Book review

Transmedia storytelling and the new era of media convergence in higher education, by Stavroula Kalogeras

Katherine E. Morrissey

Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Stavroula Kalogeras. Transmedia Storytelling and the New Era of Media Convergence in Higher Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, hardcover, $100 (276p) ISBN 978-1137388360.

[0.2] Keywords—Convergence; Digital humanities; Digital pedagogy; Digital storytelling; Participatory culture; Pedagogy

Morrissey, Katherine E. 2015. Transmedia Storytelling and the New Era of Media Convergence in Higher Education, by Stavroula Kalogeras [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 20. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0670.

Stavroula Kalogeras. Transmedia storytelling and the new era of media convergence in higher education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. $100 (276p) ISBN 978-1137388360.

[1] Transmedia Storytelling and the New Era of Media Convergence in Higher Education introduces transmedia storytelling edutainment (TmSE), a pedagogical framework emphasizing the role of story in learning. In light of the rapid changes occurring in media and the growth of online education initiatives, Stavroula Kalogeras calls for an overhaul to higher education practices. Pointing to the power of stories to engage and to the reader's desire to explore, Transmedia Storytelling argues that incorporating stories into education can "lead to ground-breaking pedagogies in today's media-rich environments" (xiii).

[2] TmSE is offered as a model "for developing entertainment media franchises that can be incorporated into pedagogical practice" (xiii). To begin testing the concept, Kalogeras wrote the screenplay The Goddess Within (n.d.), converted it into a hypertext, and piloted an online education module (e-module) using story-based materials. Kalogeras reflects on her own script writing, using her personal experience to speak eloquently about the transformational power of writing. Transmedia Storytelling also explores research on the state of media production/engagement after digitization, on a variety of education practices, and on the power of story. Transmedia Storytelling begins with more theoretical chapters before turning to the TmSE materials produced by Kalogeras (the screenplay and e-module) and her reflections. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the effects of media convergence on education and the production/reception of stories, including aspects of social networking and peer production. Chapter 4 addresses challenges and criticisms that TmSE may face. Finally, chapters 5 through us on the materials which were tested by Kalogeras, as well as feedback solicited on TmSE.

[3] Transmedia Storytelling's call for story-based edutainment is grounded in two assumptions. First, Transmedia Storytelling takes the position that higher education practices have not changed for "several hundreds of years" (213). Education has been guilty of "ignoring the rapid changes in media currently unfolding," but Kalogeras believes that media convergence will now force it to undergo radical transformations (xiii). Transmedia Storytelling is also built on the idea that the Internet has "ended media dictatorship" (10). Here, Transmedia Storytelling is specifically referring to a shift from a media landscape "controlled by a few" and instead toward an era of "choice in entertainment" (10). These are charged claims, and the book's optimism that the Internet will "end educational inequalities" (10) may be challenging for some readers to overcome. Nonetheless, it is clear that Kalogeras is passionate about revitalizing education and "finding engaging methods that will interest learners" (214–15).

[4] Chapters 2 and 3 both use Henry Jenkins's theory of media convergence as their launching point. Media convergence encompasses "the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want" (Jenkins 2008, 2). Given the effect of digital media and the Internet on media industries and media engagement, Transmedia Storytelling argues that it is time to revisit educational curriculums and transform them (213).

[5] Chapter 2, "Media Convergence's Impact on Storytelling, Marketing, and Production," introduces readers to a range of theories on transmedia texts and discusses the rise of online knowledge communities. Significantly, Kalogeras argues that adaptation is a kind of transmedia storytelling, a connection against which Jenkins (2003, 2008) has argued. In Jenkins's (2015) model for transmedia storytelling, "ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution" to a larger story. Kalogeras sees her screenplay as both adaptation and transmedia text. The Goddess Within adapts "because it uses…myth to create something entirely new" (26–27). Kalogeras argues that "adaptations that add something new can also be considered transmedia" (27). Given the Greek myths influencing it, the screenplay is also intertextual and inherently connected to a larger set of texts (27). Emphasizing its intertextual nature, global context, and embedded hyperlinks, Kalogeras frames The Goddess Within as a transmedia text, one specifically designed for edutainment.

