Is School Enough?: Forthcoming PBS Documentary

If you live in the Los Angeles area, I invite you to join me for what promises to be an exciting screening and discussion on Sept. 5 of Is School Enough?,  a new documentary, produced for PBS, which deals with the concept of “connected learning” as it has been articulated by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Details are below.

If you do not live in Southern California, I would encourage you to check online here and see when and where this documentary might be airing in your area. Here’s a preview of the film.

Many of you will already know New Learners in the 21st Century, which aired a few years back.  You can check out this film online here. For my money, this is probably the best film produced on the new forms of learning that have emerged within a networked culture, one which explains why these approaches matter to educators, researchers, students, and parents, and one which moves far beyond the usual focus on “risks” and “dangers” that have dominated some other PBS documentaries on these topics. I was proud to have been included in the New Learners documentary and even more excited when the filmmaker, Stephen Brown, consulted with me about this new production. I was able to help connect him with the incredible work being done by the Harry Potter Alliance, which becomes a key segment of Is School Enough?, and I ended up being a talking head featured in this film. Indeed, I get the Aaron Sorkin-like final speech summing up the vision as a whole. 🙂 I’ve seen the film when an earlier cut was screeened earlier this year at the Digital Media and Learning conference, and I am looking forward to joining this discussion at USC.


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September 5, 2013, 7:00 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Cinematheque108, The Pearson Foundation, and PBS invite you and a guest to a special screening of

Is School Enough?

Followed by a panel discussion with Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?; Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, USC; Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET; Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles; and Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University.
7:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 5th, 2013
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108
900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Released to PBS stations on September 3, 2013.

About Is School Enough?

While policy-makers and educational experts try to determine the best “system” for delivering a world-class education to tens of millions of students across the country, many young people are finding their own ways of expressing themselves, pursuing interests, and participating in communities that are both on and offline. Largely unmediated by school and teachers, these young people, without really being aware of it, are connecting how they learn with what they care most about. Too commonly, young people are asked to solve problems in the classroom that have no relationship to the real world or relevance to their lives. Memorization and the measurement of what we know is the final basis for evaluating a students’ success; moreover, it’s the final evaluation of a teacher’s success as well. But in what ways do we ask our students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to something that’s happening in the world outside of it?

In what ways do we reward the authentic learning and work that young people do that is not validated and evaluated by our educational institutions? In this highly connected world that is powered by what we need when we need it, is school really enough?

Designed for parents and educators inside and out of the classroom, Is School Enough? – a one hour documentary – examines how young people are using everyday tools – including today’s digital ones – to explore interests, connect with others, solve problems, and change the world around them. It is a call to action that moves the discourse away from how do we fix schools to how can we support, sustain and galvanize learning by helping students solve problems in their everyday lives.

Is School Enough? is a production of tpt National Productions, in association with Mobile Digital Arts. Not rated. Running time: 60 minutes.

Visit the Official Website:

About the Guests

Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?

Stephen Brown is President and Executive Producer at Mobile Digital Arts. Mobile Digital Arts uses film and video production as a way to showcase and advocate for innovative educational practices, digital media programs, and 21st century approaches to learning. Brown produced Reborn, New Orleans Schools, a feature documentary about the school reform movement after Hurricane Katrina; A 21st Century Education, a series of twelve short films about innovation in education; and Digital Media and Learning, eleven short films profiling the work of leading researchers, educators and thinkers on the impact that digital media is having on young learners. Mobile Digital Arts’ production – Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century – aired nationally on PBS in February 2011. He is also producing an on-going series of films with the OECD about the world’s best performing educational systems. Brown is currently the General Manager of the New Learning Institute for the Pearson Foundation.

Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California

Jenkins arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the past decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture and From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. He is currently co-authoring a book on “spreadable media” with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post.

Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET

Juan Devis is a Public Media producer, whose work crosses across platforms – video, film, interactive media and gaming. His work, regardless of the medium is often produced collaboratively allowing for a greater exchange of ideas in the production of media. Devis iscurrently the Director of Program Development and Production for the largest independent television station in the United States, KCET. Devis has charted the stations’ new Arts and Culture initiative, Artbound, consisting of a television series, an online networked cultural hub and the creation programmatic partnerships with cultural institutions in Southern California. In addition, Devis has spear headed a new slate of series that are either in production or development, some of these include the Presidential Japan Prize Winner Departures, Live @ the Ford among others. For over a decade, Devis has worked with a number of non-profit organizations and media arts institutions in Los Angeles serving as producer, director, educator and board member. Some of these include: The City Project – Outpost for Contemporary Art – PBS World – LA Freewaves – OnRamp Arts – Center for Innovative Education – Los Feliz Charter SchoolFor the Arts.

Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles

Sujata Bhatt is the founder of the Incubator School, an LAUSD-Future is Now Schools, 6-12 pilot school that opened this August aiming to launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow. Inc. reimagines the traditional school day as a mix of individualized computer-based learning and deep, collaborative engagement via design thinking, real world problem-solving, and game-based learning.  The schooldraws upon Bhatt’s 12 years’ experience working as a Nationally Board Certified teacher in a Title 1 school in LAUSD as well as her background in education reform, technology, and startups. She has developed ‘big picture’ educational policy as a Teaching Policy Fellow with Teach Plus and with Our Schools, Our Voice, and Future is Now Schools. She has written on education reform in The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Education Week, Eduwonk, and The Impatient Optimist. She also serves on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop’s Games and Learning Publishing Council and is a member of the founding team of Outthink Inc., a startup that produces gamified science iPad apps.

Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University

Abby Larus is a second-year student at Duke University. She’s been involved in the Harry Potter fan community online since middleschool, when she began working with the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that encourages civic activism by relating real world problems to the issues in the Harry Potter books. Abby started her work with the HPA as a Chapter Organizer, applying the HPA’s campaigns locally in North Carolina. She later became a volunteer on the organization’s communications staff, before taking on the role of Assistant Campaign Director. Abby has since transitioned to a position outside of the HPA, where she is the Associate Director of Logistics for LeakyCon, the largest annual Harry Potter fan convention. But she hasn’t forgotten her roots – a portion of LeakyCon’s proceeds go towards the HPA every year.

About The Pearson Foundation

The Pearson Foundation is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to make a difference by promoting literacy, learning, and great teaching. The Foundation collaborates with leading businesses, nonprofits, and education experts to share good practice; foster innovation; and find workable solutions to the educational disadvantages facing young people and adults across the globe.

More information on the Pearson Foundation can be found at

About Cinematheque108

Cinematheque108 is an alternative screening series sponsored by the Critical Studies Department at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. The series offers a rare selection of events that highlight noteworthy experimental, documentary, and/or foreign films, many of which can not be seen anywhere else. Cinematheque108 is an educational forum that aims to expand understanding of alternative film and media. All screenings are free of charge and open to the pubic.

Check-In & Reservations

This screening is free of charge and open to the public. Please bring a valid ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.

All SCA screenings are OVERBOOKED to ensure seating capacity in the theater, therefore seating is not guaranteed based on RSVPs. The RSVP list will be checked in on a first-come, first-served basis until the theater is full. Once the theater has reached capacity, we will no longer be able to admit guests, regardless of RSVP status.


The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $8.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.


Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment: A New Syllabus

Last time, I shared the syllabus for a new course I am offering this fall focused on, basically, “how to be a public intellectual.” Today, I am sharing the syllabus for the other class I am teaching this term. I have taught Transmedia Entertainment three times since coming to USC, each time I have more or less had to re-imagine and redesign the class to reflect shifts in media practice and especially the expanding body of scholarship about transmedia. You can see my first and second versions of the class as I shared them through earlier blog posts. You will see that recent scholarly publications have resulted in much richer models for thinking about the economic and cultural impact of the current franchise structure, the distinctive nature of “media mix” in Japan as a point of comparison with the ways transmedia has taken shape in Hollywood, and the nature and function of world-building. Alongside this class, I am going to be featuring in my blog this fall a series of interviews with the authors of many of these new books, starting soon with an in-depth exchange with Mark J. P. Wolf, author of Building Imaginary Worlds. As always, I am taking advantage of my Los Angeles location to bring into my classroom a rich array of guest speakers who are doing some of the cutting edge experimentation around transmedia.


Transmedia Entertainment

We now live in a moment where every story, image, brand, and relationship plays itself out across the maximum number of media platforms, shaped top down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms and bottom up by decisions made in teenagers’ bedrooms. The concentrated ownership of media conglomerates increases the desirability of properties that can exploit “synergies” among different parts of the medium system and “maximize touchpoints” with different niches of audiences. The result has been a push toward franchise-building in general and transmedia entertainment in particular.


A transmedia story represents the integration of entertainment experiences across a range of media platforms. A story like Heroes or Lost might spread from television into comics, the web, alternate reality or video games, toys, and other commodities, etc., picking up new audiences as it goes and allowing the most dedicated fans to drill deeper. The fans, in turn, may translate their interests in the franchise into concordances and Wikipedia entries, fan fiction, vids, fan films, cosplay, game mods, and a range of other participatory practices that further extend the story world in new directions. Both the commercial and grassroots expansion of narrative universes contribute to a new mode of storytelling, one which is based on an encyclopedic expanse of information which gets put together differently by each individual, as well as processed collectively by social networks and online knowledge communities.


