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News about the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab

DH Café: Teaching With Transmedia Storytelling

Published October 23, 2017 by Rémi Castonguay

The Digital Humanities Café series continued on October 4 with a presentation from the Teaching and Learning Centre’s EdMedia Program. In a 90-minute session, John Born, Duane Woods, Gabe Wong, and Jason Toal introduced how to integrate transmedia storytelling with learning outcomes.

Transmedia storytelling involves the use of multiple media platforms to tell a single story in an interactive way. While the story is fixed, participants are empowered to shape their experience within the world created. As a pedagogical method it makes skill development incidental to a narrative, meaning that instructors can draw on students’ empathetic abilities to foster increased engagement and prioritize experiential learning.

After designing a transmedia treasure hunt at the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG) conference last fall, EdMedia team saw the possibilities of incorporating transmedia storytelling into their program. The EdMedia Program consists of a series of workshops that teach faculty to use different media, including Open Educational Resources (OER), drawing, graphic design, audio, and video, in their courses more effectively. In the past, the program had difficulties engaging participants for the full workshop series; people would register and attend the first couple of sessions, but did not necessarily complete all of the modules.

Structuring the series around a plot offered a potential solution to the program’s retention rate. The narrative took the form of a detective story. The Quartz Parrot, in which participants were invited to determine which suspect was responsible for stealing a priceless relic from SFU’s museum. Each workshop incorporated clues into its activities, which included finding planted images of the parrot on OER sites such as Wikimedia Commons and Flickr. In the audio and video workshops, participants created clues by acting in, recording, and editing videos with expert witnesses and suspects. By the end of the program, participants had enough information about the suspects to solve the crime.

Incorporating a transmedia story element into the workshop was effective in improving participant retention and satisfaction, but it also solved some of the smaller problems embedded in the workshop series. For example, in the session focused on drawing, one of the activities involved asking participants to describe a day using abstract lines and shapes. In the past, participants had struggled with describing one of their own days; having a predetermined plot to map out removed the personal element from the exercise, allowing them to focus on developing the skill itself rather than the content.

The presentation concluded with an activity, in which the audience was asked to develop their own transmedia story based around an existing syllabus. In groups, we tried to outline a narrative that could play out over three weeks, tying it to small assignments that incorporated different media and matched the syllabus’s learning outcomes. In the twenty minutes that we had to develop our stories, we gained an appreciation for the kind of creative flexibility that transmedia storytelling requires on the part of an instructor.

If you are interested in learning more about the EdMedia Program or transmedia storytelling as a pedagogical practice, you can contact the EdMedia Team at