Teens are tribal. Maybe we can use that tribal urge to also encourage them to be literary.

Marshall McLuhan, media scholar, in a 1960 CBS interview described the dichotomy of the "literary man" and the "electronic or tribal man" and that to be "with it" we must "get the message." He said, "the world is now like a continually sounding tribal drum -- everyone gets the message all of the time." Though the role of the book is no longer dominant as a way to take in information and learn about the world, the slow reading and thinking that this medium can encourage are vital for ensuring that creative, critical viewpoints are heard and that we develop our own.

Virtual book clubs bring the best of the "literary man" and "tribal man" together. There's the individual time with the book to immerse oneself and think reflectively and then the time to discuss as a "tribe" to share and enrich one's understanding through dialogue.

Here's a brief discussion of how virtual book clubs can be implemented to encourage the best thinking of the book/individual and electronic/tribal worlds.

The Virtual Book Club and Bookcast Connection
Creating an artifact can serve as a way to encourage reflective dialogue and provide a valuable artifact that brings closure to a book club experience. Video artifacts that convey aesthetic responses to the book shared by the club offer opportunities for creative expression using tech tools that students may already use or will enjoy adding to their toolkit.

Scaffolding Virtual Book Clubs

Virtual book clubs should be as open and flexible as possible. How open and how flexible depends on the background knowledge and experience of the club members.

Typically, recommendations would be:

  • There should always be choice and self-selection is vital. Teens should be able to choose the book they want to read.
  • Books should be from the Young Adult category or a genre that doesn't seem like something you'd read in an English class. A hopeful outcome is that teens will realize that reading has value for them and a place in their lives.
  • Four club members seems optimum. It's enough to encourage a thoughtful exchange but not too many to make collaboration difficult.
  • There needs to be a space for pitching, forming, and managing book clubs. We'll look at a few tools below for accomplishing this.
  • Virtual book clubs need to meet real-time. We want teens to experience the intellectual and emotional highs that come from thinking deeply out loud with others.
  • Pre-planning for real-time book club meetings helps provide a bit of needed structure. Something as simple as asking each member to bring at least one question or point to the discussion is helpful. These could also be posted in the pre-meeting space for prior consideration.
  • It's a good idea for the group to keep a log with notes about the highlights of the discussion, plans for the group's artifact response, and roles/responsibilities. A club wiki would work great since all members can post to it and the artifact response/bookcast could be embedded.
  • The collaborative creation of an artifact from the club should not overshadow the discussion but, rather, should evolve naturally from the discussion.
  • Bookcasts, or aesthetic video responses to books, can serve as compelling artifacts for a book club's experience. A class or schoolwide book club could have a YouTube group to which small book clubs and individuals could submit bookcasts from their own channels. School Tube also seems to have potential since it encourages student and teacher accounts.

Tools for Virtual Book Clubs

Management Tools

For pitching, forming, and organizing book clubs, wikis can work great. The bookcasts can easily be embedded, too, for a nice one-package presentation. Nings or other Facebook-like tools can also work well but be sure that sub-groups can be formed for individual book clubs.

For the actual discussion, the more immersive the environment -- the better. Here's a range:

Voice Chat

Virtual Immersive Worlds -- HTML 5 is expected to bring virtual world capability to your Web browser soon so this virtually immersive experience will become more common. In fact, most web sites will have virtual world components. Second Life (for 15 and older) is a virtual immersive environment where students can learn that there's more to virtual worlds than gaming. Free memberships work fine and clubs can meet in public spaces.

Voice and Video Chat tools like Skype and Google Talk can be a great tool for book clubs. Most are free if used to place calls on computers.

Text Chat

Text chatting a book club is totally different from voice chat and can often be quite fulfilling. One Book, One Twitter actually used Twitter for thousands to read and discuss Neil Gaiman's American Gods recently. Though much of that conversation was not done real-time, may Twitter groups do set up certain times to discuss a topic so a book club could work great.

Other text chat tools that could work include Chatzy (which has free chat rooms that store chat for extended or multiple meetings), and TitanPad (which provides different colors of text for each user). Moodle also has a chat tool but is typically unusually slow.