Each class session will introduce a concept central to our understanding of transmedia entertainment that we will explore through a combination of lectures, screenings, and conversations with industry insiders who are applying these concepts through their own creative practices.


In order to fully understand how transmedia entertainment works, students will be expected to immerse themselves in at least one major media franchise for the duration of the term. You should experience as many different instantiations (official and unofficial) of this franchise as you can and try to get an understanding of what each part contributes to the series as a whole.



  • Derek Johnson, Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013)
  • Andrea Phillips, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012)
  • Michael Saler, As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013)


All additional readings will be provided through the Blackboard site for the class.



For the first assignment, you are asked to write a 5-7 page autobiographical essay describing your relationship to a media franchise that you have found to be personally meaningful. You should use this essay to identify the cultural attractors that drew you to this franchise, to discuss which variants of the franchise you experienced, and to describe any cultural activators that encouraged you to more actively contribute to the fan community surrounding this franchise. Be as specific as possible in discussing moments in the transmedia story that were especially important in shaping your engagement with the property. Where possible, make explicit reference to ideas about transmedia and engagement from the readings. This assignment is partially about getting to know you as a transmedia participant and partially about getting you to experiment with the critical vocabulary we’ve introduced so far for talking about transmedia experiences. (Due September 23) (20 Percent)



Write a 5-7-page essay examining one commercially produced story (comic, website, game, mobisode, amusement park attraction, etc.) that acts as an extension of a “core” text (for instance, a television series, film, etc.). You should try to address such issues as its relationship to the story world, its strategies for expanding the narrative, its deployment of the distinctive properties of its platform, its targeted audience, and its cultural attractors/activators. The paper will be evaluated on its demonstrated grasp of core concepts from the class, its original research, and its analysis of how the artifact relates to specific trends impacting the entertainment industry. Where possible, link your analysis to the course materials, including readings, lecture notes, and speaker comments. (Due October 25) (20 Percent)




Students will be organized into teams, which—for the purpose of this exercise—will function as transmedia companies. You should select a media property (a film, television series, comic book, novel, etc.) that you feel has the potential to become a successful transmedia franchise. In most cases, you will be looking for a property that has not yet added media extensions, though you could also look at a property that you feel has been mishandled in the past. You should have identified and agreed on a property no later than Sept. 13th. By the end of the term, your team will be “pitching” this property. The pitch should include a briefing book that describes:

  1. the defining properties of the media property
  2. a description of the intended audience(s) and what we know of its potential interests
  3. a discussion of the specific plans for each media platform you are going to deploy
  4. an overall description for how you will seek to integrate the different media platforms to create a coherent world
  5. parallel examples of other properties which have deployed the strategies being described


For a potential model for what such a book might look like, see the transmedia bible template from Screen Australia, available here: Or visit: If you use either as a model, include only those segments of their bible templates that make sense for your particular property and approach. You can also get insights on what a bible format might look like from the Andrea Phillips book.


The pitch itself will be a group presentation, followed by questions from our panel of judges (who will be drawn from across the entertainment industry). The length and format of the presentation will be announced as the term progresses to reflect the number of students actually involved in the process and thus the number of participating teams. The presentation should give us a “taste” of what the property is like, as well as lay out some of the key elements that are identified in the briefing book. Each team will need to determine what the most salient features to cover in their pitches are, as well as what information they want to hold in reserve to address the judge’s questions. Each member of the team will be expected to develop expertise around a specific media platform, as well as to contribute to the overall strategies for spreading the property across media systems.


The group will select its own team leader, who will be responsible for contact with the instructor/TA and who will coordinate the presentation. The team leader will be asked to provide feedback on what each team member contributed to the effort, while team members will be asked to provide an evaluation of how the team leader performed. Team members will check in with the TA on Week Six and with Prof. Jenkins on Week Ten and Week Thirteen to review their progress on the assignment. The instructor may request short written updates throughout the term to insure that the team is moving in the right direction.


Students will pitch their ideas to the panel of judges on December 2. They should expect to receive feedback from the instructor over the following few days, and then turn in the final version of their written documentation on the exam date scheduled for the class. (40 percent)



For each class session, students will be asked to contribute a substantive question or comment via the class forum on Blackboard. Comments should reflect an understanding of the readings for that day, as well as an attempt to formulate an issue that we can explore with visiting speakers. Students will also be evaluated based on regular attendance and class participation. (20 Percent)


Week 1, Monday, August 26

Transmedia Storytelling 101

  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “Transmedial Growth and Adaptation,” Building Imaginary Worlds (London: Routledge, 2013), pp. 245-267.

