercultural experience is paramount.

Social Learning Benefits Learning Performance

Social learning offers the potential to increase learning performance[9. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New York: General Learning Press. DOI 10.2307/3340496] [10. Bruffee, K. A. (1999). Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. Baltimore, MD. Johns Hopkins University Press.] [11. Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., & Suthers, D. (2014). Computer-supported collaborative learning: An historical perspective. Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences, 2014, 479-500. DOI 10.1017/cbo9781139519526.029]. One interdependent learning model emphasises its importance, specifically in cases of computer supported collaborative learning.

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Social media seems to offer the most accessible platform for distance social learning. However, according to Kreijins et al.[12. Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P., Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior, 19(3), 335-353. DOI 10.1016/s0747-5632(02)00057-2], we should not rely on the platform to instigate communication.

The Thoeory: Digital Sojourn

Digital Sojourn is an idea that has been on my mind ever since reading Michael Byram’s[13. Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.] description of the sojourner, and the way one develops through prolonged interaction with another culture. The goal of digital sojourn is to engage learners in a deep enough level of interaction that they can develop interculturally. To do this, three methods are combined: (1) interdependence, (2) multimodal communcation, and (3) reflection as part of the experience.

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The Experiment: An Eight-Week Facebook Exchange

In order to test out this method, I solicited the help of a teacher / researcher from Taiwan named Brent Kelsen. We first met through Research Gate <>.

After a few Skype chats, we decided to engage our students in 8 weeks of intercultural exchange using Facebook. For our initial pilot study we placed the students into Facebook groups which had on average 4 Taiwanese students and 4 Japanese students in each group.

Each week these students shared digital artifacts on topics such as food, music, movies and anime, tourists destinations, and the like. We also made sure to include a few weeks of free choice topics at the end.

As teachers we were concerned about whether students would participate, so we modeled the interaction ourselves each week by posting our own content.

In addition to sharing digital artifacts, students in Japan also engaged in weekly classroom based reflections on the exchange. They discussed the value of the exchange and what they hoped to get out of it, and how they could best engage the Taiwanese students in the exchange. At the end of the term, they also gave presentations in class concerning what they learned from the exchange and how it had helped them grow.

In order to measure intercultural development, I gave my students a questionnaire designed to measure intercultural sensitivity once before the exchange and once again after the exchange. The instrument I used was Chen and Starosta’s[14. Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (2000). The development and validation of the intercultural sensitivity scale. Human Communication, 3, 1-15. Retreived from] Intercultural Sensitivity Scale, a 24-item self-report questionnaire measuring 5 factors of intercultural sensitivity.

The Results: An Increase in Respect for Cultural Differences

Results showed a marked increase in respect for intercultural differences among participants (M diff = 1.6, SD = 1.2) over control (M diff = 0.1, SD = 2.5) with the conditions (t(52) = 2.73, p < .01, d = 0.7).

ISS - T2 vs C2** = p < .01

Exchange Metrics

I used a tool called Netvizz[15. Rieder, B. (2013). Studying Facebook via data extraction: the Netvizz application. In WebSci ’13 Proceedings of the 5th Annual ACM Web Science Conference (pp. 346-355). New York: ACM. DOI 10.1145/2464464.2464475] to “scrape” the Facebook posts and found that a total of 15,014 words were exchanged (including about a 15% contribution by teachers). Participants also supported their communication through paralinguistic means by sharing 94 photographs and 77 videos. Here is a wordle made from the 15,014 words exchanged by participants which highlights the most frequently used vocabulary by enlarging it in proportion to the others.wordle4


According to the results of the Intercultural Sensitivity questionnaire, participants learned to respect cultural differences. It was good to see that even when the exchange was not a physical one, intercultural development could be supported through the mixed methodology of digital sojourn. I feel that classroom reflections were the most interesting part of the exchange, as I was able to see how students grew through the process. With that in mind, I will close with a reflection from one of the student participants in this exchange.

I wanted to see Japan objectively, so I asked the question, “What images of Japan do Taiwanese have?” According to them, they think Japan is a traditional, innovative, and high quality country because of old structures, culture, nature, economy, and technology. However, some people hate Japan due to historical problems. This fact made me a little depressed, but one of the Taiwanese students mentioned that these problems can be resolved by communication and respect. I was amazed at his words and admired his thoughts, and then I realized that such exchange between younger generations are crucial to deepen mutual understanding. Therefore, I’ll find opportunities that bring me to exchange with foreign people again, and make efforts toward mutual comprehension.