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Talking Transmedia with Nick DeMartino

DeMartino portrait Talking Transmedia with Nick DeMartino

Ready for some more transmedia-flavored food for thought?

Well, as a follow-up to yesterday’s Q&A with media specialist Andy Plemmons and as an additional supplement to the transmedia piece in this month’s magazine, here’s a slightly extended conversation with Nick DeMartino, one of the true thought leaders in the field. I became familiar with his insights in this area from a series of widely read, and remarkably accessible, posts that he wrote last year for Tribeca’s “Future of Film” blog. Although DeMartino is not himself an academic, he’s a top consultant specializing in digital production/distribution (which includes transmedia, naturally), and has clearly devoted a lot of time to considering transmedia’s broader ramifications… especially those that relate to the K-12 world.

As one might expect, then, DeMartino, a former SVP of the American Film Institute, has a client list that includes educators as well as media publishers. In fact, he’s speaking this weekend at Wyrd Con, the conference that focuses on multi-platform storytelling in all its dimensions, appearing on a transmedia panel along with Jeff Gomez. If, like me, you won’t be there, here’s a quick chat that nicely complements the other posts in this series…

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Why is transmedia something that K-12 educators should focus on, not just a buzz-worthy topic that might pertain only to students kids who want to pursue media careers?

“Transmedia” offers educators a gateway into understanding the fundamentals of storytelling by allowing young people to come to the canon by means of the story form(s) to which they respond the most. 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.”

Nice, but what can school librarians and media specialists in particular do when it comes to transmedia? What skills and types of texts would provide good starting points?

“Compare and contrast” modes of storytelling between different story forms is a great way to help students understand fundamentals such as character, plot, action, scene, theme—what elements are common to all? What elements are unique to a particular form? What medium does the student prefer? Teachers don’t have to wait for the “perfect” transmedia property to emerge at a given grade level—they can create templates that allow students to bring the story forward to multiple platforms on their own. I see it somewhat like diagramming sentences: learn the fundamentals through structural analysis, and apply them across media types. This is, of course, key to constructivist learning modalities.

How might transmedia be a challenge to tackle in schools? For example, does it spill too much across disciplinary lines, or require certain tech skills/resources to implement?

In my experience, worrying about technology implementation of pedagogical goals is generally more of a problem for the teacher than the student, even down into elementary grades and certainly by middle and high school. We learned with the AFI Screen Education curriculum that the value was the conceptual container created by the teacher—the assignment and rubric—not the precise technical implementation. The teacher has to be comfortable letting go of technical perfection and concentrate upon the key concepts. The kids often are ahead of adults in the technical realm, although of course there is a need for minimum technical setup at the school.

Okay, so let’s go “big picture” here to wrap up: what would you say to the head of a school librarian organization if you were in the proverbial elevator together?

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.

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Great stuff, right? Well, you can find more of DeMartino’s work at his Web site and via Twitter (@nickdemartino).

 

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