Speaker: Geoffrey Long


Geoffrey Long is a media analyst, scholar, and storyteller exploring transmedia experiences, emerging entertainment platforms, and the future of entertainment. He is an alum of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, a fellow with the Futures of Entertainment community, and a co-editor of the Playful Thinking book series from the MIT Press. He previously served as Lead Narrative Producer for the Narrative Design Team at Microsoft Studios. Find more at


Week 2, Monday, September 2

No Class: Labor Day


Week 3, Monday, September 9

A Brief History of Transmedia

  • Henry Jenkins, “Transmedia: A Prehistory,” in Denise Mann (ed.), Wired TV (Work in Progress)
  • Michael Saler, “Living in the Imagination,” “Delight Without Delusion: The New Romance, Spectacular Texts, and Public Spheres,” As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 25-104.
  • J.P. Telotte, Disney TV (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), pp. 61–79.
  • Justin Wyatt, “Critical Redefinition: The Concept of High Concept,” High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994), pp. 1-22.
  • Jonathan Gray, “Learning to Use the Force: Star Wars Toys and Their Films,” Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: NYU Press, 2010), pp. 177-187.

Students will meet in their teams for the first time.


Friday, September 13

Teams should have picked media franchise


Week 4, Monday, September 16

Transmedia Engagement

  • Christy Dena, “Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games,” Convergence, February 2008, pp. 41-58.
  • Ivan Askwith, “Five Logics of Engagement,” Television 2.0: Reconceptualizing TV as an Engagement Medium, Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007, pp. 51-150.
  • Sam Ford, “True Blood Case Study” (Work in Progress)
  • Andrea Phillips, “The Four Creative Purposes for Transmedia Storytelling,” “Interactivity Creates Deeper Engagement,” “Uses and Misuses for User-Generated Content,” “Challenging the Audience to Act,” and “Make Your Audience a Character, Too,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp.  41-54, 110-126,  137-148, 149-182..
  • (Rec.) Ivan Askwith, “Deconstructing the Lost Experience,” Convergence Culture Consortium white paper,


Week 5, Monday, September 23

The Japanese Media Mix

  • Otsuka Eiji, “World and Variation: The Reproduction and Consumption of Narrative,” Mechademia 5, 2010, pp. 99-116.
  • Marc Steinberg, “Media Mixes, Media Transformations,” Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
  • Ian Condry, “Characters and Worlds as Creative Platforms,” The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).
  • Mizuko Ito, “Gender Dynamics of the Japanese Media Mix,” in Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner, and Jennifer Y. Sun (eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), pp. 97-110.

Autobiographical response due

Speaker: Aaron Koblin


Aaron Koblin is an artist and designer specializing in data and digital technologies. Aaron’s work takes real-world and community-generated data and uses it to reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship between humans and the systems they create. His work is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. His projects have been shown at international festivals including TED, Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, OFFF, and the Japan Media Arts Festival. He received the National Science Foundation’s first place award for science visualization and two of his music video collaborations have been Grammy nominated. He received his MFA in Design|Media Arts from UCLA. In 2010 Aaron was the Abramowitz Artist in Residence at MIT and he leads the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab.


Week 6, Monday, September 30

Transmedia Learning

  • Meryl Alper and Becky Herr-Stephenson, “T is for Transmedia,” Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Annenberg Innovation Lab white paper.

TA meets with franchise development teams to review progress.

Speaker: Erin Reilly


Erin Reilly is Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary, creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation with emergent technologies. Having received multiple awards, such as Cable in a Classroom’s Leaders in Learning, she is most notably known for co-creating one of the first social media citizen science programs, Zoey’s Room.  Her current projects include PLAY!, a  new approach to professional development that refers to the value of play as a guiding principle in the educational process to foster participatory learning and The Mother Road, a chance to explore collective storytelling through the development of the Evocative Places eBook series. Erin consults with private and public companies in the areas of mobile, creative strategy and transmedia projects for children.


Week 7, Monday, October 7

The Franchise System

  • Derek Johnson, “An Industrial Way of Life,” “Imagining the Franchise: Structures, Social Relations, and Cultural Work,” “From Ownership to Partnership: The Institutionalization of Franchise Relations,” Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. 1-106.
  • Sam Ford, “Glee Case Study” (Work in Progress).


Week 8, Monday, October 14

Producing Transmedia

  • Andrea Phillips, “How to Fund Production Costs,” “And Maybe Make Some Profit, Too,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp. 223-239..

Speaker: Andrea Phillips


Andrea Phillips (born 20 July 1974) is an American transmedia game designer and writer. She has been active in the genres of transmedia storytelling and alternate reality games (ARGs), in a variety of roles, since 2001. She has written for, designed, or substantially participated in the creation of Perplex City, the BAFTA-nominated Routes (a project of Channel 4), and The 2012 Experience, a marketing campaign for the film 2012. Phillips came to the genre in 2001, when she co-moderated the Cloudmakers mailing list, which served players of “The Beast”, the ARG which revolved around the release of the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Phillips in 2012 published A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling as a guide for current and aspiring modern storytellers.


