Henry Jenkins (pictured above), a former MIT Professor and the person who coined the term “transmedia,” defines it as “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels.” In plain English: Transmedia stories offer that element that traditional education struggles to provide: choice.
Whereas in most classrooms the teacher dictates pace, content, beginning, and endings, in transmedia story-reading the reader makes multiple choices: whether they want to read small chunks of text-message-size novella, watch video sequences, follow a Twitter feed (like the story Girl Number 9), or read blogged updates in sequence (or out of sequence). And the story content they are reading might be produced by the original author but might just as well be written by a fan appearing on one of thousands of fan fiction websites, where fans of the stories mod,” or build upon, the original text.
So, which story reading and writing scenario gears students up for an entrepreneurial, complex world? Which version of reading and writing is going to prepare the “successful learners,” “confident individuals,” and “robustness” that so many of the world’s emerging new curricula demand?
It’s probably a mixture of both — being led to the great classics, but having an opportunity to get lost in the complexity of modern transmedia texts, too, with all the risks of distraction and confusion that exist in the real world when we’re faced with complex choices.
To survive this complex new form of literature, a new grammar will need to be found. And what an opportunity for schools in helping define a grammar that has not yet been worked out. As Frank Rose from the tech magazine Wired puts it:
To take advantage of this a new grammar of storytelling has to emerge, just as a grammar of cinema had to be invented 100 years ago. That grammar has not yet been fully defined, any more than the grammar of cinema was clearly defined in 1912 — but clearly it’s going to be nonlinear, it’s going to be participatory, and it’s going to be immersive.
Vitally, though, there is a grammar out there that shares many of the attributes of transmedia storytelling and -writing. If we can understand this grammar, which has been more than 30 years in the making, then we might have a stronger starting point for being able to better understand how we can teach these demanding new literacy skills. It’s a grammar that has stood the test of time, and its vocabulary stretches across the worlds of transmedia storytelling, social networks, and mobile media.
Further reading on writing and reading transmedia for specialist teachers:
Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck, The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace