Often the most interesting part of a story is the mystery.

Even in academic papers, the really intriguing parts are the ideas left ambiguous or unexplained. In reading Monica Nilssan’s “Developing Voice in Digital Storytelling Through Creativity, Narrative and Multimodality”, one of the most intriguing things in the paper is listed right below her name. The words Didactic Science appears as part of her credentialing.

Now… some ledge walking.

Let us begin with a few definitions.


The term has its origin in the Ancient Greek,”related to education and teaching”, and signifies learning in a fascinating and intriguing manner. Didactic art was meant both to entertain and to instruct. Didactic plays, for instance, were intended to convey a moral theme or other rich truth to the audience. Around the 19th century the term didactic came to also be used as a criticism for work that appears to be overburdened with instructive, factual, or otherwise educational information, to the detriment of the enjoyment of the reader.


Also known as the dialectical method, is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. The term was popularized by Plato‘s Socratic dialogues.


If this paper was strictly about ‘storytelling’, presence of the word ‘didactic’ would be unremakable. But this paper is about LITERACY and the definition and education of it.

In this case, it may lead us to ask a foundational question of the author.

That is, what is the purpose of literacy?

To Nilsson, the purpose of literacy is 1)  learning the tools of digital media and 2) cultivating the modes of creative expression. Specifically, she says, “I am particularly interested in how text based or literary activities, broadly defined, can enable children and young people to communicate experiences, explore new meaning and knowledge, and perform self-representation and self-expression” (p.1). She proposes we “understanding literacy as a social and cultural activity where semiotic means of different kinds are used for producing texts in processes of expressing and creating meaning and communicating.” (p.10) 

This might lead us to ask her: should literacy be taught to achieve a level of didactic art? Or perhaps, as new standards of 21st Century Literacy propose, it should be taught for the purpose to engage in the civic dialogue? The question is this, when we create media, or literature, for the purpose of self-expression, how much does this change the nature of our expression of the topic? I question if media created for the purpose of self-expression necessitates that we engage with others with any level of knowledge or contribution to social commonwealth. Traditionally the purpose of literacy was to understand the mechanics of literate communications, including the foundations of critical thinking – grammar, logic and rhetoric – so that we may foster discernment.

In other words: Are some of the new definitions of literacy conflating the concepts of artistic expression and literate discourse? Artistic expression does not need to adhere to conventional grammar or any established ‘media grammar’. Nor does aristic expression need to demonstrate any level of logical formulation. This in turn, nulifies the concept of rhetoric, because its foundations in logic and grammar are eliminated. What does this leave us with? Literary communication for the sake of expression or entertainment?

(Let us quickly define rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the capability of writers or speakers to inform, most likely to persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. Its best known definition comes from Aristotle, who considers it a counterpart of both logic and politics, and calls it “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. Along with grammar and logic (or dialectic—see Martianus Capella), rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse.)

Granted, what I offer is more of a philosophical argument than what Nilsson puts forward. Her paper also contains its frame of reference within pedagogy. Additionally, I am assuming Dialectic Science has more to do with practical applications within teaching, as her paper is more of an evaluation of methods of application and an analysis of how the affordances of multimodal (multimedia) might expand accepted ‘modes’ of literacy. In this regard, she is on-point and completely accurate.

The underlying mystery that remains from Nilsson’s narrative is this: Is the primary purpose of literacy to foster an ability to engage in  educated discourse or learn a means of creative self-expression?