TRANSMEDIA: Fluid Environments for Learning

What if we shifted the assessment focus to 21st century skills rather than traditional tests? How would our students do? What would they be missed? How do we do both? Think about how you might incorporating transmedia thinking into fluid environment for learning.

Rather than start from scratch, use pathfinders and resources that others have already collected to get you started with designing a transmedia environment. Produce your own transmedia storytelling experience. Don't worry, you don't need to write a novel. Instead, create a smaller, focused experience such as poem or short story.

Start small. The N.E.R.D.S. book series is a great way to connect reading with a sense of place. Check out the NERDS Teacher's Guide. Get students involved in creating maps to go with their own stories. They may be stories written about your local area with familiar locations. Or, students can write about places they are learning about in class.

Begin with a book connection. Read The Genius Files by Dan Gutman at Google Books (the first couple chapters are online). Take a cross country RV trip with the characters. The introduction to the book provides a challenge to readers, "To the Reader... All the places mentioned in this book are real. You can visit them. You shouldvisit them!" The first chapter describes a schools and mountain. You can find these on Google Maps. The next chapter says "Coke had been intrigued enough to do a Google search of wingsuit BASE jumping. Go ahead and look it up..." When you look it up, you find video and images of jumpers! As they travel they visit fun places like the "Largest Ball of Twine" in Cawker City, Kansas.

Ideas To Get Started


  • An original short story could be brought to life with the addition of artwork, music, and audio narration.
  • A family diary or scrapbook could be turned into a multimedia experience telling the story of a person, place or thing.
  • An original children's story could be brought to life through animation, voices, and music.
  • A dry, nonfiction article could be supercharged with photographs, diagrams, and game elements.
  • An original poem could become the start of an exciting online adventure searching for clues and solving a mystery.
  • An original comic could jumpstart an inquiry that involves using social technology and online tools.

Suggested Student Guidelines:

Get young people involved with developing transmedia projects. Consider the following guidelines.

Original Content. Your project must include an original work such as a poem, short story, nonfiction article, comic, or other original prose. This work can be displayed as a PDF file, web page, or in another format of your choice.

Media Elements. Your project must include at least TWO of the following media elements:

  • Images. Drawings, scanned artifacts, maps, diagrams, graphs, charts, photographs, symbols, organizers, scanned artwork, satellite images, X-rays, comics
  • Audio. Famous speeches, story dialog, music, background sounds, sound effects, narration
  • Animation. Moving images, slide shows
  • Video. Interviews, stories, documentary, historical videos, content videos,
  • Website Materials. Databases, quality websites... not "Google searches"... instead specific pages with specific content.

Your project SHOULD contain:

  • Participatory elements where readers are engaged in some nonlinear activities (not just read from beginning to end)
  • An engaging storytelling environment where readers are draw into the world you've established
  • A cohesive set of materials that promote synergy (more than could be accomplished through a single medium)
  • A planned environment for exploration so readers are likely to be able to complete the experience

Your project MAY contain:

  • Gaming aspects (i.e., build the story around a game-type environment where readers take on roles or solve problems)
  • Inquiry elements (i.e., design an environment that involves questioning, exploration, assimiliation, inference, and reflection)
  • Mystery elements (i.e., build in clues that can be found using website materials that you use or create)
  • Problem solving elements (i.e., incorporate math problems to solve, science experiments to try)
  • Social aspects (i.e., create a ning where fans can share ideas about your transmedia experience, participants add characters or chapters to your book, choose your own adventure with a wiki)
  • Online Fictional elements (i.e., create a fictional toy company website, create a fictional blog with content readers use, invent a Facebook profile for a character in your story, create a photo set in Flickr designed by a fictional character)
  • Website use (i.e., go to the NASA website to find the name of the rocket that launched in March 1965 to help solve a mystery, use Google Maps to check the distance between two locations, use AllRecipes to find the ingredients in a recipe)

How it might look:

  • Animal Poetry with transmedia elements: photographs and drawings of animal tracks, animal track website... identifying the mystery animal.
  • Family Diary Transcription with transmedia elements: historical photos from the family, video interviews with family members... telling a family story.
  • Mystery Short Story with transmedia elements: artwork from the National Gallery of Art website, audio dialog and storytelling using Voki... solve an art mystery.
  • Travel Adventure Story Game with transmedia elements: Flickr photos posted by fictional character and Google Earth... where in the world is Uncle Sylvester?
  • An Army of Dolphins Comic with transmedia elements: comic life and photos, military websites... what's the true world role of marine life such as dolphins and sea lions in the military?

