The language of transmedia might hold it back. Education’s language holds it back, too.
Transmedia is disrupting industry’s view of how it communicates with young people. Shouldn’t it also disrupt the way teachers see their students learn?
I’ve spent four years working in not just education but also as someone helping the traditional TV and film industries understand the potential of the Internet to enhance — or simply blow apart — their traditional ways of thinking. But as a Digital Commissioner at one of the U.K.’s biggest broadcasters, and then working with regional TV companies to rethink how we tell stories, something held us all back: the language of transmedia.
The Wrong Vocabulary for Innovation
The very vocabulary of “TV programme” and “viewers” on the one hand, and “multi-platform” and Internet “users” on the other, really have done nothing but hold back our understanding of what might be possible in terms of reshaping how stories are told and heard. “Programme” is loaded beyond belief: curated by an elite for the plebs, who will view what we tell them, when we tell them. Worse still, a “broadcaster” finds it next to impossible to work out what it should do when it’s not casting out to the broadest audience — all this while presented with the minute granularity and personalisation of the web.
In education, we see the same tension between the educator who wants to innovate on the hundreds-year-old model of teaching and learning they’ve been used to, versus the annual return to the mantra of “I have content I have to get through, exams that need passed…”
Back in the creative industries, collaboration between the internet industry on the one hand, and the TV/film people on the other, has been thwarted by such siloed thinking. Yes, even in the most creative of our creative industries, fiefdoms and egos of departments get in the way of collaboration on something innovative. One (the TV industry) is afraid of what the Web will eat up in terms of its revenues, while the other (the Internet) could do with some of the craft of storytelling that TV has spent decades honing down so well.
In education, one (the traditionalist) is afraid of what innovation will do to its examination results (even if the innovation might improve on them) while the others (the innovators) could often spend a bit more time fathoming out the real educational advantages of their latest adventure, beyond the vague “21st-century skills agenda.”
From Mass Media to Personalised Learning
Even the bastion of creativity and hard metrics — the advertising industry — is finding it hard to realise that its messaging, controlled for decades by elites who thumped out products and messages for the masses at industrial scale, is now open to being remixed and questioned by the public. As Frank Rose puts it, in a way that’s not a million miles from current education systems, by and large:
A mechanistic, industrial society yielded mass-produced products — newspapers, movies, cars, refrigerators, TV shows — that could be efficiently pushed out to a more or less undifferentiated public. There’s a reason they used to call Hollywood “the dream factory.”
We might as well say “A mechanistic, industrial society yielded mass-produced education — textbooks, educational video, teacher-education programmes, professional development — that could be efficiently pushed out to a more or less undifferentiated group of teachers and students.” I’m left wondering what might be education’s “Dream Factory” …
Sound familiar to you as a teacher? Is it possible for us to provide a “common core” of knowledge in a world where The People demand that they can personalise everything from T-shirts to the way they receive a Hollywood movie? Why should stories in the English class not be as malleable as the stories on the multiplex this Friday night? This is what I discussed during the writing of this post with world leading educational consultant, Will Richardson, in the video above.
The blockage for educators in understanding this potential and then, vitally, understanding what to do with it, is partially found in the language we use to describe learning these days. It’s not just the “common” in Common Core that’s problematic for a student whose demands are no doubt very different from the kid sat next-door.
“Programmes of study” or “curriculum plans” are no different to the dilemma facing a TV and film industry under pressure from the web: they create a mental pedagogical block in terms of approach any aspect of learning in a different way, in spite of whatever transformative changes might be going on out in the real world. In the end, TV producers with this attitude see the appeal of their shows reduced. In education, we’ve not created cathedrals of learning; they’re more like monasteries. Educators, too, will feel the pinch if we don’t look out to the world of entertainment and reconsider what storytelling (and raw information) across many technology platforms looks like today.
Balancing Sound Pedagogy of the Past with Innovations of Tomorrow
What it’s not about, though, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, throwing storytelling (and sound pedagogy) as we know it away and starting from scratch. In the same way as the Internet startups seek the storytelling expertise of the TV execs and writers, educators need to really understand which elements of their craft are worth keeping, and which ones become interesting when thrown open to the new tangents and possibilities of non-linear, participative storytelling that the web, mobile, and real world can offer.
Dylan Wiliam, the education and formative assessment expert, reckons most teachers should concentrate on a half dozen or so elements of their teaching to make big improvements (watch video). Understanding transmedia texts is unlikely to specifically be one of those key areas, but it does put pressure on our understanding of what a great understanding of literacy might be. For that reason alone, it’s worth exploring.