Multimedia and Transmedia Pedagogy, or How We Might Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Digital Classroom (Maybe?)

Since the beginning of the course, the discussion of integrating digital technology into the classroom and into pedagogy has been on the table. Obviously, with the advent and proliferation of digital technology—computers, smart phones, online archives, applications, etc.—this conversation has been decades in the making. However, there is still a debate over how to successfully implement these new technologies without compromising the success of students and the integrity of teaching and learning.

For me, integration of these digital tools into the classroom environment depends upon the aims of the class and the teacher or professor. Simply introducing a new technology into the curriculum because students might have an intimate familiarity with it is not beneficial unless the curriculum warrants its use. Clearly, there is a struggle with current technological use already in the form of lecture power points, effective dispersion of materials to students including texts, links, and other digitized resources, and communication and participation efforts. What’s necessary is to figure out whether more recent innovations and technologies are upgrading the current medias or presenting an even more elaborate set of challenges.

What interested most in our last class discussion on individual authors, scholars, and business leaders was the concept of “transmedia” or multimedia teaching and learning and interactive presentations as detailed and analyzed by Anne Balsamo in her book, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke University Press, 2011). The book delves into the concept of interactive and multifaceted works oriented around new forms of thinking with the growth of digital technologies in the 21st century. The basic concept stems from the notion that a different form of literacy—digital media literacy—has developed for users more familiar with these digital formats than previous generations (often designated as “digital natives”). This new form of literacy means that the way these groups think is being altered as the currents of the digital age move much more quickly than past work, culminating in a sea of information that easily deluges into an ocean of materials and information. The 21st century students will be inundated with a “superabundance” (discussed elsewhere in Malcolm McCullough’s Ambient Commons [The MIT Press, 2013]*) of data and they will use new platforms to access and parse through that data-dense ocean.

To address this new form of thinking—which some might consider a detriment to attention spans and rational thought—Balsamo draws upon experimental design projects that promote interactivity and an immersion into digital technologies head-on and firsthand. One is an interactive museum exhibit developed at Xerox PARC by a group called RED (Research in Experimental Documents) titled XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading. In the exhibit, a plethora of new technologies are presented to visitors who experience potential new ways of reading materials through hands on and sensory work. Technologies on display included The Reading Wall, a long wall that consisted of tablet screens which visitors could interact with through touch. Another were “tilty tables,” large display screens which displayed an extensive document and when physically tilted moved the information on the screen. A third was the “glyph-o-scope,” which allowed readers to decode information encoded into particular documents, allowing a new layer of information to emerge under the right lens. The exhibit was fostered by the notion that ways of reading, dispensing knowledge and information, and active participation would be greatly impacted by digital innovations, which has certainly become the case as tablets and touch screens have become ubiquitous, and new developments like Google Glass and the Kinect system are encouraging interactivity through the body.

Balsamo expands on these innovations and discusses how they can be used in the classroom. At the University of Southern California, the Interactive Media Division (IMD) develop new classrooms that are oriented around technology and active student participation. As described by Belsamo,

The physical architecture of the IMD classroom embraces the hybrid nature of digital learning activities. The physical classroom space includes fourteen screens, creating a panoramic room environment in which any one of the screens— or all of them— can be accessed by a cluster of personal computers, commercial-grade DVD players, or individual laptops. The room accommodates up to 30 participants— students, faculty, outside speakers— who sit either at a large conference table or at individual workstations arrayed around the perimeter of the room. Some set of screens is visible from every seat in the room (Balsamo 156).

The room is referred to as a “digital atelier,” and actively bombards users, students, and teachers with screens that flit from Google search page results, to presentations, to photographs, video clips, and more, continuously, all from the contributions of each member in the room. Where most can only speculate on how technology can be integrated into classrooms, this department has developed their own construct in which technology is essential to the learning process.

Obviously, there are questions and concerns that come from this full-on immersion of information, some that stem from my earlier nod to effective use and the ultimate goal. If the current problem is centered on keeping students attentive, then throwing material and media familiar to them might seem an effective pursuit, but it also might exacerbate the situation. As well, if these newly designed classrooms were to become successful, how will they be implemented across the various institutions and countries around the world when internet access still remains selective and partial to the world at large? What will teachers need to learn and even teach to students on top of their own content and positions as guides? By placing all of this technology into every student’s hand and letting them find their way, are teachers facilitating their knowledge of skills, content, or technology? Will teachers need to learn to adapt to these facilities? Embracing technologies that are more familiar to 21st century students might sound like a step in the right direction, but it might draw attention away from what’s really being taught. I’d like to explore more on how history can or cannot be adapted to these new technologies and what a successful integration of technology in the classroom can look like, be it a full digital immersion or tweaks here and there onto traditional or current methods and works.


  • Anne Balsamo, Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke University Press, 2011).
  • Malcolm McCullough, Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information (The MIT Press, 2013).

* McCullough’s book emphasizes the importance of personal awareness in the digitally-developing world at large, allowing for more personal control and autonomy through conscious speculation and study that operates beyond the digital, embracing silence for deeper engagement and reflection outside of the bombardment of technology. It’s an interesting contrast to Balsamo’s study.

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