Contemplating transmedia scholarship

8 12 2011

Happy grading season to all you academics, and happy pre-holidays to all you students and surfers who have stumbled across my blog in your internet wanderings!

I’ll be spending a good chunk of my holiday collaborating with Chris Hanson to develop a digital “draft” of a submission to a “book” project that emerged out of Database | Narrative | Archive: An International Symposium on Nonlinear Digital Storytelling.  I’m really excited about it, both because I get to co-author the project with a good friend and brilliant scholar, but also because the project will be constructed in Scalar.  Scalar was developed at USC, through the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, and I am looking forward to exploring the platform and thinking through the form and function of multimodal scholarship.

The question our contribution will respond to is:

How might scholars explore interactive and digital technologies as forms of ‘procedural scholarship’?

My immediate gut response to this prompt, which you can explore in more detail in the CFP, was to consider how we might adapt the central principles and qualities of transmedia storytelling to discuss and develop instances of transmedia scholarship.  As our own work begins to travel across media platforms, I think further contemplation of Henry Jenkins’ post on Transmedia Education is warranted, in which Jenkins applies the seven “core principles” detailed below to learning environments.

I can think of plenty of wonderful scholars who are attempting to work these properties into their pedagogy, but are we actively attempting to embody them with our scholarship?  Outside of the seven principles Jenkins outlines here, are you thinking about building migratory cues into your scholarship?  What does collective intelligence look like in this model?  Are the transmedia “extensions” of our own work serving a similar promotional function as the majority of industrial transmedia extensions?

I’m hoping to use Scalar as a platform to grapple with the potentialities and limitations of transmediated scholarly arguments and research.  While many have (rightly) championed transmedia storytelling models for being participatory, non-linear, and co-creative enterprises, my own work on industrial transmedia entertainment argues that these models ultimately tend to reify and reward conventional modes of engagement and exploration.  Through a consideration of how these “core principles” might be adapted to conceptualize multimodal scholarship, I hope to examine how theories of transmedia storytelling might broadly help scholars envision their work traversing various media, platforms, and audiences.

So, here’s where you come in.  If you’re an academic, or know an academic, who is either actively creating transmedia scholarship, or attempting to work in some of the principles of transmedia storytelling into their own work or pedagogy, please contact me at or leave a comment below.  Alternately, if you are a transmedia scholar and/or have opinions on what transmedia scholarship might look like, the potentialities or limitations (for example, what happens when we ask those “reading” our work to become hunters and gatherers?), I’d also like to hear your thoughts.  I’d really love for this project to include some conversations/images/videos with other scholars (or students, for that matter), so consider this a first attempt to exhibit collective intelligence at work.

I’ve also just set up a new twitter account @acatransmedia, and will be using #transmediascholarship to document the project.  Not sure yet what function this twitter “extension” might serve, but please follow if you’re interested.

Thanks in advance for your contributions, or for passing this along to someone who might be interested!

Critical Creativity in the Classroom: A Call for Advice

15 07 2011

I’m currently in the process of translating my fandom/geek culture syllabus into a syllabus for one of Oxy’s freshman Core writing seminars this fall.  This is a pretty fun prospect, because in addition to now being on a semester system (which allows me to bring back designated weeks on vidding and wizard rock that I had to drop for the quarter system at UCSC), my new position at the CDLR is actively encouraging (nay, insisting!) that I rethink what a “critical writing assignment” looks like.

As pitched to me, these core freshman writing seminars are centrally concerned with helping students learn how to craft a scholarly argument.  Now, I get to think about all the different ways, and on all the different platforms, that “crafting” might occur.  Added bonus that the class is on fandom and participatory culture, thereby presenting a truly symbiotic pedagogical exercise.  How better to teach about the many ways in which fans craft arguments about, and speak back to, media texts than to ask my students to use some of those same forms to analyze and speak back to the issues and literature we will encounter in class?

