The Journal of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) published a long article by me in 2013 entitled “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar”. I have decided to convert the article into readable chunks and serialize it here on my blog, particularly in light of this new wave of digital assessments that require our learners to think and communicate effectively across all forms of media.
In his white paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins (2009) identifies transmedia navigation as the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities. As a result of my own teaching with Inanimate Alice, I began to think of the implications that transmedia storytelling has for young readers and writers. I came to the conclusion that it is not merely in the consumption of content that transmedia comes to the fore—it is about so much more than merely navigation, although that remains a critical component of what transmedia can achieve. It is also in the opportunities and the motivation for students to create content that they are able to derive immense benefits from the approach. A transmedia approach to learning offers a new and highly involved way to learn. The shared sense of purpose that storytelling concepts create, along with opportunities to call upon individual strengths and abilities, as well as the transcendence of media creates an immersive learning environment that all are able to benefit from. Students are placed at the center of the learning process by collaborating, engaging interactively, and co-creating content. In addition to transmedia being a content delivery system, it seamlessly drives learning to extend beyond schools long after the story is told. With roots in Brunner, Piaget, and Vygotsky, transmedia learning emphasizes the active role of the learner in creating information and in knowledge-building.
Around the world, many innovative collaborative teaching and learning methodologies are coming to the fore. The Web is now the de facto platform for learning, and users are able (or should be able) to make use of whatever web-based applications they wish to deploy for their own learning. In the case of Inanimate Alice, students have engaged in the participatory practice of creating their own next episodes of the series, extending their learning out from the material itself in myriad new directions. As is the case with transmedia properties and their ubiquitous nature, the creative process is made transparent. Readers of Inanimate Alice often do not even realize the technologies that are employed, simply because they are innate to the storyline. The technology itself is vitally important to the reading experience and should be closely examined if one is inspired to create one’s own transmedia iterations. The creators of Inanimate Alice have embarked in part on reverse engineering the storytelling process. The stories are presented in their final form and then are broken down into photostory pages (like a graphic novel), the individual frames (screenshots), and the scripts. Teachers and students are provided with worksheet assets, the music tracks, and the comic book art. All of this enables the students to mash up the resources and to enhance it with their own photos, drawings, text, and so on, allowing them to co-create in the widest transliterate sense.
As co-creators of content, our students actively participate in and take control of their own learning. As echoed by the United States Department of Education, the rich, fictional worlds of transmedia tend to create a greater level of social interaction that can inspire children to create their own stories and media products and to share them with each other. The experience of reading is changing. In a transmedia learning experience, reading is now simultaneously an individual act and a social act. Similarly, students can be individual producers but are also able to engage on collaborative sharing, joint creativity, and proliferation of knowledge across the globe.
Inanimate Alice is a bridge to literacy that offers a game-simulated, multi-tasking environment that today’s young learners inherently connect with and understand. Readers go to the story for inspiration, creative writing, and multimedia text analysis. It offers engaging materials enmeshed with educational guidance to be delivered across structures in a variety of formats. Teachers are facilitators for learner-centered instruction. Technology has changed the act of reading, allowing readers to engage with ever-growing stories in which they can become part of the narrative in a seamless and organic fashion. The transmedia experience of Inanimate Alice allows teacher/librarians to use technology and resources in a unified way to immerse students into a storyworld.