Week 9, Monday, October 21

No Class: Meet with your teams


Friday, October 25

Extension Paper Due


Week 10, Monday, October 28

World Building

  • Derek Johnson, “Sharing Worlds: Difference, Deference, and the Creative Context of Franchising,” Media Franchises: Creative Licensing and Collaboration in the Creative Industries (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. 107-152..
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “World Structures and Systems of Relationships,” Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013), pp.153-197.
  • Michael Saler, “The Middle Positions of Middle Earth: J.R.R. Tolkien and Fictionalism,” As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 158-196.
  • Henry Jenkins, “The Pleasure of Pirates and What It Tells Us about World Building in Branded Entertainment”, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 13, 2007
  • If you have not already done so, please try to watch Oz, the Great and Powerful before this class session.

Prof. Jenkins check-in with teams

Speaker: Alex McDowell


Alex McDowell is one of the most innovative and influential designers working in narrative media today, with the impact of his ideas extending far beyond his background in cinema. McDowell advocates for an immersive design process that acknowledges the key role of world building in visual storytelling. Since moving to Los Angeles from London in 1986, McDowell has designed for directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Zack Snyder and Steven Spielberg. Currently McDowell is production designer for Man of Steel with director Zack Snyder, produced by Chris Nolan. He recently completed In Time, directed by Andrew Niccol. With many awards for his film design work, McDowell was named a Royal Designer by the UK’s Royal Society of Arts in 2006. McDowell, who currently serves on the AMPAS SciTech Council, recently joined the faculty of the School of Cinematic Arts, where he will teach across several of the SCA divisions focusing on the role of world-building in the cinematic process. McDowell is co-founder and creative director of 5D | The Future of Immersive Design, a global series of distributed events and an education space for an expanding community of thought leaders across narrative media.

Week 11, Monday, November 4

Continuity and Multiplicity

  • William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson, “I’m Not Fooled by That Cheap Disguise,” in Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (eds.), The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to A Superhero and His Media (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 182-213.
  • Sam Ford and Henry Jenkins, “Managing Multiplicity in Superhero Comics,” in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (eds.), Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 303-313.
  • Shawna Kidman, “Five Lessons For New Media From the History of Comics Culture,” International Journal of Learning and Media 3.4 (2012): 41-54.

Speaker: Corniela Funke


During the late 1980s and the 1990s, Corniela Funke established herself in Germany with two children’s series, namely the fantasy-oriented Gespensterjäger (Ghosthunters) and the Wilde Hühner (Wild Chicks) line of books. Funke has been called “the J. K. Rowling” of Germany. The first of her books to be translated into English was Herr der Diebe in 2002. It was subsequently released as The Thief Lord by Scholastic and made it to the number 2 spot on The New York Times Best Seller list. The fantasy novel Dragon Rider (2004) stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 78 weeks. Following the success of The Thief Lord and Dragon Rider, her next novel was Inkheart (2003), which won the 2004 BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature award.  Inkheart was the first part of a trilogy which was continued with Inkspell (2005), which won Funke her second BookSense Book of the Year Children’s Literature award (2006). The trilogy was concluded in Inkdeath (published in Germany in 2007, English version Spring 2008, American version Fall 2008). Funke has been working with Mirada to create a multimedia experience for the iPad based on her Mirrorworld book series.


Week 12, Monday, November 11

Immersion and Extractability

Time to meet with teams

Speaker: David Voss, Vice-President of Design, Mattel Toys


David Voss is Vice-President of Design at Mattel Toys in Los Angeles. He is an alum of the Fashion Institute of Technology.


Week 13, Monday, November 18


  • Jason Mittell, “All in the Game: The Wire, Serial Storytelling, and Procedural Logic,” in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin (eds.), Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 429-438.
  • Neil Perryman, “Doctor Who and the Convergence of Media: A Case Study in Transmedia Storytelling,” Convergence, February 2008, pp. 21-40.
  • Mark J. P. Wolf, “More Than a Story: Narrative Threads and Narrative Fabric,” Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (London: Routledge, 2013) pp. 198-225.
  • Sam Ford, “U.S. Soap Operas” (Work in Progress)
  • Elena Levine, “’What the Hell Does TIIC Mean?’: Online Content and the Struggle to Save Soaps,” in Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik, and C.Lee Harrington (eds.) The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2012), pp. 201-218.
  • Andrea Phillips, “Conveying Action Across Multiple Media,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp.  93-102.

