Students create digital transmedia story centered around New Harmony

King and George-Palilonis received a Provost Immersive Learning grant for Transmedia Indiana, a yearlong project to create a fictionalized story using real-world artifacts from the Indiana State Museum. Transmedia narratives are an emergent storytelling form that takes a single cohesive story, breaks it into pieces and then tells that story in a non-linear fashion across multiple mediums instead of the more common linear story that is told in a book or a television program. Although not a term with which most audiences are familiar, “transmedia is immersed in our culture,” King said. “We have lots of it in Hollywood.”

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The multidimensional nature of the Star Wars franchise or the cross-platform promotion of movies like the Batman series are a couple examples of transmedia at its best. But there is little evidence that similar projects exist in the higher education classroom.

For six years, King entertained the notion of creating a class in which students would work in large, multi-disciplinary groups learning the importance of group storytelling and discovering new ways to tell stories. This year, that idea became a reality, and King paired with George-Palilonis to create a transmedia storytelling course. There were several key facets to the class that lend to its unique, cutting edge contributions:

  • Students spent time researching the history of Indiana with the help of the Indiana State Museum and its satellite office in New Harmony, Ind. Students traveled to both Indianapolis and New Harmony to explore historical artifacts and conceptualize their transmedia story.
  • Students took that information and used it in two ways: 1) They created several non-fiction informational websites related to the rich history of New Harmony, Indiana and the Golden Troupe, a family of traveling performers well-known in the mid-19th Century; and 2) They conceived a fictionalized backdrop for an adventure story similar to The DaVinci Code.
  • Students worked in multi-disciplinary teams using basic interaction design principles and parallel development project management to create the inter-lacing fiction and non-fiction content.
  • The group also did primary research on groups and organizations that might be interested in “playing” the story created in the class, and using a second community partner, ExactTarget, they created a marketing outreach program.

Finally, during the course of the project King and George-Palilonis created an interactive, multimedia textbook titled, Making Transmedia, authored for the tablet-environment.

“This is by far the biggest, most daunting project I have ever taken on either with students or as a professional,” George-Palilonis said. “It’s been absolutely incredible to see what students have been able to accomplish in just two semesters. It’s impossible to put into words the magnitude of their accomplishments.”

To summarize, Transmedia narratives are an emergent storytelling form that takes a single cohesive story, breaks it up into pieces and then tells that story in a non-linear fashion across multiple mediums instead of the more common linear story that is told in a book or a television program. Transmedia Indiana has several components:

  • A 45,000-word fictional story, The Avenue of Truth, that stands alone as a single book, e.g., The DaVinci Code or National Treasure;
  • An interactive mobile publication for e-Readers (e.g. Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad), complete with embedded audio, video and text through which audiences can read — and experience — the story;
  • A series of non-fiction websites built around historical artifacts from the museum that relate to the fictional storyline;

The project culminated with a weekend-long exhibit at the Indiana State Museum that included information about New Harmony, the Golden Troupe and the Transmedia Indiana Project. The interactive novella will be published in the App Store and Marketplace in Fall 2012.

The textbook, Making Transmedia, will also be available for tablet distribution in Fall 2012. Making Transmedia will be a teaching tool for others who wish to build transmedia narratives in the educational environment.

Senior Jennifer Perov, a writer for the project, helped plan the book the students wrote during the two-semester class.

“The transmedia project is a cross-platform story,” Perov said. “There are written components, interactive components, video, audio and design. We are putting together a fictional novel with nonfiction elements that tie into the story.”

The design team was in charge of creating multiple websites for the story. As a producer for the design team, seniors Katelin Carter and Katelyn Lepper led the design team and worked with the other teams to conceptualize and develop graphic elements, nonfiction website designs and an interactive tablet-based book for the fictional novel.

“I’ve never been in a class that has all different majors working together towards a common goal,” Carter said. “We have design majors, video and audio students, journalism students and PR students. I love being able to meet and work with people outside my major. This has been such a neat experience and a great way to stretch my limits.”

The audio/visual team created several “teaser” videos that provide clues for the story, while also promoting the book. They also created location videos that provide background information on New Harmony, which is where most of the story takes place.

“This project is made up of a large group of people that focus on very specific things,” said audio/visual team member, Daniel Parish. “Some of the things at first seem like they are not going to match up, but they always do. It is really cool to watch this parallel development.’’

King said he is very excited to be working on the project and to be able to share this opportunity with his students.

“There is lots of failure along the way, but that’s learning,” King said.