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Talking Transmedia with Andy Plemmons

If you’ve taken a look at this month’s issue of School Library Journal, you’re probably aware that I have an article in it on transmedia and its curricular applications. In the course of researching and preparing that piece, I came in contact with several individuals—thinkers, practitioners, and those who were frequently both—who were gracious enough to provide quotes and ideas. Yet the available space in a magazine often doesn’t allow a writer to present all the insights such leaders have to share, so I thought I’d do three posts featuring some supplemental conversations.

The first of these subjects is Andy Plemmons, the gifted media specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, Georgia. You might recall that Plemmons works with classroom teachers to help students create transmedia experiences around specific events and curricular topics. Well, he does a lot more than that, too, which is why it’s really been my pleasure to learn of his work. If you’d like to do the same, you can read his thoughts here, or connect with Barrow’s media center on Facebook.

In our SLJ piece the focus on your work was on what media specialists could do to help create new transmedia experiences for students. But how do you see your job in terms of helping young people read and navigate existing transmedia properties?

Most important is giving students access to these properties.  In many of my reader’s advisory conversations with students, I’ve found that for the most part, they are unfamiliar with transmedia texts. It’s very different from what they’ve been reading throughout their school careers. Some have read The 39 Clues, but just because they have read the books does not mean they have interacted online. When students read this series, I show them the online components. I also demonstrate the Patrick Carman books. Once students try out these texts, they’re hooked, but it’s not a natural choice for them at the moment. It takes promotion. My role is also to constantly seek out these properties and make them accessible.  Somewhat out of my control is whether or not students have internet access at home to fully engage in these properties. I always ask when students want to read these transmedia texts whether or not they have internet access, and if internet access at home is not available, I talk with the student about how they can access the full features of the text. Sometimes it’s using the public library, another family member’s computer, a classroom computer, or coming to the library during independent reading time.

What about working with classroom teachers—what should media specialists let them know about transmedia, perhaps to help demystify the topic a bit?

Transmedia and transliteracy are terms that are constantly evolving, so I think a part of the demystification is to help teachers understand that they don’t have to be an expert on the topics to try them with students.  As media specialists collaborate with teachers to create transmedia, it is important for teachers to have some mentor transmedia “texts” to offer students in writing workshops just as they offer picture books or chapter book selections.  Transmedia texts such as Patrick Carman’s 3:15 stories are an obtainable example.  Carman has a short audio intro, a larger chunk of text, and a video conclusion.  This basic format could be a stepping stone for students and teachers as they consider what other transmedia projects they might create.  Teachers and media specialists also need to be readers of these texts as well so that they fully understand how the story can flow in sequence or even dip in and out of points in the plot.  Being familiar with how these texts function will guide educators as they facilitate student reading and creation of transmedia.

Are there any specific transmedia properties you’d recommend educators consider for curricular application? Why?

All of Patrick Carman’s interactive works including 3:15, Trackers, and the Skeleton Creek series.  These all offer frameworks that students might replicate in their own creations.  Inanimate Alice and Pottermore are also excellent examples of much more complex properties that students might consider as they branch out into creating their own property that involves multiple layers of text, audio, video, and more.

What about the media literacy and/or critical piece of the equation? That is, how can librarians and classroom teachers help students grasp the marketing and promotional angle that is sometimes hard to separate from the narrative or informational content?

The marketing part of transmedia provides a rich learning opportunity for students. Every student learns how to write persuasive pieces of writing at some point during school. For my students, they start in 1st grade and write persuasive pieces in every grade level. So often, it’s hard to make connections for students about the purpose and strategies of persuasion. However, if you have tangible examples that are connected to their world, the concept is grasped much better. I’ve had great success using commercials about popular toys and games to identify persuasive strategies. If students are already engaging in transmedia properties, why not use these as a “text” for studying persuasion? Not only are you teaching persuasive standards, you are also helping them be more aware of their online environment and the many advertising and marketing tools that are used online.

Finally, with transmedia on the rise, do you ever stop and think that you’re actually helping shape and inspire the next generation of transmedia creators?

I think we’ve all longed to step inside the pages of a book and interact with the characters we’re on an adventure with in our imaginations.  We are just now seeing this take shape in the form of transmedia through constantly evolving technology. In education, I hope that in ten or twenty years (really sooner) we’ve embraced transmedia as a form of writing instead of locking students into the traditional 5-paragraph essay or formal research papers. I hope that by beginning this process with the students we teach today, we are setting up stellar examples of transmedia for our future students.  There is no way to know exactly what this will all shape-shift into in the coming years, but I think that we will see a constant increase in the level of involvement, decision-making, and multi-layered plots in the transmedia properties of the future.

About Peter Gutierrez