Prof. Jenkins check-in with teams

Speaker: Katie Elmore Mota, Executive Producer, East Los High

Katie Elmore Mota is CEO of PRAJNA Productions: Stories with Social Relevance, a Los Angeles-based production company that is focused on creating cutting edge television/transmedia programming that is socially relevant for the Americas and beyond. PRAJNA specializes in the development and production of top-rated dramatic series that address a wide array of social and health issues. Prior to founding PRAJNA, Katie served as Vice President of Communications and Programs for Population Media Center, an international NGO
specializing in entertainment-education, for more than 6 years. At Population Media Center, Katie oversaw the design, development, and management of numerous programs using media for social change around the world. Katie was also Executive Producer for a cutting edge new series that takes place in East Los Angeles called, ‘East Los High’ that will go to air in 2013. She also produced a 70-episode novela with MTV for all of Latin America called ‘Ultimo Año,’ which will premier in the US in February 2013.

Week 14, Monday, November 25

Subjectivity And Performance

  • Henry Jenkins, “‘We Had So Many Stories to Tell’: The Heroes Comics as Transmedia Storytelling,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, Dec. 3, 2007
  • M. J. Clarke, “Tentpole TV: The Comic Book,” Transmedia Television: New Trends in Network Serial Production (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), pp.27-61.
  • Andrea Phillips, “Online, Everything is Characterization,” A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), pp. 83-92.
  • Sam Ford, “World Wrestling Entertainment: A Case Study,” (Work in Progress).

Time to work with teams


Week 15, Monday, December 2

Final Presentations

Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice

Today’s post represents my return from an extended summer hiatus with the blog, as well as the first day of classes for the new term. I wanted to share with you the syllabus for a new subject I am introducing at USC this fall, one intended to provide professional development for our graduate students. The class reflects my own vision of some of the different opportunities for public intervention within the fields of media and communications studies. I have often argued here that at a moment of profound and prolonged media change, which is impacting all aspects of our society, we have a professional obligation to lend our expertise to larger conversations that are going to impact our collective future, that we should be engaged in conversations with industry, journalists, policy makers, and the larger public, and that we should be taking advantage of the full range of affordances of networked media as vehicles for sharing our ideas beyond our own disciplinary enclaves.


I am lucky to be at a place like the USC Annenberg School where so many of my colleagues, from the Dean on down, share such a vision, and so I am drawing on many of them to talk with the students about their work, to share their experiences and insights about what it means to be a public intellectual. I am also giving students a chance to practice and refine their skills at a range of other genres of scholarly writing which go beyond the peer-reviewed journal article and the university press monograph, and to reflect on what roles such modes of writing might play in their own careers as they envision them. And finally, I want to give students a chance to explore options for their future that involve working outside of the university. Too often, we treat graduate students who do not become professors as “failures” or “losses” when the reality is that the field can not absorb the number of students we are producing and there are many other places which do need the kinds of expertise and commitments they have developed. I want to look at the paths of some people who have chosen to do scholarship within non-academic contexts, as many of my best students are starting to consider. I have been delighted by the level of cooperation from my colleagues and staff, at USC and elsewhere, I have received in terms of making this experiment a possibility, as well as the amount of early interest in the class from students.

Some of my colleagues here have expressed concern that this class is adding to the pressure  students will confront as they enter into the job market, that many of them will end up at more conservative institutions that may not value the kinds of public activities that are prized here at USC. I certainly want students to make informed choices that feel right to them, personally and professionally. There’s no question that anyone entering the field as an academic is going to be evaluated first and foremost as a scholar based on their academic writing and publishing. Publish or Perish remains the rule of the day. But, some of us are trying to make the case that a broader range of modes of writing should be valued for the purposes of promotion and tenure and we are seeing a much broader array of career trajectories than would have been common when I entered the field thirty years ago. I want my students to know what those options look like, to have some of the skills and knowledge they would need to pursue those paths if they choose them, and to understand why some of us believe that such work is essential for the field as a whole.

I hope to be sharing some more developments on this course as the semester goes along, but for today, I just want to offer this as a model (reflecting, as such a class must, our local particulars) of what such an approach to professional development might look like.

Public Intellectuals: Theory and Practice

COMM 620

Tuesdays, 6:30-9:20

This class is designed to help promote the professional development of graduate students pursuing research in the fields of media and communications. The class was inspired by three primary concerns:


  1. USC faculty engage in a broad range of public-facing professional practices which are expected and rewarded through promotion and merit raise practices, yet—for the most part—graduate students are trained with a primary focus on producing academic monographs and essays for peer-reviewed journals and without deep focus on this public-facing role.
  2. The digital era has created a much broader range of opportunities for actively engaging as intellectuals in important political and cultural conversations outside of academia, yet there are still relatively few academics who are participating in these dialogues or reacting to arguments that are shaping other realms of professional activity (policy, law, business, education, etc.)
  3. There is a growing range of different professions and industries seeking expertise in media and communication at a moment of profound technological and cultural change, yet, for the most part, graduate students are encouraged to think of these other opportunities as afterthoughts as they are being prepared almost entirely for careers as academics.


