oa South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science - Sharing our stories : using an online encyclopaedia as the basis for a general education module on local history, creative writing and social justice

Volume 78, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0256-8861



Conventional wisdom suggests that the best way of equipping first-year university students with the skills to cope with the rigorous demands of discipline-specific discourse is through an "academic literacies" approach. In other words, by developing their abilities to discern different disciplinary contexts and settings, students may more confidently adopt appropriate linguistic practices in their studies (Archer 2010: 497). I would suggest that where the approach frequently falls short, is in the narrow range of discipline-specific materials provided for student consumption. To achieve the desired levels of linguistic agility for university study, students need a mental gymnasium with a truly challenging set of apparatus. It is not only students of literature who need exposure to creative writing. Reading of creative fiction can ignite the narrative imagination of the first-year university student, provoking an exploration of cultural diversity, social justice and identity. Novels, plays, poetry and short stories can engage the reader more deeply than factual studies, and engender a thoughtful, responsive and responsible attitude towards society. A sense of social justice is fundamental to the development of good citizenship, and it has been argued that the study of creative writing, especially that which is embedded in local and regional history, provides a sound scaffolding for student learning experiences through related writing activities and debate. Online literary and historical encyclopaedias can provide an ideal information landscape for the development of learning modules that focus on local literature. A structured e-learning module may build on such online sources by assisting the student to navigate the abundant references and discover materials that may be probed more deeply through reading assignments, writing tasks and discussion. This paper presents a case study of the design and development of a general education learning module - "Sharing our stories" - intended to provide students with enriching encounters with local literature while advancing their academic reading and writing skills. The module draws on the content of the Encyclopaedia of South African Arts, Culture and Heritage (ESAACH) which plays an integral part as a springboard to the exploration of local writing. While students encounter a variety of short stories, extracts from novels and biographical writing, a blog feature ensures that the students' own contributions are lodged within the bigger story - what Ngugi wa Thiong'o calls the "collective history" - of our region (Wa Thiong'o 1986: xi).

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