I consider myself a teacher-scholar. To me, that means I remain curious, open-minded, and pursue my own intellectual growth in the same way that I want my students to.
And now I finally have the publication credit to back that identity up! Over the past year and a half, my Digital Writing grad class has worked to prepare a scholarly webtext on sonic rhetoric (i.e. composing with sound) for Kairos: A Journal of Technology, Rhetoric, and Pedagogy. This month, that webtext has been published at last as “Navigating the Soundscape, Composing with Audio.”
Even though I was a student myself when this project began, I actually learned a lot, especially from my professor, Tanya Rodrigue, about good teaching practice. Here are a few of those lessons:
At this point in my series on transmedia storytelling, I’ll step down off my TRANSMEDIA IN THE CLASSROOM IS GREAT soapbox to share with you a few of my favorite transmedia series. If you’re reading any of these works with your students, consider exposing them to some (or all) scenes from these fantastic online adaptations:
The Lizzy Bennet Diaries (Pemberley Digital)/ adapted from Pride and Predjudice by Jane Austen: The transmedia series that launched a storytelling revolution. If you’re looking to get into transmedia, this is for sure the place to start. Lizzie is a 20-something grad student with a mountain of student loan debt and a vlog to share her strong voice and perspective. (Relatable much?)
Emma Approved (Pemberley Digital)/ adapted from Emma by Jane Austen: Lucky for me as a Janeite, adaptations of Jane Austen’s works are very popular! EA was Pemberley Digital’s second transmedia story and perfectly refashions Emma, a heroine whom Austen once famously remarked nobody but herself would like, as a lifestyle and matchmaking coach who gets it wrong a LOT before she learns to get it right.
The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (KalamaTea)/ adapted from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: Jane is the artistic and principled live-in tutor for the Rochester family. Although unfortunately plagued by production difficulties toward the end of the series (namely with the actor playing Rochester), I think it still stands up. It’s also one of the most naturalistic transmedia stories I’ve seen.
From Mansfield with Love (Foot in the Door Theatre)/ adapted from Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: Another Austen classic, this time tackled by a British production company. FMWL’s heroine Fanny is rather more spirited than her textual counterpart, probably a necessity for making this story work in the modern day. The real star of this production? Its acting and the realistic relationships built between the characters.
Green Gables Fables Adapted from Anne of Green Gables (and the rest of the Anne series) by Lucy Maude Montgomery: Most transmedia series last for just one season; GGF is the exception to that rule, capturing elements of the first three Anne books in two seasons. Not as slick and polished in terms of production value as some of the other series on this list, since it was created by college students — but GGF is utterly charming and full of heart, just like its source. You’ll fall in love with Anne, Diana, and Gilbert, and the rest of Avonlea all over again.
Frankenstein, MD (PBS Digital Studios presented by Pemberley Digital)/ adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein has here been transformed into ambitious young medical student Victoria Frankenstein, who vlogs about her experiments in the lab as a way to document what she believes will be her future greatness. I love the gender-bent casting here, and actress Anna Lore does an excellent job portraying a Victor/ia that is ambitious, arrogant, and just disdainful enough of friends and colleagues in her search for scientific breakthroughs.
The March Family Letters (Cherrydale Studios presented by Pemberley Digital)/ adapted from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: A wonderfully inclusive reimagining of Alcott’s novel, in which Beth identifies as asexual (ace), Laurie is a POC, and uptight Meg must come to terms with her sexuality when she finds herself attracted to Joan (fka John in the original). I think Alcott would love it.
A Tell-Tale Vlog (Shipwrecked.)/ adapted from “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe: Okay okay. I admit: ATTV is not technically transmedia since it’s told exclusively in vlog format. Nonetheless, I had to include this ridiculous/hilarious webseries on this list. It shows the dreary Poe’s slog to write “The Raven” while he is annoyingly haunted by a sassy ghost named Lenore, who puts up with none of his nonsense. Shipwrecked. is currently in production for a new webseries, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party, which of course includes an actual murder and promises to be as funny as it sounds, featuring other literary guests like Hemingway, Dickinson, and Wilde.
