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A Study in Sherlock: Bridging the Digital Wilds & the Language Classroom


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This reflective practice presentation builds on prior work that has looked at the use of fandom tasks (Sauro, 2014) for language learning. Such tasks include those that focus on fanfiction, defined by Jamison (2013) as "writing that continues, interrupts, reimagines, or just riffs on stories and characters other people have already written about" (p. 17). Initial investigation of fanfiction in the advanced English classroom has shown that collaborative fanfiction tasks that makes use of blog-based role-play to tell a missing moment from a story can be useful in bridging both language and literary learning (Sauro & Sundmark, in press 2016). However, although such tasks borrow from digital and linguistic practices found in online fan communities, the resulting stories do not fully reflect the linguistic or literary norms of the fanfiction in the digital wilds. This was a concern for language learners whose interest in publishing their online fanfiction was to communicate with online fans and fan communities.

The means of addressing this may lie in better integrating fan practices and fan voices in the tasks themselves and in actual classroom practice. This presentation, therefore, explores the revision and implementation of collaborative fanfiction tasks and instructions that do just that.

Building on previous blog-based fanfiction projects, the current project, A Study in Sherlock, was carried out as part of a course for students in the teacher education program at a Swedish university who were specializing in teaching English at the secondary school level. Students self-organized into small groups of 4-6 to write and publish online a collaborative mystery inspired by a Sherlock Holmes story. As part of their preparation, students were guided in the reading of several Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but were also required to read Sherlock Holmes fanfiction that had been identified by online fans as representative of the tropes and specific fan genres found in this type of fan writing. In addition, online several fanfiction writers were contacted to share writing activities they used when helping other novice fanfiction writers and these were incorporated into class instruction. Once completed, these stories were shared with online Sherlock Holmes fan communities.

Analysis of the language, content, and formatting of the 16 completed online stories as well as the reaction of fans, in particular to the six stories that were published to online fanfiction archives, revealed advantages for integrating fan practices into task design and teaching to support greater mastery of fanfiction genres in a manner more likely to reach (fan) readers and thereby link the digital wilds with the language classroom.

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A Study in Sherlock: Bridging the Digital Wilds & the Language Classroom