I have typically included theory/praxis options for students for their final projects, which has led to some truly wonderful student-created vids, comic books, fanfic, and short films, but logistics, class sizes and other factors prohibited me from building these components directly into the syllabus.  Now that I will have an abundance of resources and support encouraging me to do just that, and only 16 students, it’s a whole new quidditch match, as the kids say.  (Okay, maybe not ALL the kids…)

To give you a sense of the weekly topics and readings...gee, I wonder when class meets...

For some excellent examples of the sort of course design and assignments I’m thinking about, see these excellent examples from courses taught by Julie Levin Russo and Melanie Kohnen.

Early thoughts on these assignments include:

– Autoethnographic video blogs discussing their fan identity/modes of participation

– Weekly, informal writing assignment to post to our course wordpress blog, currently being constructed

– Vid or fanfiction analysis (this would be a more conventional response paper…gotta throw a few in there)

– Some sort of visual essay (via tumblr?  flickr?  Have them create vids? Still beginning to think about this) coupled with a written analysis, most likely as a group project

And for the final project…

– Peer review of first essay drafts in google docs

– Multimodal presentations of their central argument in class

– Accompanied by a more standard term paper

I’m clearly just beginning to think about this, and so I pose question for both professors and students (or anyone else who wants to weigh in on the topic): What works?  What doesn’t?  What do we stand to gain or lose by retaining conventional academic writing assignments or moving towards digital or multimodal alternatives?  Students, which digital tools do you think would be most useful to you in crafting alternative forms of argument?  Would you prefer to submit work and get comments back by google doc or email, or is my lovely penmanship something all future students should experience on hard copies of their work?

All thoughts on this are greatly appreciated, and obviously as soon as the syllabus is locked in I’ll be posting it here.

Taking fandom out of the box

7 07 2011

For the past two years I taught a course on Fandom and Geek Culture in the Film and Digital Media department at UC Santa Cruz.  You can check out the syllabus above, but generally the class was designed to grapple with many of the tensions outlined in my dissertation, which focuses on the demographic, representational, and authorial “revenge” of the fanboy within convergence culture, and the marginalizing effect this potentially has on fangirls.  Centrally, the course is designed to offer some context for the evolving field of fan studies, and get students thinking about the politics of participation in our contemporary mediascape.  We begin the course reading Joli Jensen’s 1992 essay “Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization,” and discussing which modes of fan participation have been incorporated, and which remain stigmatized.  Throughout the quarter, I came back to this quote from Francesca Coppa, which is worth repeating here, as it eloquently summarizes many of the course concerns:

“What’s been striking to me over the course of this debate is the extent to which the gender issues reflect general problems of convergence culture–that is, the mainstreaming of fannish practice as well as the as growing respectability of ‘fandom studies’. Fandom is a subculture well on its way to becoming culture, and while that has many benefits, it also raises the risk of re-marginalizing the groups that the subculture once represented.  I worry about women becoming, yet again, a minority voice in a mixed gender fannish culture in which the makers of Chad Vader get a movie deal and the makers of the K/S vid Closer flee the internet when their vids go viral. The media–especially the genre media which has been the center of so much fannish activity–has typically courted a male demographic, despite (or perhaps because of) their female-dominated audiences. And female fans have typically made lemonade from these lemons; it’s no accident that so much ‘remix’ culture happens in the context of minority communities: women, blacks, and the disabled. But in the end, my lovingly crafted fanwork is not your marketing team’s ‘user-generated content.'”

In our final class of the term, while discussing Matt Hills’ conception of “new hegemonic fandom,” my students got into a rousing debate around which modes of fandom are more/less stigmatized today, and where certain fan practices might be placed on a subculture-culture continuum.  Below is a picture of the end result, hastily scribbled by yours truly, and a few thoughts on what this might tell us about the state of the fandom (as seen through the eyes of about 40 college students, in March 2011):

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