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TMC Inanimate Alice Case Study: Transmedia & the Future of Digital Learning

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Inanimate Alice: Transmedia & the Future of Digital Learning.
An interview with Producer Ian Harper

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TMC Inanimate Alice Case Study: Transmedia & the Future of Digital Learning

  1. 1. Transmedia & the Future of Digital Learning Inanimate Alice An interview with Producer Ian Harper
  2. 2. This digital literacy project is transforming education, connecting classrooms with an online downloadable set of resources, supporting participatory networked learning. With Inanimate Alice, kids become makers, participants in a transmedia story… Why Inanimate Alice?
  3. 3. who is Ian Harper? At the tender age of 50 and with a raw idea in his head Ian Harper attended the UK’s National Film and Television School to learn how to write for the screen.With two screenplays under his belt he has created the role of digital novel producer developing plans for a studio to complete the Inanimate Alice series while producing five further titles in a similar vein.
  4. 4. “Inanimate Alice is an interactive multimodal fiction, a born-digital novel relating the experiences of Alice and her imaginary digital friend, Brad.” “Inanimate Alice is a multimedia, interactive narrative told through the eyes of Alice, an aspiring game designer and animator. Alice uses text, sound, music, images, videos, and games in her adventures, beginning with episode 1 when Alice, age 8, learns that her dad is missing in a very remote part of northern China. As Alice grows in age and skills, the 10 episodes become increasingly interactive and game-like, with episode 6 (in the works) created in 3D Unity.”
  5. 5. 5 official episodes A growing number of ‘spin-off’ local episodes In the previous four episodes, Alice was 8, 10, 13, and 14. Each episode has advanced in technology and complexity of story and interaction. The 2014 Episode 5, Alice is now 16. As she has grown more complex, so has the technology as Episode 5 was made in Unity 2D with added 3D effects. Episode 6 is being made in full Unity 3D and will be released summer 2015. Alice will be 19 and her adventures will continue. Inanimate Alice’s extraordinary evolving transmedia story 1
  6. 6. “A teacher in the US was using the stories to teach her class of ‘hard to reach’ 17-year-olds, and they had created their own episodes. She'd uploaded them to her class blog. This was a kind of eureka moment for us all. Up 'til then, we’d thought that what we meant by interactivity was the use of games in the stories -- games that are meant to have been created by Alice herself, hence their incremental increase in sophistication). Finding these reader-created episodes showed us that interactivity can mean enabling or inspiring creativity. And this is something we have tried to support and encourage ever since. Now the new Web site has a gallery of reader-created episodes on it. So, yes, Inanimate Alice has become a "slow media" title and this has worked in our favour in a number of ways.” 2009 Interactivity changed…1Writer Kate Pullinger described how in 2009 she discovered reader-created episodes online:
  7. 7. 7 Inanimate Alice Digital Resources Create your own stories playing with each story’s unique image / sound assets
  8. 8. I.H.: The first 5 episodes have seen Alice grow from age 8 to 16. That’s half of her life and co-incidentally we are halfway through the planned series of ten episodes. It is a time to take stock of where the series is and what is happening with regard to the audience so this opening question is most poignant at this time. The audience is not so much growing older as widening. The title still attracts the elementary and early middle-school teachers who were the prime candidates for the earlier episodes but now we see interest and engagement with those who are a year or two older. With the shift to using the Unity game engine as the development platform for episode 5 we have seen much more interest in the creative tools aspect of the project. This ingredient plays towards the interests of those who are slightly older and more tech-savvy. S.O.: Inanimate Alice recently launched episode 5 and the multimedia series is widely regarded as a ground-breaker in modelling new approaches to digital learning and digital literacy. Alice is figuratively and literally growing through the series as she was child when it began and is now a teen. Are you seeing the age of your audience grow as well? 1
