Blueprint for a Transmedia Classroom


On Saturday I was at DIY Days in New York, an event organized by Lance Weiler's Workbook Project as a gathering of creatives. I was honoured to sit on a panel with Laura Fleming and my Time Tribe partner Karen Wehner on using transmedia in education and for children. Education has always been an area I wanted to explore with Silverstring Media, back when I started in 2010.

The panel, which we called Worlds of Learning, started off by looking at where education has gone wrong -- that one-way lectures and rote learning don't work, that schools are lacking for funding and teachers, that kids aren't learning the skills and technologies that will actually help them in the real world. It's a hot-button issue -- millions of dollars are being poured into trying to find a solution to these problems.

Karen, Laura and I suggested that one solution is to use transmedia storytelling methods to engage kids in their education. The panel was a launching point for a new initiative we want to develop: creating a blueprint for a transmedia classroom, a resource for others to use and iterate on to help us improve education across the board.

Engagement vs Passivity

Where typical schooling involves rows of kids sitting in desks listening to teachers talk ad nauseum, reading textbooks, and regurgitating facts and dates on tests, transmedia is one way to make learning an active process. Learning is accomplished better by doing rather than listening, by creating rather than regurgitating. Pulling students into a transmedia experience engages them in the content and asks them to actively participate -- they can explore the edges of the story, create their own content to enhance it, and engage in a two-way dialogue with the teacher. It's an invitation to get involved.

Reaching kids where they are

Transmedia learning happens across the platforms that kids are already using, engaging them in digital media, social community, and current technology in ways that schools don't often right now. Kids are using computers and cell phones more naturally than anyone, so why aren't we meeting them there? Transmedia can also engage them beyond the classroom -- creating an experience that interests them enough to engage with at home, in play as well as in school.

Passion, Interest, Imagination

By having space to explore a topic or story, kids can engage when and where they are most passionate. They can find their own way into a story and be more engaged for having that personal connection. They can learn the way they learn best, and transform that engagement into creativity and imagination, to express themselves and learn by doing.

Part of what we're hoping to do with the transmedia classroom blueprint is to bring in discussion from the community of transmedia practitioners and educators. To that end, we started the twitter hashtag #tmlearn, with which you can share your own ideas and help create a discussion.

We also asked the audience at the panel for some ideas and had some interesting responses.

Using digital media, students could create avatars to take through an educational experience; you control them and are attached to them, but don't care as much if something happens to them -- punishing an avatar could be used as an alternative to punishing the student himself. They also create a level of abstraction that might allow students to take more risks in their work and education.

The stories told in a transmedia experience, whether told to the students or by the students, create a space for kids to explore their worlds and grow up. Much like a YA novel dealing with difficult issues creates a safe space for people to deal with their own issues, a transmedia experience can create a space for kids to learn and expand.

There must be a loop between online and offline -- engage kids where they are online but then bring it back to the real world, the physical, the interpersonal.

Empower students to tell their own stories, sharing with their peers and feeling like they can succeed, and turning that into skills they need.

Kids will go where the stories are -- they'll seek out other stories when the bell rings, so transmedia allows us to extend into the community and the home, and stay with them, keeping them engaged.

Using increasingly cheap and available technology allows us to cross the socioeconomic divide and create opportunities for all.

And so we are left with the challenge of making these transmedia lessons modular, and able to fit within existing teaching plans and curricula. Despite all the support we're seeing, this is going to be a long and slow slog, but it's a slog we need to embark on.

So with this briefest of summaries, Karen, Laura and I would like to invite you to join us in developing this blueprint for a transmedia classroom. What do we need to consider? What challenges do we face? What can transmedia allow us to do? Comment, share ideas with #tmlearn, and let's together start the long process of creating a framework with which we can work.