MET:Transmedia Storytelling

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Amber Dumouchel (2014).

What is Transmedia?

When looked at literally the prefix trans means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” or “changing thoroughly" which can take on differing meanings when applied to the media root, creating a dynamic definition to illustrate the potential behind transmedia[1]. Transmedia itself could refer to any of the following mass entertainment, arts, history, gaming, branding, performance, ritual, play, activism, spectacle, or storytelling.[2][3]

What is Transmedia Storytelling?

Transmedia storytelling is still an emerging concept, and so there is some difference of opinion with regards to its definition. It can be agreed, however, that transmedia storytelling is not merely the adaption of a linear story from one medium to another. Rather, it is a new form of multiliteracies where the elements of a narrative are dispersed across different platforms and channels in order to create a complex, coordinated, and unified story, in which each element contributes uniquely as the story unfolds. It is multimodal, tapping into text, images, audio, and play. Transmedia storytelling is collaborative by nature and is often more about world building than individual characters or story lines [3]. These worlds are termed storyworlds, and while they do exist in all forms of storytelling, in transmedia storytelling the different experiences within the story can be enjoyed through different platforms of media, and on some of the platforms, the audience can engage with and have an impact on the story. As such, overlapping storyworlds are created between the audience members' own stories and potentially of other stories in the more traditional sense. To discover more on storyworlds watch this video artifact on the subject: Storyworlds Explained[4][5][6]. In this way it is very representative of Web 2.0 ideology. "A transmedia text does not simply disperse information: it provides a set of roles and goals which readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life."[3]. A key part of transmedia storytelling, and where it truly differs from Digital Storytelling, is that it is created and shared in a community of storytellers.

Transmedia Storytelling: A Stop-Motion Video [7] [8] [9]

History and Pioneers

Transmedia pioneer, Henry Jenkins has declared the shift of American television from an episodic, structure (where each episode is a self-contained story) to a serialized structure (where a large story arc is carried out over time) as a necessary predecessor to transmedia storytelling. This transition has begun a trend of ever expanding fictional worlds in which the story is set. A logical step to expand these worlds or the mythos of the show is to expand into different mediums to tell different parts of the story. Take the transmedia story Supernatural, which includes a television show, a comic book series, an anime series, a webseries, a book series, and cast and crew twitter feeds. These works in conjunction to tell a more complete story and the series itself is often self-referential with regards to its other literacies. In essence, there is no single work available to fully understand the story. This can be visualized in this graphic. This image serves to illustrate the dynamics of a transmedia story but modern transmedia storytelling goes a step further. What has changed has been transmedia's adaption to Web 2.0 culture. Rather than a franchise being the sole perpetrator of a work, transmedia storytelling has tapped into the collaborative nature of the internet to allow the audience to help create the story. In this way, users make sense of the story in a way never before possible and the world grows stronger and more complex as a combination of all of its parts. The example of television again is an excellent one when it comes to illustrating the collaborative nature of transmedia. On the internet, the term for the transmedia collection of official works around a television show is referred to as canon. Thus any unsanctioned, or fan-created work has been dubbed fanon. This fan work might be video cuts, episode guide, wikis, fiction, artwork, podcasts, recreations, etc. In this way the world around the show expands to such a degree that it exists in a realm beyond its initial imagining. [10]

Literacies of Transmedia Storytelling

Amanda Hovious identifies the following seven literacies of transmedia storytelling. [11]

  1. Multimodal literacy - the communication of the story through different media like audio, images, narrative, movie and gaming elements
  2. Critical literacy - the ‘destructuring’ and ‘restructuring’ a text to understand its underlying elements
  3. Digital literacy - the ability to navigate through and use the digital world to create the narrative
  4. Media literacy - the critical evaluation and creation of media messages.
  5. Visual literacy - the interpretation and reading of images
  6. Game literacy - the use of game elements to logically and strategically uncover parts of the narrative

Transmedia Storytelling in Education

Transmedia storytelling and education could be interpreted in many ways. For instance, series of novels based around popular television shows could be considered education as they promote literacy or the fan created Star Wars Uncut could be an exercise in film study. However, for our purposes we will look into transmedia's use to improve existing practices in classroom education. Transmedia storytelling is being utilized by companies, the film industry, and advertising firms and students are interacting with it in their leisure time. By tapping into the transmedia genre, teachers have the ability to make the classroom practice more relevant to learners. As well it makes learning participatory and engaging, active rather than passive. It allows it to be multimodal, differentiated, connected, and engaging. It can be collaborative, not merely within a class but it can connect students between cities, countries and continents. It can expose students to new ideas and information.

Theoretical Foundation

Social Constructivism

Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism argues that knowledge and culture develop “first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside the child”[12]. This theory could be applied to transmedia storytelling as as the initial story is given as a form of scaffolding and a student's understanding of the story built up from there. However, Vygotsky’s social-constructivism was designed before the digital age and fails to encompass the dimensions of the landscape of our Web 2.0 world.

Sociocultural Theory

The socio-cultural theory of situated learning, popularized by Lave & Wenger, argues that knowledge is built in context and through a dialogue[13]. Transmedia storytelling, allows students to work with experts and more capable peers collaboratively to solve both fictional and real world problems in much the same way as they might be asked to collaborate in their everyday life. This process of co-creation helps to shape cognitive activity.

Socially Distributed Cognition

Socially Distributed Cognition, first imagined by Roberts in 1964, argues that knowledge and cognitive processes can be distributed through a community. Transmedia storytellers could be visualized as their own community. [14] Problems could be posed, and worked out in the minds of students in classes around the world as the process of writing becomes collectively constructed.