  9. 9. I.H.: As you know, this project has been evolving over a relatively long period. During this time we have experienced just how much more knowledgeable students have become on the topic of digital media creation. This fact is borne out by the emergence of the Maker Movement which plays an ever increasing role in education these days. In addition to those teachers in service, the title maintains a level of interest among schools of education. The long-gestating shift to digitally delivered education seems to be gaining momentum at last with substantially increasing investments in technology. New start teachers are to be heard saying “I don’t do paper.” This is music to our ears, of course, as Alice comes into her own in a fully digitized environment. cont. 1
  10. 10. Alice’s Baxi - game player & game creation tool
  11. 11. I.H.: Looking back on it, it seems an obvious conclusion that we would “illustrate” the story in the way that we have, but at the time it was a far from straightforward decision. It all started with a theatrical movie screenplay I had written, where Alice is in her mid-twenties and prepping Brad for his big debut in a world-saving game at the Tokyo Games Show. I connected with Kate Pullinger who, unlike most writers at the time, had experience of writing across platforms. She had written the book of the movie, The Piano, with director Jane Campion and was experimenting with digital fiction. It was when she introduced her collaborator, digital artist Chris Joseph, that the decision was made to tell the backstory to that movie in a series of increasingly interactive episodes. S.O.: From the first episode, Alice has been a game designer and kids get to play her game in the experience. Can you talk about why you made that decision? That she is a girl game designer stands out in today’s debates on games & gender as she then stands as a role model of being a creator and not just a player. 2
  12. 12. I.H.: The story was not conceived to address the gender issue in games development. I don’t recall it being quite such a discussion topic back then, but is it surely on agendas now as ever more digital jobs are seeking qualified candidates. The European Commission recognizes this, recently announcing that it anticipates 750,000 jobs will be unfilled over the next few years. The strong, energetic yet lonely girl who creates male digital ‘friend’ is a metaphor for our world today where seemingly everyone spends hours staring at mobile screens. The device is our friend. Brad is the manifestation of the device, the computer driven world. cont. 2
  13. 13. Alice & Brad, a digital friend with a life of his own
  14. 14. I.H.: The gamification of education discussion has been around for a while. It seems that there are increasingly loud calls for gamification these days as primarily it delivers on the need for engagement. There are many reports of successes in STEM subjects, but in my view, games in general are not renowned for their literary qualities. Delivering words in correctly formed sentences is not their primary purpose. In contrast to game mechanics, the design of Inanimate Alice is such that the narrative drives the game-like story forward. With a literary novelist on board, we have a text that is suited to the deep-reading and re-reading necessary for academic investigation. The merit of this is borne out, again and again, when we see evidence of teachers and their students analyzing every sentence of the script. S.O.: From a different pov, as you have always had games in the episodes, what is the value of games in education? 3
  15. 15. I.H.: It has been a joy to work with the team at Education Services Australia who have invited us to expand the story so that Alice can adventure in Australia and around the region. Most recently this has meant our creating interactive Language Learning Journals for Australian learners of Indonesian and Japanese languages. Inevitably, this means more storylines in new territories and the opportunity to extend the journeys in those countries at a later date. These journals have been conceived as part of Alice’s seemingly endless “Gap Year” and, as such, are infinitely extendable. S.O.: I’m particularly fascinated by the way Inanimate Alice is partnering with local education communities in order to create content that engages directly with kids in their own lives. The Australian “episode” models this as an adaptable, expansive and inclusive approach to digital learning and literacy. Do you see this kind of partnership as viable in future? With new episodes reaching out to new audiences? perhaps, bilingual content?? 4
  16. 16. I.H.: Partnership is viable in the sense that it adds value to the core content being used in the specific territory addressed and also in that territory reaching out to other parts of the world saying “come visit.” In this way the Australian adventures invite students from around the world to visit the country virtually. As I write this I strive to imagine what an “Alice in Canada” series of adventures would look like. For sure it would be in two languages and so the language toggling mechanism we have developed will be an attractive feature. 4cont.
  17. 17. I.H.: It took a while for us to realise that we are not in the raw numbers game like Facebook and Twitter. However, Alice has attracted in excess of 30,000 teachers from over 100 countries. They and their students have downloaded something like 4 million episodes. It is gratifying to note that many hundreds of university schools of education have integrated Alice into their coursework. It is not about the numbers, though, it is about the quality of the work and depth of engagement with teachers that is of primary concern. We are fortunate to have many teachers who call themselves Alice’s friend, some of whom have been on the scene since the very beginning. After all this time, and especially considering the gaps between the publication of each new episode it is wonderful to see the same folks dropping a line asking for more. Let’s hope we can keep the wellspring flowing from this time forward. S.O.: My sense from following online discussions is that you have a wide global community of teachers who are incorporating IA into their teaching. Do you know how big that community is? Do you have teachers who have been with you from the first episode? How much interaction does the educator community have? 5
  18. 18. I.H.: In terms of interaction between teachers this has been less than substantial until quite recently. Moreover, it is a little disconcerting to hear from a potentially powerful advocate to the effect that “I don’t want to share Alice, I want to keep her for myself.” It has been hard identifying the right platform for such a forum. At last, I am pleased to be able to say that we have a Teacher Group on Facebook which, after just a few weeks has almost 200 members and a pretty active dialogue to go with it. 5cont.
  19. 19. I.H.: There is an interesting parallel with Alice and Peter Jackson’s explanation of the development cycle of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. With the completion of the third Hobbit movie Peter explained that only then could the audience see the entire canon of work in the order not of production but in the story’s historical sequence. As he pointed out, it has taken about 17 years to complete the series….only now can a new generation discover the story in the way Tolkein conceived of it. S.O.: Alice is now a 16 and presumably she can continue to get older - who is your audience now in terms of age and grade level and do you see the possibility of levelling up into post-secondary education? 6
  20. 20. I.H.: Our parallel is that the whole story will only make sense when completed. And completion date, in my view, is the opening night of the theatrical movie and the audience gets to see Alice’s face for the first time on the big screen. Imagine getting to know her very well perhaps over several school years, creating your own stories about her, bringing her to experience your part of the world….and only then getting to see her face- to-face. It is not difficult to conclude what the age/grade level will be when the series is complete and the movie is in theatres. The entire work is approachable for a family audience and while the present age range of 10-14 years will remain the target zone, we are hoping that the high-end production studio graphics of the final episodes and the high-energy of the action sequences in the movie will encourage the audience to skew slightly older. 6cont.
  21. 21. I.H.: For me, the elephant in the room is the shift towards 1:1 education, where every student in the class will have a computing device….and importantly where they use it all of the time. Although computers have been available to schools for more than 30 years it is only relatively recently that they have been used for much more than administration and incidental “computer lab” use. Even today, for most people, it is still seen as an add-on. There is only relatively small scale commitment to on-all-the-time digitally delivered education. Neither the infrastructure nor the content is in place now but inexorable change is upon us. It will happen, and when it does, then the educational world will look remarkably different to the one we see today. 7S.O. What’s exciting you in the digital learning space??
  22. 22. 7 Inanimate Alice Downloadable Digital Assets Resources for teachers & students Create new stories & post online…
  23. 23. The ian harper inanimate alice interview is released under a NonCommercial ShareAlike Creative Commons license to be shared, remixed and expanded non-‐commercially, as long as you credit the TMC Resource Kit, the creator of the Case Study, Anthea Foyer and/or Dr. Siobhan O’Flynn, and license your new creations under the identical terms. Images from third parties retain original copyright.
  24. 24. TMC Resource Kit info@tmcresourcekit.com tmcresourcekit.com the ian harper inanimate alice interview was prepared by: Dr. Siobhan O’Flynn contactus Get in Touch
  25. 25. Tmcrkpartners THANKS to...

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