DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in School Library Journal (2)


Jane Austen, Edtech, and the Promise of ‘Theatrics’

The School Library Journal published Part 2 of an interview with me today in conjunction with the launch this week of "Welcome to Sanditon" on my client's collaborative storytelling platform. Here is the text. 

MAY 16, 2013 BY 

Following is a continuation of my talk with Nick DeMartino, Head of Business Development for This week’s first episode bow of Welcome to Sanditon, based on the unfinished novel by Jane Austen and featuring a robust fan participation platform provided byTheatrics, prompted our chat–which soon turned to school-based applications of the technology.

What’s a specific curricular example of what could be done with Theatrics…?

A literature teacher could assign a team to create a transmedia adaptation of a story–like theLizzie Bennet team did–and involve the entire class, grade, or even across distances with other students using Theatrics’ cloud-based platform. The “Calls to Action” and the responses from the participants can vary wildly–why not assign alternative endings? What would happen if Tom Robinson had been acquitted in To Kill a Mockingbird? How would Holden Caulfield have changed if he moved to a new school in Ohio instead of New York City? You get the idea.

Teachers in other subject areas can use the platform to create innovative learning experiences as well by developing their own assignments using documentary-style video production as well as fictional characters, which opens up subjects as varied as history and social studies, health education, ethnic studies–even math and science. 

screenshot sanditon Jane Austen, Edtech, and the Promise of TheatricsTo play devil’s advocate for a moment, should librarians and teachers be cautious in terms of their expectations for student engagement? That is, if they look to the success of Theatrics in relation to Sanditon, should they bear in mind that the audience that’s creating new characters and videos are alreadyfans of the central text? In contrast, in a class of secondary students I doubt that most of them would self-identify as “fans” of the literary text being used or the historical event being covered…

Yes, setting learning goals and outcomes is essential–it’s what great educators do that enables them to assess student achievement–and this is why Theatrics is eager to partner with innovators who know how to transform a toolset into a learning platform.

The meta-outcome of this kind of constructivist learning is that students learn how to learn. If they are charged with creating a character that responds to events in a story, and then to produce a video in which the story is advanced… well, there’s a lot of learning in that experience, not to mention the interaction it may trigger with the story creators and the other participants. This becomes less about producing “great” videos, and more about empowering kids to grasp the dynamics of storytelling.

Today’s kids are digital natives who take for granted the opportunity to engage with and contribute to the content they love online, whether that is expressed simply via social networks, or more elaborately as content creators on sites like YouTube, Tumblr, video games, even Second Life. Educators are recognizing that there is real learning that occurs through these mediated social interactions and narrative interventions, and are finding creative ways to make sure that learning of this sort does not stop at the schoolhouse door.

And yet many students will be familiar with Jane Austen and comparable canon authors only because of schools…

A narrative experience like LBD is compelling in part because of the great bones of Austen’s story and characters, for sure. But equally compelling is the story form, the opportunity for consumers to engage deeply with those characters, who literally can walk off the page and into the fans’ daily lives through social media and video.

So I think the driver for many kids will be the chance to participate and engage inside a storyworld. They get to be more than just fans, they get to be co-creators. And that act of engagement can be transformational, and certainly educational. Also, it may true that by some measures the quality of most student work will not compare favorably to professional content, though I’ve seen many exceptions. Talent is talent.


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Transmedia & Education: Some Thoughts

In an recent interview with Peter Gutierrez (@Peter_Gutierrez) about transmedia and education I suggest: 

 “Long before the terminology was introduced, teachers found that students often responded more deeply to fictional works by means of the film adaptation. Today we can tell stories—albeit differently—in many different media, powering a new form of ‘comparative literature.’”

The quote ran in a post entitled "Every Platform Tells A Story: Transmedia Has the Power to Make Any Topic More Vivid and Personal," which ran in the School Library Journal's blog THE DIGITAL SHIFT

Now Gutierrez has run a longer version of his interview with me called "Talking Transmedia" over on "Connect the Pop," his own blog at SLJ, in time to promote my appearance on Saturday at the WyrdCon convention on transmedia and related storytelling forms. (Thanks Peter!) Even though I'm not on the "transmedia and education" panel, this may be relevant.

I was struck by one of my quotes, which frankly I don't remember uttering: 

We must assure that learning by digital natives doesn’t stop at the door of the school or the library—in a sense, students are immersed in the process of discovery and learning 24/7. How do we harness their innate curiosity and their pervasive technical skills in service to learning? Put another way, how can we leverage young people’s appetite for media consumption in service to fundamental learning objectives (what is a story? what are the building blocks of a story?). So how do modern storytelling models help students learn how to learn?  —that’s a skill that will transcend school and serve them throughout their lives.