We've all done it! You just don't know you've done it!

Don't you remember grabbing those "Choose Your Own Adventure " books off the library shelves and diving into plots that twisted and turned on your whims? Or perhaps you recall teaching your students with CYOA Books and had them write, draw, cartoon, make a radio play or video alternative endings? That was the beginning of transmedia navigation.


But it didn't end in the 80's. Look what this transmedia generation has done to your beloved icon.


Perhaps you prefer spiderman? The Incredible Hulk? Pokemon? Did you read the comics, play with the action figures, trade cards with your buddies? Read the original short story? Go to movie, watch the TV show? Yup..that's you navigating the media…cool eh. And you thought it was something hard. Well, I sure did.

Informed by the theory of Marshall McLuhan?

But let's go back even is the 60's and Canada's own Marshall McLuhan who countered the common thinking of the day with this crazy thought:

  • "The commonly accepted attitude that the content of a message is more important than it's form is wrong..."

  • From this framework he determined that "a story has different meanings depending upon whether it is related orally, written in a book, acted out on the stage, heard on radio, presented on film, viewed on television, or depicted in a comic book. Each of these media has its own inherent bias and language or, to put that principle into its now popular form: 'the medium is the message'". Marshall McLuhan as cited by Douglas Coupland, 2010.

  • Picture_1.jpg

So Why Should We Care?

Henry Jenkins in his 2006 book Convergence Culture[5], describes transmedia storytelling as storytelling across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a viewer/user/player's understanding of the story world. By using different media formats, it attempts to create "entrypoints" through which consumers can become immersed in a story world (Wikipedia).

external image userpic-3-100x100-thumb-100x100-1273.pngHere's from Jenkins himself:
Transmedia Generation Participatory culture is a global phenomenon. Young people all over the world are embracing the expressive and distribution resources of the computer to create and share their own cultural materials with each other. educators and parents are starting to recognize these creative communities as sites of informal learning which are transforming the ways these teens see themselves and the world. In every country, it is different. In every country, it is the same.

In a hunting society, children play with bows and arrows. In an information society, children play with information.

And this phenomenon is greater than digital natives/digital immigrants divide. It transcends Standards and Privacy. The process of speaking in the tongues of many media moves technology even beyond embedded and integrated into seamless. The technology is as the furnace..we don't notice until it breaks down.

Why have digital native embraced the transformation of stories in many modalities?

People want to tell their stories. People want to shape their stories in whatever form best suits their purpose.

Jenkins goes on "Our traditional assumptions about expertise are breaking down or at least being transformed by the more open-ended processes of communication in cyberspace. The expert paradigm requires a bounded body of knowledge, which an individual can master. The types of questions that thrive in a collective intelligence, however, are open ended and profoundly interdisciplinary; they slip and slide across borders and draw on the combined knowledge of a more diverse community.

Jenkins' words should scare the pants off our educational leaders.

Where does that leave us educators?

When I worry about promoting good Digital Citizenship, in this fast and loose participatory culture, Jenkins counters with:

The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream media.
Now this is the familiar ground of our EDES copyright discussions. But then Felipe G. Gil goes even further when he asks, "How can education open up in order to integrate children's need to be audiovisual "prosumers" (producer+consumer)?"

This idea of prosumers meets a number of Standards for our 21st Century learners, students and teachers alike, such as "students taking responsibility for discovering lifelong curiosity and powerful communication" (AASL Blog) This ability to transport a complex story across many media sources is a skill for tasks we can only yet imagine.

What are some examples?
Dark Horse Comics has navigated its stories such as Hell Boy, The Incredible Hulk, Buffy, Star Wars across many media sources including
3.2 Animated films

Now what digital native wouldn/t get excited about this! How can we harness this interest in education and help our students develop communication skills across many media?

Well, let's find real world examples of how they might participate. Secondary students for example, might be interested in how bands are distributing their new material and are inviting their fans and consumers to participate. Here is an example from the band Embracing the FANS: Hey come and make our videos for us!!


Now comes news that Radiohead has made available several "stems," or chunks of track, from their newly released single, "Nude." Fans can purchase the stems on iTunes, remix them through Apple's GarageBand program, and upload the finished produced to a devoted website, Fans will select the best remix to win an as-yet-undisclosed prize.
Picture 3.png
Picture 3.png

Jenna McWilliams comments on Radiohead's outreach is an example of the new media literacy concept of transmedia navigation in action. She writes:
  • Typically, we think about transmedia navigation as an important skill for following complex storylines--think, for example, of the work to extend the NBC show "Heroes" far beyond the TV screen into multiple media, including novels, comic books, and a website that features fan art, backstories, and character blogs. Fans can visit the website, searching for clues, or buy the various supplementary novels and other materials--and they will be rewarded with a richer, fuller understanding of the show itself.

  • Radiohead, it could be argued, is also trying to tell a "story"--though not a narrative in the traditional sense. In this case, the story seems to be more of a flow of information dictating the band's cultural role and relevance. As fans make decisions about how and whether to engage in these new offerings, they are not only engaging in a conversation that's unfolding across multiple media platforms, but they're simultaneously being asked to follow that conversation, much as in previous decades devotees kept up with the actions of their favorite musicians through fan magazines, tabloids, or, later, fansites.

  • In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins writes that transmedia storytelling works best when each medium is used to tell the part of the story that it's most suited for and that each piece of this story "needs to be self-contained so you don't need to have seen the film to enjoy the game, and vice versa."

  • This experiment by Radiohead is, I think, an effort to create a transmedia model that can sustain multiple pathways and audience needs. A fan does not, for example, need to have heard the band's current single in order to remix its stems (though I'd imagine it helps). Likewise, you don't need to know about Radiohead's history of offering up jarring, freakishly depressing animated music videos (see, for example, "Paranoid Android") or really much at all about Radiohead in order to present an interesting idea for a video (though again, it has to help). And you don't need to have participated at all in the conversation surrounding the download issue in order to be a fan. If you want, you can just buy Radiohead's album the old-fashioned way, by ordering it shipped right to your door through ****.

  • Each layer of participation, though, may result in a richer, more layered, and, I suspect, more rewarding relationship to the band and its output. This isn't just about developing a stronger understanding of a musician's creative process. It's about taking part in a larger meaning-making process, in the give-and-take between a pop culture icon and the society that will ultimately pass judgment on the cultural value of the work any icon presents.
    Radiohead is not, of course, the first or only band to try to engage fans in such a participatory way; and they're certainly not trying to redefine the fan-musician relationship.
  • Their efforts, in fact, seem to arise more from a commercial impulse than a desire to effect some kind of systemic change.

But isn't that part of the point?

Radiohead isn't trying to drag its fanbase along its version of the moral high road; it's only trying to figure out how best to reach its fans where they already are--for love, for money, for commercial and cultural success. Our students get this!

And you may have been a transmedia navigator yourself!

An Inconvenient Truth,
for example, combines the film, Website, online study guide, blogs, and other elements, and the online components act as a kind of choric counterpart to the authorial voice of Gore and Guggenheim as the film's major creators. Similarly, at the heart of journalism is a kind of lie that voice can be shared; ultimately, journalists tend to hold on to their authorial voice and push citizen journalists and others into the choric role.

But our students are now becoming the journalists! What an exciting role they are postioned to play as 21st Century contributers.

There is more on the future of participatory consumption of entertainment:

  • This is the first in a series of seven audio podcasts, recorded during the Futures of Entertainment 2 Conference hosted by the Convergence Culture Consortium and Comparative Media Studies at MIT.
  • This first podcast presents the opening remarks by Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, from the first day of the conference. A video version of this and all other available sessions are also downloadable.

What could this look like in schools?

Don't miss this video..what amazing thinking and new ways to navigate media! What constitutes a story???????