On August 15th, 2012, a six-wheeled remotely operated rover named Curiosity touched down on Mars. In “The Martian Diaries: What if the Curiosity rover kept a scrapbook?” authored and designed by ScienceNews, a non-profit organisation dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, the Curiosity rover’s scientific discoveries are presented in a form of multimedia journalism and fictive “first person” accounts from Curiosity. The Martian Diaries are an example of a growing genre of immersive multimedia journalism, where non-fiction facts, first-person accounts, and news are presented in multimodal formats which are engaging readers in new experiences (Silvia & Anzur, 2011).

 

The Martian Diaries are a ‘scrapbook’ of entries chronicling the Curiosity rover’s work on Mars. While the story content is itself exciting and interesting – it presents scientific material on the forefront of human exploration and discovery – the real magic here is that the story unfolds via the Curiosity rover itself, endowed with an anthropomorphic, jaunty 21st Century colloquial voice. The language used is playful and memetic, couching the scientific jargon in an accessible, interesting form. The story of Curiosity unfolds much like that of a classic adventure story: Curiosity is scared at the start of the adventure, and people worry about it back home, but nevertheless it sets off on its epic journey towards the “tall and rough” Mount Sharp in the distance, numerous adventures and missteps between itself and the goal. Chronicle entries along the way expand on these adventures: detailing new finds (evidence of past water), problems (radiation levels), potential uses for the discoveries, detecting organics, and signs that Mars might be habitable. Curiosity remediates pop culture (Allen, 2001); song lyrics and phrases from classic novels along the way, creates new language (yestersol, rather than yesterday) and even bemoans the lack of an iPhone to take a good selfie. These elements make Curiosity relatable, creating an emotional attachment and engaging the reader in a scientific story which may have otherwise been presented as a sterile, technical report.

 

Curiosity rover sets off on the big adventure

Curiosity rover sets off on the big adventure

 

The digital affordances of the medium are well leveraged. Each entry contains a transmedia mixture of multimodal features: images taken from the Curiosity, panoramas, slideshows, videos, links to the official NASA press releases, maps, diagrams, computer generated predictions, and explanatory animated gifs. These serve to illustrate and extend the scientific concepts introduced in the accompanying story. Most significantly however, the Curiosity rover shows it is a skilled and literate member of online 21st Century life by having an active Twitter profile. As Curiosity was “doing cool science” on Mars, NASA was tweeting in real time as the rover, and select tweets are embedded in the beginning of each chronicle entry. The statistics on the tweets are astounding – some have over 8000 retweets and 5000 likes, showing the extent to which interested public participated in this first-person pseudo-narrative. Readers here are positioned not just as passive consumers but active participants in the journalism, co-creating the story as it emerges (Lorenzo, Oblinger, & Dziuban, 2007; Van Dijck, 2009). The Curiosity rover replied to tweets at the time and is in fact still tweeting, you can “follow” the account to catch updates, and read the replies of others to the Curiosity, discovering a deeper range of perspective and opinion (Serafini, 2013).

 

https://twitter.com/MarsCuriosity/status/232348380431544320?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Curiosity tweets its landing, garnering nearly 65,000 retweets

 

The Martian Diaries is housed on an open-access website, so in terms of usability and accessibility all that’s required is an internet connection and a browser. No advertisements or distractions appear, which can often plague online reading (Liu, 2005). The chronicle entries consist of simple, centrally laid out elements which are easy to navigate. Upon loading a reader is greeted with a full-page image of the Curiosity rover looking at you with two quizzically mechanical eyes reminiscent of Pixar’s Wall-E; the design choice here immediately building empathy and relationship with the Curiosity character. A helpful menu floats at the top of the screen, staying in place as you scroll down from which you can select the different chronicle entries. This allows flexibility and a non-linear means of accessing the content if a reader wishes, an important feature to have available in digital environments (Liu, 2005).

