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.
Stories can be powerful forces helping us to understand the world and how we should live our lives. In education, we can tap into the power and potential of these forces to create positive health and social change by designing stories to educate and engage people on a wide range of issues, and ultimately even persuading them to take action. We have seen success in changing behaviors through an education entertainment approach, but we now have the immersive and participatory nature of transmedia storytelling in which to deploy. By bringing the two together in powerful combination, we can create world-changing experiences for young learners.
The digital and networking technologies are making knowledge available to everyone and turning everyone into a creator as well as a consumer of knowledge; the same technologies also enable us to spread that knowledge across the globe in an instant. In this context, we can make social benefit storytelling available, adaptable, and accessible for all.
We can see some elements of this in Inanimate Alice, which has served as a very effective bridge for many reluctant readers to engage effectively with literacy:
Students were able to connect with Alice’s multicultural life and friends
- It is a quality narrative with a very strong central character (female, which is still quite rare)
- It engages all students, even those who might usually be labeled “reluctant readers”
- It encourages a sense of global citizenship, as Alice travels the world and encounters a range of cultures and issues.
As teachers and students explore the series, they find that Inanimate Alice touches upon endless educational and social emotional aspects. An example is episode four, in which the main theme is one of peer pressure and bullying. Other social and emotional themes abound in the series. For instance, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Alice is a lonely kid, just talking to her handheld device all the time. But when you think about all of the places she visits in the course of her tale, the people she comes across, you can see that in fact she is a citizen of the world. Within the classroom, considering the experiences of other places and cultures helps make our young learners more aware of who they are themselves and, possibly, more considerate human beings.
Inanimate Alice, and other transmedia properties, can encourage teachers and learners to step beyond the immediately provided materials to explore some of the things as they relate to them in their environment as adults, as children, as citizens, as social beings. Learners can be encouraged to share their findings and thoughts deriving from the story and from extension work with each other, and indeed with others across the globe via social media and other channels.
Inanimate Alice has proved to be a powerful tool in generating empathy in students—everyone, for instance, feels lonely and isolated at some time. Arguably, this is the main purpose in storytelling.