Does transmedia storytelling provide an effective educational experience?

By: 
Karine Grande

Paris porte-à-porte is a transmedia project which aims at celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Paris ring road by presenting its story.

It combines a web documentary, an interactive map with flashcodes (symbols based on the technology of QR codes), a radio show and a collection of photos taken by drivers or the local residents.The web, the radio, the documentary and the cell phone are the mediums used to describe the ring road of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

  • The user can hear about the event according to two main entry points:
  • He can hear a radio show on the topic; He can access a link to the web documentary or the interactive map from the France Inter website or the Pavillon de L'arsenal website.

Each entry point provides the user with a different content interaction experience.

The idea of transmedia storytelling is to enrich the experience by offering complementary content on various communication platforms. Transmedia storytelling is often intended to be entertaining and immersive, but it can also have a pedagogical purpose.
Starting from the premise that this project has the mission of encouraging interested people to discover the ring road, the goal is to determine if transmedia storytelling truly enriches the acquaintance by means of diverse media and content or if it actually scatters knowledge. What do we finally learn?

We tried to understand what was the contribution of each media in the teaching process - what does each allow us to learn and how.
Here are three key points to consider.

1. We need to be guided at first

It is difficult to start with the interactive map for instance.
It seemed to be a good starting point since it offers a quick view of the data but the PDF format can deter (taking too long to download, little interactive) and we don’t know where to start. We feel a little bit lost.
Some elements seem important (as illustrated by photos) but it is not obvious why they are of key importance.
The QR codes are very quick to activate but provide only audio stories. The map is visual but the reports are not; there is a divergence of content.
The radio show would have been a better first choice to guide us towards the important elements.

2. Having media content that is interactive and immersive does not mean that it effectively helps the acquisition of knowledge.

 

The web documentary is attractive. The format of the videos is short (no more than 3 minutes) and immersive (onboard camera in a car following the discussion of a journalist and an expert while driving on the ring road).

Contextual information is displayed on the video as we go along in the discussion.
However, they tend to distract and divert attention away from the message of the expert: we don’t listen anymore. Our attention is divided while attempting to read this information.

  • The text is too long compared to the time available to read
  • Written completely in uppercase is more difficult to decode
  • The link with video is not always clear. For example, the journalist states "we come from the Porte de la Plaine" while contextual information indicates: «Original Rom, the Moldovan family settled at Porte de Brancion.»

We have the impression of missing things: Why is this information shown if it isn’t relevant? We could come back later but would in that case interrupt the video and it is a waste of time.
To learn more about the ring road, we need to make a choice between contextual information and the purpose of the expert.
The web documentary is perhaps not the right medium to integrate contextual information.  The documentary already involves a cognitive load on attention and memory, and monopolizes vision and hearing, all in less than 3 minutes. Unless the interaction is simplified, learning will be difficult due to distractions from a disjointed experience.  The interaction can be simplified for example by stopping the video occasionally or displaying contextual information outside of the video but close to it to create a link with the content.

3. A unified experience between platforms optimizes the discovery and the overall understanding of the subject

The narrative is not really connected between the different platforms: the experience stops at the border of each medium.
We can’t pause the web documentary and pick up some information on the interactive map. Example: the web documentary provides a link « Porte de Bercy » in one of these stories. When we clicked on it, it gets the history of the porte de Bercy: it would be interesting to visualize the porte de Bercy on the map.

The three medias offer some extremely rich and relevant content, each of them helping us discover a specific aspect of the ring road:

  • The documentary discusses the role this ring road had in the past, it has currently and it will play in future in the city of Paris.
  • The interactive map offers an overview of the facilities and buildings nearby the ring road: industries, stadium sport, places of recreation (community gardens, tennis courts), etc.
  • The radio show focuses on the population around that lives, uses or repairs the ring road: residents, drivers, maintenance personnel, etc.

However, unless we explore each of them, we don’t have an idea of what we will learn; there is no mention of how the content interrelates and how one should continue from one media to the next. The presentation of the project is more a promotion of the media than a promotion of the content.

Conclusion
Everything is present: movement, interactivity, a deeper knowledge…but it is not always easy to find or digest (i.e. process).
The interactive experience here takes a step towards a learning process. The user is active, he interacts, but his interactivity is not in connection with the acquisition of knowledge. He divides his experience to catch more information that he will not always be able to consolidate: the flow is interrupted.
Transmedia storytelling creates an immersive experience only if it serves the project’s goal. In this case, the objective is to have the user discover and learn more about an important element of Paris. If each media presentation were to complement one another, this purpose would be reached; the 3 mediums would have together expressed the high quality content of this project.

Image source: culturecrossmedia.com

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