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1st September
written by admin

“What we ought to be developing in our schools is not simply an array of literacy skills…but a spectrum of literacies that will enable students to participate in, enjoy, and find meaning in the major forms through which meaning has been constituted. We need a vision…of what our schools should seek to achieve,” – Elliot W. Eisner, Professor of Education and Art at Stanford University

New Media Literacies. Multiliteracies. 21st Century Literacies. I prefer to use the term digital literacy when discussing a vision for schools. The more I work with students around developing stories, either digital or not, the more I see a need to strengthen their story, visual and media literacies. Now, the discussion has expanded to include the social ramifications of what and how we read and write a variety of texts.

Literacy skills changing as a result of swift advances in technology may not be news to you. For the last decade, the Center for Media Literacy has championed their five questions to the deaf ears of a large number of teachers and administrators around the world. I’ve been teaching for nearly twenty years and unfortunately many people still see technical skill or tool literacy as the priority in developing students technologically for the future. The tools for creating/writing our own media have become so easy for students to access that it’s prompted the need to educate students on how to critically analyze the media they consume, but now also the media they produce. This is the “new” part of media literacy.

What are we talking about when we say New Media Literacies?

Henry Jenkins on New Media Literacies

Yes, but what is it really? This video does a great job of spelling out the specific literacies. Spend sometime checking out the resources for teachers on this site, in particular the Strategy Guides. Their Ning site is also one of the most current places on the web for NML info.

Henry Jenkins and his research group from the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT have published the paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Jenkins et al., 2006) which “identifies the three core challenges: the participation gap, the transparency problem and the ethics challenge, and shares a provisionary list of skills needed for full engagement in today’s participatory culture” (

What I like most about the work of Jenkins and company is how specifically it relates to the everyday practice of teachers. The buzz on 21st Century Skills may have lost some its din, but its still the go-to phrase when discussing educational change.

Jenkins proposes a set of new media skills:

PLAYthe capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
PERFORMANCEthe ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
SIMULATIONthe ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
APPROPRIATIONthe ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
MULTITASKINGthe ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details
DISTRIBUTED COGNITIONthe ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
JUDGMENTthe ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
TRANSMEDIA NAVIGATIONthe ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
NEGOTIATIONthe ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms
VISUALIZATION the ability to interpret and create data representations for the purposes of expressing ideas, finding patterns, and identifying trend

Convergence and the Crossroads of the Book, Movie and Electronic Game

Transmedia storytelling is a recent addition to new media discussion that shifts the emphasis to the social implications of creating and consuming media. This year, I resumed teaching middle school language arts. I’m excited about delving into the convergence of the book, movie and electronic game. As a digital storyteller/teacher, I think there’s much to be gained by helping students identify narrative elements across these and other media. I’m glad to see transmedia navigation on Jenkins’ list.


“Transmedia storytelling” is telling a story across multiple media and preferably, although it doesn’t always happen, with a degree of audience participation, interaction or collaboration.

In transmedia storytelling, engagement with each successive media heightens the audience’ understanding, enjoyment and affection for the story. To do this successfully, the embodiment of the story in each media needs to be satisfying in its own right while enjoyment from all the media should be greater than the sum of the parts.”

Inanimate Alice


“Inanimate Alice’ is easily assimilated into learning environments; its use of multimodality (images, sounds, text, interaction) enables students to see storytelling in a new, multi-sensory light. ‘Inanimate Alice’ is a new media fiction that allows students to develop multiple literacies (literary, cinematic, artistic, etc.) in combination with the highly collaborative and participatory nature of the online environment.”

While the episodes of this series do not extend beyond the Flash-based media it’s presented in, I still feel it is one of the best exemplars of the need for transmedia navigation.

Be sure to take a look at the work of Pascoe Vale Elementary School and their students’ use of Inanimate Alice.

1 Comment

  1. 02/09/2010

    This is an interesting post, and a useful summary. I’m one of the co-creators of ‘Inanimate Alice’ and I’m glad to see you discussing it here. I’ve also been involved in creating a series of digital stories for the classroom for 12-14 year olds here in the UK – ‘Lifelines’, published by Rising Stars. I lecture at DMU and there I’m part of TRG – the Transliteracy Research Group – you might find our work of interest.

    All best – Kate Pullinger

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