My goals in this class are to expose you to the diversity of contemporary scholarly and intellectual practices, to encourage you to look closely at outstanding exemplars of work in these arenas, to create conversations with faculty members about their professional experiences, to help students think more deeply about their intellectual profile, and to offer some core advice and practical experiences. We will be exploring a broad range of theories of media and communication across the class, but the primary focus is going to be applied and practical, as students cultivate the skills and understanding required to make meaningful interventions as public intellectuals. For this reason, the class is structured around smaller, more focused assignments than would be typical for a more research-oriented PhD Seminar.


Required Books:

  • Jason Haas and Eric Klopfer, The More We Know (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
  • Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).

All other readings will be via Blackboard.


Assignments (Description of each assignment embedded in class schedule below):

Short Personal Profile 10% (Due Sept. 3)

Blog Post 10% (Due Sept. 24)

Op-Ed Piece 10% (Due Oct. 1)

Written Interview 10% (Due Oct. 15)

Radio Interview 10% (Due Oct. 29)

Scalar Pages 20% (Due Nov. 19)

Personal Reflection 20% (Due Dec.  3)

Class Participation 10%


Tuesday, August 27


  • Course mechanics
  • The historic mission of the intellectual and how it is changing in the digital era
  • Developing your intellectual profile




Assignment: Draft a 1-2 page description of your profile as an intellectual that includes your core background, your primary and secondary intellectual interests, your current online activities, the core conversations to which you wish to contribute, and the primary networks/communities within which you participate. Finally, try your hand at writing an author’s blurb for who you want to be, circa 2020. (Due at the start of class on September 3.)


Tuesday, September 3

The Intellectual in the Public Sphere

  • Ernest Wilson on W.E.B. Du Bois and the tradition of the black public intellectual (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Henry Jenkins and Karen Steinheimer on their experiences testifying before various governmental bodies about research into youth and media violence (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Cornel West, “The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual,” in The Cornel West Reader (New York: Basic, 2000), pp. 302-315.
  • bell hooks, “Black Women Intellectuals,” in Cornel West and bell hooks, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (Boston: South End Press, 1991), pp.147-164.
  • Cornel West, “Why I Left Harvard University,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 47 (Spring 2005), pp. 64-68.
  • Ernest J. Wilson, “Communication Scholars Need to Communicate,” Inside Higher Education, July 29 2013.
  • Henry Jenkins, “Professor Jenkins Goes to Washington,” in Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Understanding Participatory Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 187-197.
  • Karen Steinheimer, “From Screen to Crime Scene: Media Violence and Real Violence,” in Connecting Social Problems and Popular Culture: Why Media Is Not the Answer (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2013), pp. 101-138.


Tuesday, September 10

The Policy White Paper

  • Mimi Ito on the drafting of white papers for the MacArthur Foundation’s Connected Learning Initiative (6:45-7:45 p.m.)
  • Michael Levine, Meryl Alper, and Becky Herr-Stephenson on the drafting and reception of “T is For Transmedia” (8:00-9:30 p.m.)


Tuesday, September 17

The Blogosphere and the Performance of Self

  • Elizabeth Losh on her project to write a graphic novel about political communication (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • The Aca-Fandom Debate: The Academic Blogosphere at Work (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Elizabeth Losh, Jonathon Alexander, Kevin Cannon, and Zander Cannon, “Spaces for Writing” and “Why Rhetoric?,” in Understanding Rhetoric (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2013), pp. 1-65.
  • Elizabeth Losh and Jonathon Alexander,  “‘A YouTube of One’s Own’: ‘Coming Out’ Videos as Rhetorical Action,” in Christopher Pullen and Margaret Cooper (eds.), LGBT Identity and Online New Media (Routledge, 2010), pp. 23-36.
  • Maria Konnikova, “Why Grad Schools Should Require Blogging,” Scientific American, April 12, 2013.
  • Jason Mittell, “On Disliking Mad Men,” Just TV, July 29, 2010,
  • Ian Bogost, “Against Aca-Fans,” Ian Bogost Blog, July 29, 2010.
  • Henry Jenkins, “On Mad Men, Aca-Fandom, and the Goals of Criticism,” Confession of an Aca-Fan, August 11, 2010.
  • Anne Kustritz, Louisa Stein, and Sam Ford, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 13-15, 2011, Part One, Part Two
  • Henry Jenkins, Erica Rand, and Karen Helleckson, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, June 20-23, 2011,
  • John Edward Campbell, C. Lee Harrington, and Catherine Tosenberger, “Aca-Fandom and Beyond,” Part One and Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan, July 28-29, 2011


Assignment: Write a blog post appropriate for sharing via Confessions of an Aca-Fan or another academic blog. The post should present some aspect of your research in a format that would be engaging to a non-specialist audience. Try to take advantage of the unique features of the web, such as the ability to embed videos or to link to other materials. (Due at the start of class on September 24.)