 

In terms of alignment to the curriculum, The Martian Diaries could be used as an information resource if students are inquiring into explorations, technical advancement and robotics, human futures, or scientific concepts such as geology, radiation, atmosphere, molecules, chemicals, or minerals. More generally, The Martian Diaries is an example of immersive multimedia journalism, and could be explored and studied as an transmedia artifact (Lamb, 2011). Some key questions might be: how well does the integration of different multimodal elements work? What affordances does the Twitter integration create? How is the “scientific load” softened? How is reader given flexibility and choice?

 

Of course, overall, The Martian Diaries can be enjoyed for it’s own sake – as an exciting piece of multimedia journalism about discovery and exploration.

 


References

 

Allen, N. (2001). Telling our stories in new ways. Retrieved from http://williamwolff.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/allen-cc-2001-review.pdf

 

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

 

Lorenzo, G., Oblinger, D., & Dziuban, C. (2007). How choice, co-creation, and culture are changing what it means to be net savvy. Educause Quarterly, 30(1), 6.

 

Serafini, F. (2013). Reading Workshop 2.0. Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.

 

Silvia, T., & Anzur, T. (2011). Power performance: multimedia storytelling for journalism and public relations. John Wiley & Sons.

 

Van Dijck, J. (2009). Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media, culture, and society, 31(1), 41.

 

Ziming Liu, (2005) Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years. Journal of Documentation, 61(6), 700 – 712.

Never Alone, by Upper One Games in collaboration with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and E-Line Media, is a ‘side-scrolling’ digital game. It’s unique in that it was developed in partnership with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people, who seized an opportunity to deploy the medium of digital games to preserve and explore their traditional values, share stories of native Alaskan folklore, and revitalise interest in Iñupiat culture (de Matos, 2014). Upper One Games state Never Alone is part of a new genre, “World Games”. Other pundits have called the game an “interactive piece of folklore” (Starkey, 2014) and a “playable fable” (Narcisse, 2014). Overarching these labels, Never Alone, sits under the broader umbrella of electronic game narrative (Unsworth, 2006).

 

Due to the collaboration with the Iñupiat the story content of Never Alone is authentic and compelling. You play as Nuna, a young Iñupiat girl and her animal companion Fox. A blizzard has decimated their village leaving starvation and destruction in its wake, and the duo set out to find the source of the blizzard. As you control Nuna and Fox through the various scenarios, an age-old Iñupiat voice narrates the action, while a translation in English rolls across the top of the screen. In addition, as you traverse the arctic environment, players unlock “cultural insights” in the form of mini-documentaries – real life interviews and footage of different aspects of Iñupiat life and culture which expand on the themes explored in-game. The story of Never Alone is dispersed evenly throughout the narration, cultural insights, animated cutscenes, and gameplay scenarios (Unsworth, 2006).

 

Together, Nuna and Fox traverse the harsh arctic environment

 

The digital affordances of the game medium in Never Alone enhance the story’s themes. Nuna and Fox each have unique abilities. Fox can crawl under small areas, climb up walls, and jump high. Nuna can throw her bola (a many-tasseled projectile used for traditional hunting), move heavy objects, and climb ropes and ladders. Players can switch between either character depending on the type of obstacle faced. You cannot succeed by simply using one character. This relationship embodies the theme of interconnectedness which the Iñupiat so valued – the interconnectedness of the people, the land, and the creatures who inhabit it. Further gameplay elements add to the diegesis: erratic blizzard winds can knock players off icy cliffs if not reacted too at the right time and ghostly Aurora Borealis phantasms can reach down and snatch the life from you, reflecting the dangerous weather conditions Iñupiat had to be weary of on a daily basis. In addition to these gameplay elements, inky animated “scrimshaw” illustrations of traditional Iñupiat artwork act as cutscenes which advance the narrative between chapters and a soundtrack of eerie and atmospheric music adds a sense of suspense and adventure to the unfolding story. When digital affordances such as these mix with a wonderful story, it creates a synergistic experience more than the sum of its parts (Yakota & Teale, 2014), and Never Alone certainly qualifies as an example of this.

