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Teacher Created Transmedia Experiences

Written by Laura Fleming
June 17, 2011

Teaching with a transmedia approach can have a significant educational impact. Using existing transmedia materials, such as Inanimate Alice, can allow students to consume content as readers as well as become writers and producers to create their own transmedia texts in the form of a fictionalized narrative.

Additionally, by distilling a theme that proliferates the standards, considering learning objectives and outcomes for the narrative, and by spreading content out over different media platforms, students and teachers can create their own transmedia experiences. For example, I recently chose the book Weslandia by Paul Fleischman to develop a project around. Weslandia tells that story of a unique boy named Wesley who loves reading, hates pizza, and is tormented by his classmates. However instead of changing himself to meet the needs of his family and classmates, he creates a civilization of his own. This book is an important one for thinking about how people fit into the world.

Considering key pedagogical considerations, my fifth grade students, fellow teachers, and I were able to create a storyworld around Weslandia. The theme of our project was ‘self-preservation’ which proliferated the standards cross-curricularly and provided the perfect opportunity to engage a larger school community outside of just my classroom. Together we read the story Weslandia, and explored places in which we could extend the narrative. Not surprisingly, students wanted to create a Facebook page for Wesley. They felt that seeing who his friends were, what his interests were, and by reading his status updates, we would have a deeper understanding into Wesley as a character and how being an outsider made him feel. Students also expressed interest in examining Wesley’s struggle with fitting in and what events may have occurred before Weslandia that shaped Wesley into the boy that he is. In Physical Education class, students are learning about sports and games and how their stories can teach us about cultures and civilizations. They then created a game that Wesley may have created for Weslandia. Their games reflected Wesley’s vision of Weslandia and reflected values that he desired such as fairness and good-sportsmanship. In music class, students jumped off a pivotal piece of the story in which Wesley is laying on a hammock in Weslandia playing a song on a flute. Students composed short musical pieces that extended the story by giving us insight into what Wesley was feeling at that moment.

Henry Jenkins in his with through the New Media Literacies Project, created a transmedia experience called ‘Participatory Improv’ inspired by a scene from Star Wars. Creators of this project developed a workshop process where students selected a character from the scene and developed their profile and told their backstory and used PowerPoint or similar tools to create storyboards for a potential narrative extension.

Transmedia content can also be a way to explore powerful issues and ignite social passions and change. In relation to Weslandia, our students created skits that demonstrated events that may have happened with Wesley leading up to the book- such as being bullied by his peers. Students composed journal entries that gave us further insight into his thoughts during this period of his life, as well as resources and information for students who have been bullied in real life. Students were emotionally connected to Wesley, which brought his story to life for them. An emotional connection to a narrative will bring the content to life in the minds and imaginations of learners. Participation in these rich stories can link school curricula with social goals, social justice, and the betterment of society.

When creating transmedia experiences of their own, teachers should think about the platforms available to their students as well as which platform would best suit the narrative extension. The platform should never determine the direction the story development takes. Many free digital storytelling resources lend themselves directly to supporting a transmedia experience in the classroom. Also, blogs, wikis, facebook pages, twitter accounts, and Youtube videos can be useful tools to use as well. It is important to note that the strategies outlined in Weslandia or in ‘Participatory Improv’ and be applied to any story- fiction or nonfiction. When carefully implemented and purposefully planned, teacher created transmedia experiences can have a significant impact on student learning.

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