[6] This approach to transmedia storytelling holds that transmedia "takes the narrative of a story and, as seamlessly as possible, extends it to different platforms" (24). In particular, transmedia's extensions facilitate audience participation (24). Chapter 2 points to fan cultures as an example of the "behaviors of virtual communities" (62). Kalogeras believes that "in an educational setting, collaborative learning environments are ideal for story-based curriculums as well as TmSE" (64). The same "desire to 'fill in the gaps' and to collaborate" witnessed in fan communities lends itself to online learning (64).

[7] Chapter 3, "Media Convergence's Impact on Education," reviews past efforts by the film and television industries to create products that both entertain and educate. TmSE is placed in line with this history, but Transmedia Storytelling argues that, given the current environment of media change, "the time is now ideal" for merging entertainment, educational, and commercial interests (71). The remainder of chapter 3 reviews research on the skills that students will need in coming years as well as teaching strategies that may help them to learn more effectively. With digital and cross-cultural communication becoming new norms, Transmedia Storytelling highlights "the benefits of a multimodal approach to learning" (80).

[8] Transmedia Storytelling particularly emphasizes the need to incorporate images and story into education. Chapter three discusses the potential for screenplays to be a new kind of textbook. Citing John Medina on the important role of visuals in memory recall, Transmedia Storytelling recommends "using less text in educational environments" as, according to Medina, words and letters are still visuals and an abundance of text can overwhelm the reader, stalling learning (quoted in Kalogeras 2014, 81). Observing that "less-dense text is characteristic of the screenplay," Kalogeras argues that a screenplay is less likely to overwhelm the reader with text while simultaneously using story to engage the readers and conjure images in their minds (81). For these reasons, the TmSE e-module uses a screenplay rather than a traditional textbook (81). Hyperlinks are also added to connect readers to additional information and facilitate self-directed learning.

[9] This portion of Transmedia Storytelling concludes with "Ten Mandates of Transmedia Edutainment in Higher Education" (110). Despite its hefty title, the list is somewhat general. Suggestions include "instruct/moderate with passion" and "incorporate multimedia and new forms of reading material" (110). Many of these recommendations will feel familiar to scholars of digital pedagogy or those working in the digital humanities. This raises an important point regarding the areas of study that have been omitted from Transmedia Storytelling's survey of relevant literature. The book does not directly address the breadth of experimentation with online learning and digital pedagogies already occurring in higher education today. In particular, the digital humanities are largely omitted. The closest the book gets to such a discussion is its coverage of Oppermann and Coventry's digital stories research (https://pilot.cndls.georgetown.edu/digitalstories) at Georgetown's Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (https://cndls.georgetown.edu). The Center for Digital Storytelling (http://storycenter.org) and their more auto/biographical approach to digital stories is also notably absent. Other areas left unaddressed include various creative writing pedagogies; the use of personal identity narratives in gender, sexuality, and race studies; reflective writing in composition/rhetoric; and reflexive writing in the social sciences. To address all of these areas would clearly overwhelm the text and be unproductive. However, given the amount of research that Transmedia Storytelling does include, the absence of this work in particular and the digital humanities generally is notable. It suggests that Transmedia Storytelling is primarily targeted toward media professionals and education specialists outside of higher education rather than aiming to participate in conversations on pedagogy already taking place within many academic disciplines.

[10] Addressing "Challenges, Concerns, and Critiques of Transmedia Storytelling Edutainment" in chapter 5, Kalogeras suggests that "the fusion of education and technology…be student-centered rather than technology-centered" (112). Essentially, students, not technology, should be shaping the design of online education courses. Other concerns include making TmSE viable for investors. This chapter introduces a business model for TmSE, including recommendations on possible payment schemes. Finally, the discussion turns to Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968). Explaining that Freire's pedagogy "can be considered an act of 'creation and re-creation' and self-transformation," Transmedia Storytelling argues that this pedagogy directly parallels the process of storytelling (149). Storytelling is informational and transformational; it facilitates dialogue, increases knowledge, and "transforms an individual, both in the act of creation and as spectator" (149).