 

Between chapters, traditionally illustrated cut-scenes advance the narrative

 

In terms of usability and accessibility, Never Alone is available on a great many platforms. The game offers support for 17 different languages, is updated across these different platforms regularly, and has an online customer support portal with frequently asked questions and help ticket submission. In game, the controls are customisable – players are able to change the sensitivity and layout, and the menu contains quick access to cultural insights, previous chapters, and game settings. On the downside, the game will stretch the processors of even the newest tablets, creating heat and draining the battery considerably. In terms of gameplay, while Nuna and Fox are generally “smart” when not being actively controlled, the characters can sometimes become stuck on random objects, breaking the immersion of the story and causing frustration.

 

Never Alone presents many opportunities when considering alignment to the curriculum – the key though, of course, is making sure students activate thinking and the teacher promotes comprehension (Lamb, 2011). Digital games, perhaps more than any other medium can captivate and engage a student so they get caught up in the game elements rather than taking time to consider and reflect. Unsworth believes relating game activities to literary aspects is one way to begin unpacking a game’s narrative, it’s themes and messages, just as you would a novel (2006). Never Alone can also be used to explore concepts of values, culture, and interconnectedness; as a primary resource for learning about traditional Alaskan culture (Fuhler, 2010); and as an example of cultural preservation and new forms of oral or traditional storytelling.

 

Mini-documentaries called “Cultural Insights” extend the learning

 

Never Alone’s story and design reflects Iñupiat values and principles: interconnectedness, coexistence, community, communal stories, respect for nature and one’s elders, and binding together to achieve impossible tasks. It is a rich, unique transmedia digital game created to share, celebrate and extend traditional Iñupiat culture. It powerfully leverages the affordances of the digital game medium to disperse a literacy experience across a rich transmedia environment.

 


References

 

Fuhler, C. J. (2010). Using primary-source documents and digital storytelling as a catalyst for writing historical fiction in the fourth grade (Ch. 11). In B. Moss, & D. Lapp (Eds.), Teaching new literacies in grades 4-6: Resources for 21st-century classrooms (pp. 136-150). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

 

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

 

de Matos, X. (2014) Sharing legends with the world in Never Alone, a game inspired by Alaskan Native communities. Retrieved from https://www.engadget.com/2014/03/19/sharing-legends-with-the-world-in-never-alone-a-game-inspired-b/

 

Narcisse, E. (2014). Never Alone: The Kotaku Review. Retrieved from http://kotaku.com/never-alone-the-kotaku-review-1659789150

 

Starkey, D. (2014) Never Alone Review. Retrieved from http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-11-20-never-alone

 

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Taylor & Francis.

 

Yokota, J. & Teale, W. H. (2014). Picture books and the digital world: educators making informed choices. The Reading Teacher, 34(6).

We are living in an increasingly digital world requiring a increasingly complex matrix of digital literacy. Our media-saturated, online, mobile world has developed quickly – as must the ways people access and navigate it. Developments are rapid, iterations are constant, and traditional mediums have faced (and will face) tremendous change.

Music is a standup example: vinyl evolved to tape evolved to CD evolved to Minidisc (for a few months) evolved to 320kbps lossless FLAC. Literature, too, has set off on a similar journey and just like with music, there will be pros and cons for each iteration of the medium; people hold a multiplicity of viewpoints based on personal connection, context, and nostalgia, not just the technical specifications. There will be feelings of loss as new forms arise. There will be mourning. There will be bafflement and scorn from generations raised on the previous iteration. Developments might not be well understood or utilised, except, perhaps, by a few. And the kids, of course. Always the kids.

In many cases, students are receiving a great education… in the kinds of literacies required for the world of the teacher, rather than for this new and rapidly developing world – the here and the now. And while there are teachers out there contending with digital media and related digital literacy practises steeped in the real lives of students, I think it’s fair to say it’s not quite so widespread yet.

Why is this? Perhaps because we mostly teach how we were taught. Perhaps it’s too complex. Perhaps because the digital world moves so fast. Perhaps because it’s not assessed. Perhaps because digital media and associated reading practises are considered not the “gritty” stuff, ripe to be studied, explored, and better comprehended. Who knows.

