I have almost finished Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture and his chapter on transmedia storytelling particularly captured my attention. Jenkins used the Matrix franchise of films, video games, and animated shorts as an example of a transmedia narrative. The story told in the movies represented only one perspective or aspect of the Matrix narrative (or narratives) that were created across a series of platforms by a whole group of authors. Closely related to the phenomenon of fan-fiction, such transmedia narratives often included fan generated components that slowly blurred the line between interactive and participatory relationships across a whole range of generally web-based media.
Most of us would admit to being storytellers, of some description, in the classroom. The best courses that I have taught draw the students into the story-telling experience to the point where they come increasingly to contribute to the narrative (or narratives) that I weave in the course. The most common format, in my classes, for student contributions to course narratives is in-class discussion, but I have also experimented with online threaded discussions and, this semester at least, wikis. I've come to realize that both discussion posts and wikis provide a very simple form of participatory experience in the educational narration process and represent one intersection between media and educational theory and practice.
My archaeological project, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, has attempted to take transmedia narration a step farther with blogs, podcasts, and video. We encouraged the participants on the project to develop their own narratives of the archaeological experience and hoped that the blogs and other interfaces enabled us to juxtapose and interweave these perspectives.
One goal of mine over the last few years is to work toward reimagining the classroom experience. Transmedia Teaching with its participatory aspects is an appealing approach to courses like my History 101. History 101 is a large class (80+ students) that meets one day a week at night for two and half hours. The class always attracts a large percentage of freshmen. It is very easy for students to forget about a 100 level course that meets one day a week. Plus, the lecture bowl environment with theater style seating and two and half hour format is hardly conducive to creating a vibrant, interactive, classroom environment. What it is really best suited for is the traditional lecture format, delivered at a leisurely pace with time for questions and some Socratic interludes. I have worked over the last few years to move more interactive components of the class to an online environment. Course discussions, for example, appear online. Students work together in a range of "knowledge communities" to create authoritative sets of class notes from the lectures. Of course, none of this captures the most adventurous imaginings of the transmedia experience in that it does not incorporate podcasts, twitter feeds, or video. User generated content is limited to text and in most cases (with the exception of the wiki) this text is individually authored and relatively static.
The greatest hurdle to achieving a genuinely transmedia environment in a course (aside from the much broader issue of student engagement with the class and material!) is getting students to be comfortable with the tools of the New Media. Since the start of class on Tuesday, I've had almost a dozen emails from students who simply cannot figure out how to post on a discussion board (UND uses Blackboard, which while somewhat less than intuitive is hardly cryptic in its interface). Many of my students did not quite understand what a wiki is; so it is possible that the interface itself will discourage some students from engaging their colleagues in the class fully. Baby steps on the part of both the students and the teacher.
Much of my conceptual experimenting this semester is in preparation for a possible course in Digital History next semester. For that class, my hope is to create a course that not only introduces some of the "tools" of the Digital Historian, but also challenges the students to understand the relationship between the tools, their historical imagination, and the discipline of history and thus to move away from a simplistic, instrumental approach to technology. My current vision for the class involve the course "meeting" across a whole range of media from simple threaded discussions to dynamic immersive environments like Second Life. By building digital media in numerous forms into the class we will be encouraged to experience and articulate from a first hand perspective the implications of a deeper, transmedia, engagement with the past.
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