A Classroom with a View

Reflections on Teaching High School English

Transmedia Storytelling in the Classroom: What Is It?? (Part 1/3)

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Image source: transmedia-storytelling-berlin.de

The day has FINALLY come — the day that I can share my love of transmedia storytelling with the world of education! This post kicks off a three-part series on transmedia storytelling in the English classroom — we’ll tackle what transmedia is, how to use it in the classroom, and some examples of the best of the best transmedia stories currently out there.

First off, let’s address the crazy vocabulary word in the room: what the heck is transmedia storytelling?? Well, transmedia is an actively emerging (mostly) digital genre, so let’s try to cobble together a definition that makes sense.

  • Pemberley Digital, a major transmedia player and arguably founder of the genre, proposes that transmedia “tell[s] an enriched and immersive story that transcends across multiple formats,” like “Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, LOOKBOOK…”
  • Dr. Pamela Rutledge explains the concept in greater detail: “Transmedia storytelling uses multiple media platforms tell a narrative across time. Each media piece—whether it’s a comic, novels, video games, mobile apps, or a film—functions as a standalone story experience—complete and satisfying. Like a giant puzzle, each piece also contributes to a larger narrative. The process is cumulative and each piece adds richness and detail to the story world, such as character backstories and secondary plotlines… Transmedia storytelling is fully participatory.”
  • And finally, Dr. Elaine Raybourn, in her TEDx Talk, refers to transmedia as “our next generation learning ecosystems.”
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Image source: alfabetovisual.com

Basically, transmedia storytelling is an online experience that narrates a story using multiple digital platforms, especially YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Many transmedia stories that have come out in the past few years have been adaptations of classic works of literature, reimagined in a modern age and retold using digital technology.* Generally the central character(s) rely on vlogs, or video blogs, to move the narrative along, but characters in-world can also have fully fleshed-out dialogues on other social media platforms like Twitter.

Transmedia takes place in real time — the story unfolds over the course of weeks or even years, and the series itself may be segmented into seasons.

Audience engagement is central to the transmedia experience — vlogs are typically posted once or twice a week, with subscribers eagerly awaiting the next update and commenting voraciously with each other, the series’ characters, and the showrunners in between. Often transmedia stories are funded via crowdsourcing, relying on a passionate audience to defray production costs.

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An engaged transmedia audience. Image source: provideocoalition.com

Now that we share a baseline understanding of what transmedia storytelling is, next we’ll consider some possible applications of it in the high school English classroom, of which I believe there are many. Join me next time for Part 2!

*One notable exception to the rule of adaptation is KalamaTea’s webseries All’s Fair Play, inspired by Shakespearean drama but not a direct interpretation of any one play.

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