Consider though, the complex kinds of digital literacy and reading practises people employ today in a context where the written word is but one piece of the puzzle:

– Navigating hyperlinks, click-bait, social and participative commenting, non-linear pathways
– Text-language, fleeting messages, micro-blogging
– Visual elements: images, infographics etc. comprising a growing amount of site real-estate
– The utilities around reading (snipping, copying, pasting, CTRL+F, simplifying)
– Reader choice, patience, and profiling, and how this shapes content
– Author intention when anyone can be an author. Some want to tell a ripping good story, some want to entertain, some want to vent, some are subtly political, most try to sell you things
– Interactive reading, augmented with music, haptic feedback, activities and other content

This is interesting stuff, to be explored in combination with our traditional reading education. It is ripe to be studied: to learn how to read better online, to appreciate and explore the narrative of a great digital game, to analyse a tweet, to see through the glare of everywhere-advertising. To be literate in this world – i.e., comprehend communication, see through it’s veneer, understand it’s purpose… and ultimately to be awake and aware in a world that wants you to not think too much, means you need the comprehension skills and tools in order to do so.

Students need to have the opportunity to “closely read” a wide variety of texts, for a wide range of purposes. They need to enjoy some, disagree with some, and tear apart some. This “wide variety” needs to be a vastly wide variety of mediums and messages. From traditional printed text, to digital literature, to digital games, to movies, to SnapChats, to Instagrams, to Skypes, to YouTube tutorials, to images, to advertisements, to forums, to wikis, to letters, to emails, to emojis, to body language. And this is only just scratching the surface.

Any battleground where meaning is crafted and communicated needs to be studied and explored and ripped into at school. We can’t have a legion of sheep being led into the big wide without any armour. Students need the know-how to understand the media, messages, and mediums that will be thrust upon them, and to appreciate the stories that speak to them.

Engaging with digital literature, some of the time, as a part of a reading programme and broader media education / digital literacy strategy, is a meaningful way for teachers to get going on this journey.

What I find striking about digital citizenship is the citizenship aspect. It is a very positive human trait, the willingness to engage in issues which go above and beyond self-benefit. It’s altruism in action which our digital networks have the capacity to amplify. As a result, in an increasingly connected world where borders blur and a global audience is but a tweet away, knowing how to be responsible and reliable citizens within digital environments is more vital than ever.

We are at a junction in the road where if educators do not begin to cultivate the desire and capacity to use digital tools to enhance connection, creativity, and cultural understanding, we’re doing a huge disservice to the students of today and society of the future. It’s now a teacher’s professional responsibility to engage with the new media environment of the 21st century and to design learning experiences for students which embed digital citizenship. Despite what it sometimes seems, students are not “magically empowered and fluent in the use of social media” (Rheingold, 2010). They need coaching and relevant learning programmes to assist the development of their digital citizenship understandings. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to facilitate this.

Many have explored different models of digital citizenship (such as Mark Ribble) but a key aspect that must be included is international-mindedness, where digital citizenship is enacted on a global stage through practised, embedded actions (Lindsay & Davis, 2012; Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 2015). An entry point for teachers wishing to get going on their journey to learn more about this is to dive into the world of education-based social media. Platforms such as Twitter allow teachers to connect and contribute to a worldwide think-tank of educators and develop their personal learning networks. Starting a professional blog, curating educational content, and commenting on the posts of others are meaningful ways teachers can begin participating in a global conversation and growing their own understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen. Of course though, not all rests on the shoulders of the teachers. “It takes a village”, a community approach with all relevant stakeholders working in sync, for holistic and lasting digital citizenship development (Hollandsworth, Dowdy, Donovan, 2011).

The other side of the coin looks at how schools as institutions are preparing to implement or extend a digital learning environment. This can be challenging for schools as a heady mix of parental concerns, teacher and administrator understanding, financial expenditure, and time commitment can become barriers. While these can often seem insurmountable, the power of a motivated teacher must never be underestimated. The teacher with gumption, ambitious goals, and a deep motivation (aka a Teacherprenuer) can view these issues as creative constraints to innovate upon. Teachers who take an active, purposeful, leadership role can greatly assist a school to face these obstacles.