Connectivism was proposed by George Siemens in 2005 as a “learning theory for a digital age” that combines elements of behaviourism, cognitivism, and constructivism to deal with the mass of information available today [15]. In a transmedia story students would have to sift through the official and user generated content to create an understanding of the task. They would have to research and synthesize to take part in the story. The patterns of participation would well equip students for their life in a digital world.

Transactive Memory

Indeed the idea of Transactive Memory, or group mind, developed by Daniel Wagner, illustrates the complexity of memory and could apply to the technology behind modern transmedia. [16] The theory of transactive memory states that memory is mediated by a community, which today could be applied to the Web 2.0. The process of memory follow the traditional stages of encoding, storage and retrieval. Transmedia storytelling is technologically mediating allowing the characters, plots, and locations to be expanded and stored digitally.

Examples of Educational Transmedia Storytelling

Inanimate Alice

File:Alice Badge.jpg
Inanimate Alice

Inanimate Alice is a successful transmedia story created for preteen and emerging teen readers[17]. Written by Kate Pullinger, directed by Chris Joseph and produced by Ian Harper, Alice has become the inaugural transmedia story. It is based around the story of Alice and her digital imaginary friend Brad as she grows up to be a game designer. Though it was created for entertainment, teachers quickly realized its potential and adopted it for education. Alice uses text, images, music, sound effects, puzzles and connects these technologies, through languages, cultures, and generations through a broad narrative that is widely accessible. Alice has four episodes currently available, with each becoming progressively more complex.

Case Studies

  1. Julie Call, an American teacher, found that it increased student engagement and motivation to read.[18]
  2. Mr. Wood, a teacher in New Zealand, documented his class's experiences with Alice and their creation of multimodal texts in her world.[19]


In Febuary 2012, over 600 students in Florida worked as executives of a space cargo company to solve a problem where an inaugural rocket launch ends with a disastrous crash into a town[20]. Students decided how to proceed from this problem. They used social media to collaborate and they gained their information from different places.


Collapsus shows a world where an energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is imminent. It looks into the story of ten young people who appear to be caught up in a conspiracy. Collapsus combines interactivity with animation, fiction, documentary, mini-games and movie fragments. Participants choose whose perspective to follow, consult with experts, and make decisions about the global energy crisis.[21]

Robot Heart Stories

Robot Hearts Stories is an experiential learning project designed for two classrooms (one in Montreal, Canada and one in Los Angeles, USA) that tells the story of a a robot who crash lands in Montreal and must make her way to LA in order to find her space craft and return home. The transmedia story will use math, science, history, geography and creative writing.[22]

Rockford’s Rock Opera

Rockford's Rock Opera, launched in 2009 as an enhanced audiobook, is now an ecological, musical, transmedia story that has over 30,000 schools registered. It tells the story of a boy from Battersea called Moog and his Dog, Rockford who must deliver an important message that just might save the human race.[23]

Stop Motion Videos

Transmedia Storytelling: A Stop-Motion Video [24] [25] [26] by Chelsey Hauge.

Storyworlds Explained[4][5][6] by Erica Hargreave.



  1. trans-. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from website:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia storytelling 101. Confessions of an AcaFan. Retrieved February 17, 2014, from
  4. 4.0 4.1 Walker, Scott (2011, April). What is a Shared Story World? Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 Wilson, Michael (2013, January). The Masks of Fans: Storyworlds, Narrative Identity and Performance in Theory. Retrieved from
  6. 6.0 6.1 Hargreave, Erica (2012, August). Bringing brands & stories to life through transmedia creativity. Retrieved from
  7. Burgess J. & Green, J. 2009. Youtube: Digital media and society series. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  8. Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture. New York: New York University Press.
  9. Gajjala, R. 2013. Use/Use less: Affect, labor, and non/materiality. No More Potlucks. Accessed September 13, 2014:
  10. Interactive map of Middle Earth. (n.d.). LOTR Project. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from
  11. Hovious, Amanda . "Designer Librarian." Designer Librarian. N.p., 21 Nov. 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2014. <>.
  12. Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.
  13. Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge [England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.
  14. R OBERTS , J. 1964. The self-management of culture. In Explorations in Cultural Anthropology: Essays in Honor of George Peter Murdoc , W. Goodenough, Ed. McGraw-Hill, London, UK.
  15. Siemens G (2005) Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol2, No 1, p3-10
  16. Wegner, D. M. (1987). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind. In Theories of group behavior (pp. 185-208). Springer New York.
  17. About. (n.d.). Inanimate Alice. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from
  18. Call, Julie. "Case Study." ISSUU. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2014. <>.
  19. Wood. "iTeach inanimate Alice." Inanimate Alice a Perspective . N.p., 10 July 2010. Web. 5 Mar. 2014. <>
  20. Transmedia Storyteller. (2012, March 12). Transmedia in Education. Retrieved from
  21. "Press." Collapsus: The Energy Risk Conspiracy. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <>
  22. "About." Robot Heart Stories. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <>.
  23. "Press." Rockfords Rock Opera. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2014. <>
  24. Burgess J. & Green, J. 2009. Youtube: Digital media and society series. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  25. Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, bloggers, and gamers: Exploring participatory culture. New York: New York University Press.
  26. Gajjala, R. 2013. Use/Use less: Affect, labor, and non/materiality. No More Potlucks. Accessed September 13, 2014:

Rodríguez-Illera, J.L. & Molas Castells, N. (2014). Educational uses of transmedia storytelling. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 23(4), 335-357. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Experiments in Digital Storytelling. Retrieved from Nicklas, P., & Voigts-Virchow, E. (2013). Adaptation, transmedia storytelling and participatory culture [special issue]. Adaptation: The Journal of Literature on Screen Studies, 6(2), 139-241.