When it comes to reading a book, the hardest part can be finding the right one. In today’s digital world, students turn to Amazon or Goodreads to find reviews, though the reviews can often be service level, far too critical, or unhelpful. Where are students to turn to find honest, educated, and supportive advice for their next read? Professor Divonna Stebick recognized this great need to improve literature support for young adults in the community and across academic disciplines. As a professor in the Education Department, she understands the importance of indulging in worthwhile books.
Prof. Stebick developed a new course called “The Cultural Implications of Young Adult Literature and Media.” Each semester students examine pop culture theory and read about a novel a week to examine the books through the lenses of culture and identify. As the world becomes more influenced by social media and technology, the way students read books today is much different from how they read books fifty, twenty, and even ten years ago. “How you were five years ago is so different from the person you are today,” said Prof. Stebick. “It’s overwhelming to sift and sort through all the information that’s coming toward us in society.”
Similarly to movies, authors are now advertising and marketing their books using trailers. Prof. Stebick’s students are expected to create a book trailer and she sends them to her colleagues who teach in local school districts. Middle and high schoolers then rate the book trailers, which gives Prof. Stebick’s students the opportunity to revise and reflect on their project. What better place to get criticism than the students who will be absorbing the information?
With all of Prof. Stebick’s work in her Education classes, she realized there was a great need in the community to share the information she was collecting from her students and local young adults. “I realized we needed to make something after all this research,” said Prof. Stebick.
She attended “Geek Camp” - ILiADS with Sharon Birch, Senior Instructional Designer and Technologist of Educational Technology, during the summer of 2015 and learned how to create a digital platform that could accurately house all of the data she had been collecting through her research. Later that fall semester, Prof. Stebick and Gettysburg students, collectively identified books that would best suit young adults. Furthermore, Prof. Stebick created multiple rubrics that became the guide for books that would have a home in this future database. The rubric focusses on how well books are written, how authentically characters develop within the storylines, and how the books support young adult identity development.
In order to expand the database project, Prof. Stebick applied for a grant through the Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning (JCCT). After being approved for a grant, Prof. Stebick looked to involve a student in a more intensive position. There was no student more qualified to assist Prof. Stebick than English and Psychology double major Erin Coursey ’17. Her 2016 summer internship entailed reading, analyzing, and rating young adult literature. “Erin helped Sharon and I think through the lens of another user because I want three different users: researchers, teachers, and most importantly students,” reflected Prof. Stebick. “This is a place you can go for safe, quality information. Erin has been involved in the multiple conversations, helping us to troubleshoot the database.”
This project has been time intensive and intellectually challenging, but an incredibly rewarding experience for both Prof. Stebick and Erin. “I learned that every identity has an important place in literature. We can reach our students through a wavering Bilbo Baggins or a self-assured Hermione Granger. Young adult literature has something for everyone, and that is exactly the inclusive, non-judgmental world our adolescents need to explore their own identities and be successful,” reflected Erin.
After graduation in May 2017, Erin hopes to be an English teacher and this project has served as inspiration for her work that is to come. “My purpose for becoming an English teacher is to help students explore new ideas, as well as guide them through their turbulent adolescent years,” Erin said. “That is exactly what this repository aims to do by reaching both young adult readers and teachers. This project has given me the starting point for teaching my philosophy through literature--it's perfect!”
Today, the Young Adult Literature Project has over one hundred books in the repository. “My ultimate goal would be for teachers to be able to recommend books to me and put them in the database. I also hope for researchers to look and see what types of books are being accessed the most and what types of books we do not have. My hope for students is to blow the database up and crash it down because they’re using it so much.”