  2. 2. “…’fan’ is actually a much wider social category, referring to a mode of participation with a long history in a variety of cultural activities, including literature, sports, theater, film, and television.” (Cavicci, 1998 p. 3)
  3. 3. “A fan is a person with a relatively deep positive emotional conviction about someone or something famous, usually expressed through a recognition of style or creativity.” (Duffet, 2013, p. 18)
  4. 4. Online Fandom and Fan Practices “the local and international networks of fans that develop around a particular program, text or other media product and which foster the sharing of responses to the source material, including the production of novel fan-generated content.” (Sauro, 2014, p. 239)
  5. 5. Bridging Activities Pedagogical activities designed to address the needs of advanced foreign language learners: • Language & language awareness at advanced levels • Bridging the divide between language & literature instruction • Link the texts and genres of the language classroom to digitally mediated texts and genres increasingly relevant to learners outside the classroom. (Thorne & Reinhard, 2008)
  6. 6. Fanfiction "writing that continues, interrupts, reimagines, or just riffs on stories and characters other people have already written about." (Jamison, 2013 p. 17)
  7. 7. The Blogging Hobbit: A task-based fanfiction project (Sauro, 2014) culminating in the writing of a collaborative story of a missing moment from Tolkien’s The Hobbit and published in a blog or online fanfiction archive (Sauro & Sundmark, 2016).
  8. 8. Lingering Concerns • Not as innovative as real fanfiction • Demotivating for nonfans and others • Ethics of using fan spaces for education
  9. 9. “…fanfics that get really popular, they kind of answer to some kind of fantasy that people have about the characters. Or something they really want to explore or they create an alternate universe … We didn’t have anything like that, really. I mean, I think ours was very, kind of, very much like the book it a way, so maybe it wasn’t as exciting as some other fanfiction because it wasn’t innovating in that way…” B, Dream Team Interview (Sauro & Sundmark, under review)
  10. 10. “…I would choose another book. I felt it unfair to work with The Hobbit on such a project since a big part was to connect with a character from the book and write from that perspective. To choose a book with absolutely no women at all made me not wanting to take neither Tolkien nor this assignment to heart.” (Nonfan, Cohort 2014)
  11. 11. “But there are plenty of people within fandom who believe fanfiction has no place in the classroom at all: to remove a work from its ‘intended’ context and divorce it from a largely unwritten set of rules is a violation for many fan writers.” (Minkel, 2015, March 25) Ficgate
  12. 12. A Study in Sherlock Collaborative mystery writing (casefic) 1. Retell a Sherlock Holmes mystery or tell an original mystery but in an alternate universe. (Transformational 2. Tell an original Sherlock Holmes mystery in the original context (Victorian London). (Affirmational)
  13. 13. Swapping & Bending
  14. 14. Fusion & Alternate Universe
  15. 15. Assigned Example Fanfic The Beleaguered Red-Head by moonblossom • Retelling of The Red-Headed League in the BBC Sherlock Universe The Adventure of the Bridegroom’s Photograph by spacemutineer • Original casefic based on a real life mystery – ACD Holmes The Vast Profundity Obscure by mistyzeo • Original casefic - ACD Holmes/His Dark Materials fusion
  16. 16. Courses included two fanfiction workshops created by fans to help novice fanfiction writers: 1. Flashfiction workshop (Emmagrant01) 2. The worst thing that could happen to your fic (Roane72)
  17. 17. The Fanfiction • 16 completed casefics (avg. 5726 words) • 10 published to private blogs • 6 published to the fanfiction archives Ao3 and
  18. 18. “Good afternoon, sir. This is Bragevägen 21B, the home of Sherlock Holmes? Is he available?” asked one of the officers who introduced himself as chief officer Gregsson. The von Sydow Murders
  19. 19. “First off, I am highly Americanized in my English use, and I blame Hollywood. It has been a welcomed challenge to write in British. My biggest inspiration has once again been the BBC show.…I truly enjoyed using the word ‘foggiest’ in a text, and it is now a part of my vocabulary. My American is being invaded, ‘the British are coming!’” (Student 54)
  20. 20. “…my interest in Doyle and the Sherlock Holmes world is still at an intermediate level…. On the other hand, my knowledge of the Scooby Doo universe is far greater and I could enter that verse much easier than the universe of Sherlock Holmes. As a child I loved the characters of the Mystery Gang and therefore I really enjoyed this task.” (Student 18)
  21. 21. Reception in Fandom • A Study in the Electric Field – no data • The Morbid Poet – 71 hits, 2 kudos • The Second Generation Detective – 98 hits, 6 kudos • The Adventure of the Ghost of Torchwood Manor – 88 hits, 2 kudos • A Murder in Ink – 90 hits, 2 kudos • A Soon to be Royal Scandal – 209 hits, 3 kudos, 2 bookmarks
  22. 22. References Cavicci, D. (1998). Tramps like us: Music and meaning among Springsteen fans. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Duffett, M. (2013). Understanding fandom: An introduction to the study of media fan culture. New York/London: Bloomsbury. Jamison, A. (2013). ‘Why Fic?’ in A. Jamison (ed.). Fic: Why fanfiction is taking over the world. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop Books. Minkel, E. (2015, March 25). From the Internet to the Ivy League: Fanfiction in the classroom. The Millions. Retrieved from classroom.html Sauro, S. (2014). Lessons from the fandom: Task models for technology-enhanced language learning. In M. González-Lloret & L. Ortega (Eds). Technology-mediated TBLT: Researching technology and tasks, (pp. 239-262). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Sauro, S., & Sundmark, B. (2016.) Report from Middle Earth: Fan fiction tasks in the EFL classroom. ELT Journal. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccv075 Sauro, S., & Sundmark, B. (under review.) Report from Middle Earth: Fan fiction tasks in the EFL classroom. “One does not simply walk into Mordor”: Critically mining the digital wilds for language teaching. Thorne, S.L., & Reinhard, J. (2008) "Bridging Activities," New media literacies and advanced foreign language proficiency. CALICO Journal, 25(3), 558-572. Slides Available At: