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Transmedia Storytelling in the Class Room

robert | June 10, 2012  ‐  4 Comments

Transmedia Storyteller Ltd (TSL) asked Rex Hall, Project Manager, Broadcast & New Media at Doubletake Studios in Tampa, Florida USA to talk about his experience in bringing transmedia storytelling to the class room.

Background: Doubletake Studios used Conducttr to deliver “Cosmic Voyager Enterprises” – a 3 week “alternate reality game” for students aged 12-17 yrs. The case study is documented here.

TSL: How did you win the work to create the class room experience for The Florida Council on Economic Education?

Rex: The process started almost a year before we were actually asked to bid on the project.  The FCEE had been a client for nearly five years and we had worked with them producing videos for their annual Hall of Fame event and marketing videos.  They asked us to sit in on a brainstorming meeting they were putting together to come up with ideas to help educate High School students the importance of ethics in business.  The FCEE currently runs The Stock Market Challenge and Drive Time programs that helps children learn the importance of financial responsibility.  They were thinking in terms of a game but couldn’t flush out the concept.  I had been researching non-traditional storytelling techniques with transmedia storytelling being one I delved into deeply.  During my research I became acquainted with Robert Pratten and his Conducttr platform and thought it was really fascinating, but never thought I would have the opportunity to use it.  As luck would have it, I brought up the concept of creating a transmedia story to help educate the children, something they could not only participate in, but experience.  They were intrigued by the idea but needed to get funding.  Almost six months later they came back to us and said they were ready for a proposal and the rest is history.

TSL: Did your client give you guidelines for the “Storyworld”?

Rex: Fortunately, no.  We had a brainstorming meeting to discuss what they were looking for in the story but they didn’t have any specific ideas.  The main considerations for the storyworld was that it needed to be engaging to High School students and involve business ethics.  We also were looking at Florida-centric stories so students could relate easier, but that was not mandatory.  As a techno-geek myself I try to keep up on current technology stories and I had been reading about SpaceX and thought there might be something there

 TSL: How many people were involved in creating the story? 

Rex: Three. The outline of the main story was created by me.  We then sat down as a team to help fill in some of the blanks like the company and character names.  Once we had our cast of characters I wrote the TV news segments which formed the main thrust for the story timeline.  I also wrote the emails for the characters which supported the story timeline and introduced the interactive portions the students could get involved in.  Terri and Jeff also helped create Facebook and Twitter posts of the characters as well to help fill out the story.

TSL: How did you work with the teachers during production?

Rex: During production there was little teacher interaction.  As we got closer to launching the storyline it became important to communicate with the teachers how the story worked and what to expect.  Most teachers had no experience with this type of storytelling and so really needed to have a clear idea of how the story worked and how the kids could get involved.

TSL: What would be the ideal creative team to create with Conducttr?

Rex: I think in a perfect world I would want at the minimum a three person team, a Project Manager/Director, an Art Director and a Technical Director.  The PM/Director would be responsible for the entire storyworld to make sure the story unfolds, engages and that the characters stay true throughout the timeline.  The Art Director would manage the visual storytelling of the project, making sure that the videos, pictures, headshots, websites etc. were in “character.”  I see the Technical Director as the team member who stitches all the pieces together behind the scenes.  There are some amazing ways to tell a story and engage an audience through email, twitter and Facebook through Conducttr.  When we were looking to engage the students, ask them questions and wanting a response it was important to not only ask the question correctly but also script the Conducttr logic so students got an appropriate response.

TSL: How did you succeed in making the storytelling experience engaging and interactive? 

Rex: I think we succeeded in making the experience engaging and interactive by creating excitement with a story of a rocket crash in a small town and made it engaging by creating memorable characters that the students could relate to.  Once the story was under way we were able to get the kids to interact because they wanted to help and fix the problem.  I think it’s important to note that students were able to choose which role they wanted to be, CEO, COO, CMO, CFO and the General Counsel.  Each role would receive emails specific to their job which I think gave them a sense of ownership.  When the teams met it was important that they shared the information they received with the rest of their team so they would all have the same information.

TSL: What are the key criteria for an interactive story to be successful? 

Rex: I think the key for us in making our interactive story successful was to get the students involved as soon as possible, sending them emails from several different characters and asking them to make decisions or pass on information.  I think the other part of that is creating a relatively realistic storyworld that stays true to the story and characters and didn’t try to “teach” but let the kids learn through experience.

TSL: Did the students use their own personal social media accounts or did they create special ones for the learning experience? 

Rex: Students used their personal social media accounts to participate in the transmedia experience.

TSL: Are you going to continue this experience? 

Rex: Yes, we are already working on our second story for the Own Your C.O.D.E. program.  In this 2nd installment we are going to be reaching out to all students in the state of Florida.  Our first installment was limited for testing purposes.  We learned a great deal from our first project, especially the administration side of registering and tracking students.  We’re working on engaging the students more within their individual roles as well as reinforcing the ethics in business decision making aspect.

TSL: Did you have prior experience of creating transmedia stories before working with Conducttr? 

Rex: No, this was my first time working with any type of transmedia storytelling tool.  I found the interface and story creation logic pretty intuitive and where I needed help the Conducttr team was always willing to answer my questions.

TSL: How would you describe the power of audience participation?

Rex: I was really impressed with the engagement of the students in two areas: their sympathy with the characters who were effected by the rocket crash and the responsibility they took in the role they held in the company.  Many students sent messages via social media to the characters apologizing personally for the events.  Many students said it was only when they realized that it was “their” company that caused the damage that they understood the responsibility that corporations have for their employees and the people they can affect.

Rex Hall, Project Manager, Broadcast & New Media at Doubletake Studios in Tampa, Florida USA