Second LIfe Teaching

transmedia pedagogy

Transmedia storytelling is one of the key characteristics of convergence culture as Henry Jenkins explores it.  The concept is likely familiar, even if the term is not. In it’s most common and often lame incarnation it is the movie novelization, the cheap plastic junk with the kids’ McLunch, the video game, etc. I suppose we have Star Wars to thank for much of that, or at least for the explosion of this practice. However, transmedia storytelling can be a more enriching and engaging experience, but that begins with making a difficult choice.  Typically with this kind of merchandising, the film remains the be-all and end-all of the experience. The toys, video games, novelizations, whatever can’t really add to the story as they would require giving up some amount of control over the product. Jenkins discusses the Matrix as an example of a different approach where important parts of the world and narrative are only hinted at in the movie and are then explored in more detail in the video game, comics, and in it’s online game. The drawback from a commerical standpoint is that the average moviegoer may not be willing to engage at this level with a transmedia experience.

However, I believe that the experience so far with commerical transmedia storytelling might offer some insights into how a transmedia pedagogy might function.

  • As always, you begin with thinking about the affordances of various pedagogical technologies, materials, practices, and resources: lectures, in-class discussions, small group work, books, videos, audio, multimedia content, participatory websites, virtual worlds, and so on. The idea is that your going to be linking these various elements together.
  • Part of the idea of transmedia storytelling is that you are going to give up some of the authorial privilege that operate in traditional media. For example, video games, especially online games, turn over the storytelling to the gamer. You might also think about fan fiction as an example of this. Of course, with much of electronic pedagogy we are already familiar with the value of giving students more space to participate and shape the dialog of a classroom.
  • The user investment in transmedia storytelling then comes from two directions. First is an opportunity to interact more fully with a fictional world, to get to see aspects of the world and its characters that are not present in the "primary" media. Second is to participate in shaping that world. So these are two things to consider in a transmedia pedagogy–that the media offers an interactive enrichment to the traditional contexts of learning and that there is also a real opportunity to participate in the shape of the course. If a major studio can give up some control of a multi-million dollar property, I suppose I should be able to give up some control of my course, right?

I dunno, maybe all of that is fairly obvious? I’ve gotten pretty far along in a transmedia pedagogy that integrates traditional reading material, classroom activities, blogs, wikis, video and audio podcasts produced both by me and the students. Now I face the task of integrating Second Life, and I’m thinking the obvious analogy here is to a mmorpg, with which SL is so often confused.

So right at this moment, I am imagining SL as a space where my students will need to go out and accomplish some tasks, go on adventures/missions (if that’s the appropriate analogy with the gaming world). At the same time, like in those worlds, those missions are not particularly structured. There is a goal but no particular mechanism for achieving that goal. Now what would that goal be? I’m not sure yet. But it would clearly be tied to the course content and shaped in part by the other activities in the course. In turn the activities in SL would be brought back across media to shape other aspects of the course.


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