[11] Kalogeras's voice is strongest when discussing her own experience with storytelling. Transmedia Storytelling argues that through storytelling, "learners can integrate knowledge into their mental models in meaningful and compelling ways" (157). Kalogeras sees The Goddess Within as autobiographical myth, a form where "narrative structure intersects fantasy and autobiography with the person the writer is and the person the writer wishes to become" (161). In this context, writing operates as a "space where the identity dilemma is fictionally staged" and fiction serves as a platform that allows a writer to express "the complexities of the person who is split between foreign and native, writer and character, truth and fiction" (165). These are powerful reflections. Clearly, the writing process was a transformative learning experience for Kalogeras. While Kalogeras's experience and the book's earlier discussion of Freire's transformative pedagogy are not directly linked, it is easy to speculate that this is the type of transformative experience that TmSE seeks to produce.

[12] Up to this point in Transmedia Storytelling, the screenplay seemed to be a text that students read to learn about Greek history. However, this discussion on writing hints at other possibilities. Kalogeras describes story production as an experience where what she terms "the realities of fiction," and the characters and experiences that a story represents "take on therapeutic roles" (162). Is Transmedia Storytelling also arguing that student-produced autobiographical myth should also be integral to the learning process? The e-module does include a unit where students create something labeled "digital story." However, the specifics of this are not relayed. There are many different genres of digital storytelling—digital essay, auto/biography, hypertext narrative, and others. What kind was included in the e-module? What were the students' experiences with story production? What did the students produce? These details are not provided. It would be exciting to see Kalogeras's own writing experience connected with specific e-module assignments and student work.

[13] Given the limited information provided on the e-module's content, it will be challenging for others to fully replicate or test it. Readers are told that students looked at five different texts: Troy Story (n.d.) (digital story), The Goddess Within (screenplay/hypertext), Troy (2004) (film), Virtual Tour of Troy (Web site) (note 1), and National Geographic's Beyond the Movie: Troy (2004) (documentary). A brief lesson plan consisting of three units from the e-module is provided in an appendix: "What is digital storytelling?"; "What are the components of story?"; "How do we create a digital story?" (217–24). While the success of the e-module is based on students' "aptitude in the subject matter" and on their performance on a comprehension test, little information is given on the content of this test. It is unclear whether the students were being assessed on their knowledge of Greek history, on storytelling practices, or on both.

[14] Transmedia Storytelling closes with feedback on TmSE from five "entertainment, education, and enterprise" experts (198). The responses primarily express interest in the educational possibilities for transmedia storytelling. Also worth noting is a common point of concern raised by Aaron Smith (Digital Media Planning, Wieden + Kennedy) and by Henry Jenkins. Both ask about the motivation for transmedia storytelling edutainment. Smith notes that there is a "difference between saying: 'I want to use TmSE…because it will engage my students' and 'I want to use TmSE…because it is the very best way to convey the course materials and meet my pedagogical goals'" (201). Similarly, Jenkins asks in an e-mail to the author, "Is transmedia a means to an end or is it a set of research and literacy skills you want to foster" (quoted in Kalogeras 2014, 206). Transmedia Storytelling argues that TmSE is a means rather than a means to an end (206). Kalogeras responds that "experiential learning combined with story-based curriculums can be a highly effective means for educating" (206). This leaves the question somewhat unresolved. A means for what, specifically? What is it being used to teach? Transmedia Storytelling does not seem entirely sure. The book is more invested in the idea of transmedia edutainment as a method and as a possible business model. However, in addressing so many different pedagogical issues, the book also poses many questions. What are the different affordances that transmedia texts can offer in the classroom? In what ways are fan and participatory communities already transforming the ways in which we learn? Perhaps Transmedia Storytelling will serve as a call for others to explore how fan practices contribute to digital learning. This outcome would pair well with the book's closing hope that it serves as the beginning for "a new educational story" (215).

Note

1. The Web site mentioned by Kalogeras is no longer available at the provided address.

Works cited

Jenkins, Henry. 2003. "Transmedia Storytelling." MIT Technology Review, January 15. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/401760/transmedia-storytelling/.

Jenkins, Henry. 2008. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Rev. ed. New York: NYU Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2015. "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two Actually. Five More on Friday)." Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins, December 12. http://henryjenkins.org/2009/12/the_revenge_of_the_origami_uni.html.





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