The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy Adapted from Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie: My newest find, NAPW proves that even speculative or fantastical texts can be successfully adapted into transmedia set in the present day. Neverland is almost like a regular town, except that it sits on a magical hotspot, meaning there are a large number of fairies hanging around. One of those is Tinkerbell, and the camera often cleverly acts as her POV. I’m obsessed with this adorable rom-com, in which man-child millenial Peter must work through his immaturity if he wants to win back the heart of childhood friend Wendy. It enters its third season this fall.
By no means an exhaustive list! There is so much good stuff out there. What transmedia stories are you hooked on?
In my view, transmedia will soon be a powerful presence in the high school English classroom, and deservedly so. These modern retellings of classic texts are fun and imaginative, and students struggling to connect with, say, Victor Frankenstein on the page of Mary Shelley’s novel might better connect with modern-day medical student Victoria Frankenstein in her vlogs.
That brings me to the first application of transmedia stories: they could serve as partner texts in a text set.
A text set is a carefully curated selection of multiple texts that relate to each other in various ways, e.g. thematically, generically, etc, always centered around one key or core disciplinary text. It might be composed of a novel, a short story, a YouTube video, and a critical essay, for instance.
In Adolescent Literacy in the Era of the Common Core (a fantastic resource, by the by), Cynthia Shanahan proposes that the strategy of asking students to read multiple texts is a beneficial one in many ways. Text sets meet the demands of the Common Core for exposure to many kinds of texts; they encourage students to make intertextual connections between texts; they also foster creative thinking, in that students are less likely to understand one interpretation as the “correct” one.
But perhaps the most important use of a text set in my mind is to increase reading comprehension of complex disciplinary texts, for example, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, by pairing them with more accessible texts. These supplementary texts might be more accessible because they rely on a lower lexile level or a more engaging mode like video. I can personally vouch for the efficacy of this approach, having incorporated some key frames from No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels: Macbeth in a Macbeth unit with my sophomores this spring.
Here’s where transmedia texts come in. If my students are struggling to get through Frankenstein, a very difficult text that is narrated in epistolary form through multiple frames(!), I might decide to add a transmedia text into the unit to create a text set. In this case I could use PBS Digital Studios’ gender-bent transmedia adaptation, Frankenstein, M.D.Frankenstein, M.D. reimagines Shelley’s classic novel for the modern era, complete with female protagonist/med student Victoria Frankenstein.
Not only does the serial vlog format — like a biweekly online TV show — make the plot easier to understand, it also prompts viewers to perhaps ask new questions of the original text, for example, about the function of female characters who so often end up dead.
As a teacher, I wouldn’t necessarily need to assign the entire transmedia series. I could select certain episodes of key scenes to view in class. I would be willing to bet that plenty of students would be hooked enough to finish it on their own.
Application #2: genre model for multimodal composition
And not only would pairing transmedia adaptations of classic works of literature be an effective strategy for fostering reading comprehension and engagement, it would also be, I believe, an amazing framework for a digital composition assignment. Students could read a text like The Odyssey and be asked to individually or collaboratively create a modern transmedia adaptation of the text. This idea isn’t so different from the final senior project at my school, Book to Film, in which students make a tw0-minute movie trailer based on a book.
My friend Anne over at Habits of ELA actually composed a transmedia blog and vlog based on the novel Lunafor a Young Adult Lit course. If you’re curious what such a composition could look like, check out her entire blog here. It’s a great model for potential student work.
Asking students to compose transmedia texts based on a core text requires them to build several skills, depending on what forms of media they decide to incorporate. They’ll likely have to perform genre analysis on a handful of digital genres that will probably be new to them using the principles of rhetoric. Then they’ll attempt to incorporate those digital genres in their own writing, experimenting with genre conventions (digital literacy is so darn important). They’ll also need to think critically about issues of adaptation, particularly for older canonical texts.The list goes on.
What other applications can you envision for transmedia texts in the English classroom?
In my next post, I’ll round out this series by sharing with you a long list of some of my favorite transmedia series based on classic literature.
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.”
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.
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.