During this course, many opportunities have arisen to develop our capacities as Teacherprenuers. Curating content and connecting in the #ETL523 Twitter stream has deepened understanding and led to many resource hunting “down the rabbit hole” experiences. The first assignment, which drew together four educators to collaboratively design an online learning module was challenging, but clarified for me what truly collaborative work requires: clear communication, understanding, doing your fair share, and being willing to compromise. Opportunities to explore the perspectives of others was evident in course forum interactions. The last assignment especially, a report in which we drilled into the issues in our own school’s digital learning environment then planned how to overcome them has helped enormously to build a “Teacherprenuer” mindset where evidence-based action can be taken immediately.

At my school, as Learning Technology Coach, it’s up to me to provide the way forward for leadership, teachers, parents, and students; to plan the planning, bring stakeholders together, discuss the issues, pilot, implement, support and evaluate. I believe this course has given me the skillset, mindset, and toolset to enable this to occur. In fact… it has already started. Due to the momentum from the last assignment and discussions with relevant stakeholders, an initial meeting has taken place with the Elementary Leadership team and we are on the road to drafting new blogging and portfolio policy documents, embedding digital citizenship learning into relevant units of inquiry for next academic year, and have already lead staff professional development on Creative Commons and professional blogging.

The board is set, the pieces are moving.

Thank you to Julie Lindsay, subject coordinator for providing a rich learning experience with Digital Citizenship in Schools. Jordan and Jacques for ongoing support, Hangouts, and comedic relief. And the other forty or so course participants for pushing thinking, answering questions, and sharing their varied perspectives.

 


References

Global Digital Citizen Foundation (2015). https://globaldigitalcitizen.org

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends. 55(4) 37-47.

Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a time. New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention and other 21st century social media literacies. Educause Review 45(5). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/attention-and-other-21st-century-social-media-literacies

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. International Society for Technology in Education.

Being a Teacherpreneur sounds like something all teachers should be striving towards:

Pedagogically knowledgeable, technologically literate, striving for global connection and collaboration, developing a strong PLN, making a dent in the world of education, a community organiser, personalising learning, and someone who stays supremely focused on the learning experiences students are having.

Great stuff, of course. Lots of stuff, from many different educational sectors.

For a deeper look you can read more about teacherpreneurialisim in these articles:

Teacherpreneurs (by Caples, Casey, Cherian, Espejo-Vadillo) and Leadership for a Global Future (by Julie Lindsay).

Lets reflect for a second on the original meaning of the word, entrepreneur. Here are some snapshots from the Wikipedia article:

  • Entrepreneurs have a “pro-risk-taking attitude”
  • They “identify opportunities, evaluate them as viable, and then decide to exploit them”
  • They show “considerable initiative”
  • They invite in “creative destruction” and “dynamic disequilibrium”
  • An entrepreneur “assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture”

Two points jump out at me from this. Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them), and they assume risk. Zeroing in on these two points, I believe, brings us to the essence of the term Teacherpreneur.

Lets drill down a bit further about how they might flow over into the world of education.

“Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them)”. This may be…

Teachers with open mindsets, who are curious, and question. Those who ask – why do we do it this way? So what, who cares? Those teachers who pounce on a teachable moment, who set up rich learning experiences from unexpected sources. Teachers who can empathise with their students, can locate what is blocking learning or comfort, and create ways to nullify these blocks. Teachers with hunches about what might work, and the gumption to try out small or big solutions. Those with an intuition, a sixth sense, highly attuned to the ebb and flow of student life.

The other point, “they take a risk that their ideas might fall flat”. This may be…

Teachers who speak up. Who are not comfortable with business as usual – who have a gentle “uneasiness” that they can and should be trying to innovate. Those who are brave enough to lead the way and try new things, sometimes against colleague, parental, and societal pressure. Those who are comfortable failing (and failing publicly), because they know they will learn something every time. Teachers who keep testing ideas, iterating, testing more, learning, getting feedback, and perfecting ideas. Those who are willing to be active, to take responsibility for enhancing the experience of “school” for their students.

Zeroing in on the essence of the term Teacherprenuer, I believe you find yourself at these points. A restless, active, and brave mindset, which you deploy in the pursuit of enhancing education.