Explore Examples

Teacher Examples

  • Artemis Fowl Files (Web)
  • Cheetahs (Web)
  • Marshal's Boat (Web)

Lamb Examples

Interdisciplinary Connections: Ship Breaking

The key to an interesting transmedia experience is not give anything away. Rather than providing the entire website, begin by reading the book. Then provide the website and see if they can figure out the password to get in. Once they learn about shipbreaking today, get them to think of other topics that could be used as the foundation for a story.

Literature-History Connection: whitehousePresidents: Life in the White House

The Book. Read Our White House Looking In Looking Out.

Presidental Timeline. The Presidental Timeline (PDF of Obama sticker) from Our White House.

Click on the image below for a clickable image map for each president. The links connect to the White House website.


The Website. Explore Our White House Looking In Looking Out.

Organize Primary Sources. Use DocsTeach to find or create activities related to Presidents throughout US History. You need to sign up for an account to create an activity.

Interdisciplinary Connections: Relationships of Mothers and Daughters

borrowed namesThe Book. Read Borrowed Name by Jeannine Atkins on paper or ebook. In 1867, three women who achieved great success were born: writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker, and scientist Marie Curie. Through original poetry, Atkins explores the complicated relationships these women had with their daughters.

The Times. After the Civil War, laws regarding race and gender were being challenged. In 1867 women were beginning to see more options for their lives.

The People. Read the poetry and learn more about the people.

Video Vignettes. The book included thirty vignettes that would be great for a reader's theatre project for teens. Use social media to share video interpretations of one of the vignettes.

Relationships. Explore a family relationship and create poetry based on your own experiences.

Historical Poetry. Who do you admire? What person makes you curious? Whether it's a family member or famous person, write poetry inspired by someone from history.

Words. Use one of the many tag cloud builders such as Tagxedo (tag-SEE-doh), Wordle, TagCrowd, to think the characters of a person you've explored.

What virtual environments, activities, and thinking tools will connect these resources?

Ideas from Jeannine Atkin's Website.

Use social, participatory, and collaborative tools that allow students to share their thoughts and perspectives.

Student Involvement

Seek out new ways to think about sharing understandings and student involvement:

Wave ActivityPick one of the following topics to explore. Create an engaging overview, starter, or story using YouTube's Search Stories tool. Go to my Climate Change example. The, go to YouTube-SearchStories to create your own. Think about how this tool might be incorporated into your project.

Wave ActivityBuild exciting writing activities into your projects.
Incorporate Haiku or Guyku into an activity.


Involve students in a social networking environment where they can connect, read, and write. Go to Figment.

Make it Happen!

This is just the beginning. Many companies see the value in storytelling. Lego is now providing tools to help young people create their own worlds.

Wave ActivityBuilding is fun! Be on the lookout for tools that will bring a project to life.
Go to Lego City Comic Builder. Create your own comic.
Open Lego Digital Designer on your desktop. Create Lego models and tell exciting stories.


The real-world isn't linear. However most of the activities we do in school are linear. The following story is from an elementary teacher:

I was working with students on Dr. Martin Luther King research. We were using Photo Story when a boy noticed a gap in his work. He said to me, "You mean I can go back and look for MORE information and pictures?" He was so confused, yet excited, about the notion of doing more searching since he had already started creating his final project. I think young students tend to see inquiry as distinct, linear steps."

The real-world uses a variety of tools to reach the wide range of students. Explore Monica Schnee's ESL classroom. Use the tabs to explore the many different ways she uses Web 2.0-type technology in the classroom.

As you select new materials such as Chasing Lincoln's Killer for your classroom, consider how the development of a transmedia experience could bring it alive.


End of article.

| Overview | The Wave | Defined | An Experience | Elements | Content| Design | Skills | Fluid |