Transmedia in Your Classroom

In the Convergence and Schools series, I will be considering ideas from Dr. Henry Jenkins‘ book Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide and discussing / converting those ideas into school implications and classroom applications. Read more about this series here.

Transmedia represents the usage of various forms of media, which can be almost anything such as paper or websites or even coffee cups to inform or instruct others about a particular topic. For example, if I had wanted to incorporate transmedia into this blog post, I may include a presentation, an image, and interactive embed and a YouTube video (I did three of the four).

So, essentially, transmedia in the classroom is a type of differentiation. Rather than focus on learning styles or Gardner’s M.I. Theory, for example, I am considering the delivery products instead.

For example: Should I give this assignment on paper rather than a website? Would writing the assignment on my website, app, and whiteboard help translate the activity to every kid? Transmedia as a means of differentiation can be a powerful tool in any classroom.

However, when discussing transmedia and convergence culture, we are not just discussing transmedia by itself. Rather, the lies within the concept of “Transmedia Storytelling.”

Transmedia Storytelling references the process of using various parts and elements of a topic that are shared periodically via multiple means of delivery (transmedia) for the explicit purpose of drawing in, intriguing and entertaining those who are targeted to receive the transmedia.

Rather than, when reading a story or perusing a textbook, turning each page to learn more about the story or topic, you are “turning” to a different item of transmedia to learn more. So, each dispersed item is adding something to an unfolding story outside of traditional delivery.

Transmedia Wordle

Examples of Transmedia

Jenkins uses the example of The Matrix franchise in his book. Parts of the entire story were spread out and portrayed through a variety of media: three films, two comic books, many video games, and animated short films. In order to grasp the entire story, you had to partake of the entire “universe” of The Matrix. The mix of the old media (the television show, the movie) with the new media (split story experience, fan-driven participation) is seen often.

Shows including Heroes, Lost, and 24 all included a transmedia experience like The Matrix, and we are even seeing a new kind of transmedia experience emerging from shows such as The Walking Dead (follow-up show: “Talking Dead”), Glee (a transmedia “performance” through YouTube and even live performances), and True Blood (purchasable items such as the drink of the same name). Transmedia Storytelling is everywhere and plays a major roll in economics, which Jenkins discusses in his text and are worthy of discussion.

Instead, let’s consider Transmedia Storytelling in education. How does this convergence appear in education or how can we use it in education?

One method of using Transmedia Storytelling in education is by incorporating an ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, into your curriculum. ARGs are not virtual reality; rather, an ARG is a form of gamification (the use of game-like elements in a non-game environment) that can leave trails of information not just for the entertainment of the audience, but also to lure the audience into discovering more about the story without the story maker even saying a word.

The ARG is about leaving the breadcrumbs that lure the rabbit down the rabbit hole. In education, you can reach your students through an ARG by sparking their interest, engaging their creativity, and influencing learning perspectives.

LiveBinder: Alternate Reality Games

Click the image to access the ARG Livebinder

Here are theoretical examples of what you might do (from my perspective as a secondary teacher):

You want to introduce a new topic. Rather than bring out another activating strategy, why not make it an ARG? Leave a chain of random clues instead! Leave several post-it notes on randomly picked desks one day with a location, such as “behind the bookshelf.” Inevitable, a student or two will look behind the bookshelf and find another post it with a Google voice number. Upon calling the number, the students hear a coded message that tells them to come to your classroom at a set time on a set day.

At that time, you are not in the room, but instead, there is a giant poster board with a picture on it that says “scan me.” It can be a QR code to a website on the topic or an augmented reality (via Aurasma, for example) that brings up the website, but the important thing is that the students will actually READ that website looking for clues, unknowingly learning the material which you will introduce in class in two days. Do this often enough and it becomes a fun game with your students.

In the summer of 2012, I led a section discussing transmedia for “ARG Academy:” a P2PU-based MOOC about developing alternate reality games in education. I worked with, among others, Kae Novak and Chris Luchs, who are leaders in practical game-based learning applications, and I gave an overview presentation on the topic with real life examples of ARGs:

What other ways can you use transmedia breadcrumbs to tell a story? What if…

  • You actually told a story using an ARG-format before reading the book, giving the students an authentic experience
  • Student indirectly made the breadcrumbs themselves by activities you give them that contain clues leading up to
  • You made the experience more gamified, acknowledging the clues, and granting experience points, levels, or even modest rewards for students who first clues and for students who figure out the clues first.

The possibilities of using the ARG approach with Transmedia Storytelling can be something completely different and fun for your students. If you are someone who does not want to jump into ARGs just yet, then just tell a story through different means next time. The convergence of old and new media that forms Transmedia Storytelling can empower and differentiate education even more than traditional methodologies.

If you have any ideas, please share them in the comments!

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