Tuesday, September 24

The Intellectual in the Court of Public Opinion

  • Workshop student blog posts (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Jeff Brazil on advice for translating academic insights into op-ed pieces (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • selected op-ed pieces (TBD)
  • Mary C. Francis (ed.), “In Focus: Scholarly Publishing,” Cinema Journal, Winter 2013, pp. 114-136.


Assignment: Students will write an op-ed piece about some aspect of their research targeted for a specific publication; the op-ed piece should follow basic formulas we were given in class. I am going to be working with the Annenberg news office to try to place as many of these op-eds as possible. (Due at the start of class on October 1.)


Tuesday, October 1

Translating Ideas for Media

  • Jeremy Kagan and Alex Rotaru on translating your ideas into film production (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Drew Morton on the Digital Essay as a new scholarly mode (8:00-9:30 p.m.)


Reading: Students will spend time examining the Media Education Foundation’s Website. Be sure to watch some of the trailers or clips offered for their films.

Drew Morton, Transmedia Style,
Drew Morton, Free Will in THE SHINING,



Tuesday, October 8

The Interview

  • Gordon Stables on the differences between formal debates and media crossfire programs (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Pacifica Radio’s Terrence McNally on interviewing academics (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Henry Jenkins, “Coming Up Next! Ambushed on Donahue,” in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Understanding Participatory Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 198-207.
  • Read at least three interviews from the Figure/Ground Communications Series
  • Listen to at least one episode of Aca-Media, .
  • Terrence McNally, “Q&A: Jane McGonigal,” Stories of a World that Just Might Work, January 24, 2012, podcast. (Please allow time to listen to the podcast.)

Also recommended:


Assignment: Students will complete the interview questions from the Figure/Ground Communications Series. (Due at the start of class on October 15.)

Tuesday, October 15

Scholarship and Curation

  • Joshua Kun on curation and publishing as extensions of his scholarship (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Workshop interviews (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



Joshua Kun has asked us to explore some of the following links that illustrate different dimensions of his current projects:

Assignment: Students will be interviewed by the Annenberg Radio News team about your research.


Tuesday, October 22

Students will be interviewed by members of the Annenberg Radio News Team.


Tuesday, October 29

Digital Scholarship

  • Steve Anderson on electronic publishing and Critical Digital Archives (6:30-8:30 p.m.)
  • Workshop interviews (8:30-9:30 p.m.)



  • Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Peer Review” and “Texts,” in Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), pp. 15-50, 89-120.
  • Tara Mcpherson (ed.) “In Focus: Digital Scholarship and Pedagogy,” Cinema Journal, Winter 2009, pp. 119-159.
  • Tara McPherson, “Scaling Vectors: Thoughts on the Future of Scholarly Communication,” Journal of Electronic Publishing, Fall 2010
  • Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson, “Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship,” Profession, 2011, pp. 136-151.
  • Check out Critical Commons,


Assignment: Students will write three pages in Scalar discussing a core concept from their research and using as many of the multimedia capabilities as makes sense in relation to their project. (Due at the start of class on November 19.)


Tuesday, November 5

Beyond the Academy: The Chief Culture Officer

  • Sam Ford on Chief Culture Officers (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Brian David Johnson on doing scholarship embedded within a company (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Grant McCracken, “How to Be a Self-Supporting Anthropologist,” in Riall Nolan (ed.), A Handbook of Practicing Anthropology (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), pp. 104-113.
  • Sam Ford, “Listening and Empathizing: Advocating for New Management Logics in Marketing and Corporate Communications,” in Derek Kompare, Avi Santo, and Derek Johnson (eds.), Intermediaries: Management of Culture and Cultures of Management (New York: NYU Press, 2014).
  • Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, “How to Read This Book,” in Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture (New York: New York University Press, 2013), pp. ix-xv.
  •  Brian David Johnson, “Do Digital Homes Dream of Electric Families?: Consumer Experience Architecture as a Framework for Design,” in Wolfgang Minker, Michael Weber, Hani Hagras, Victor Callagan, and Achilles D. Kameas  (eds.), Advanced Intelligent Environments (New York: Springer, 2009), pp. 27-39.
  • James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson, “A Futurist and a Cultural Historian Walks into a Bar,” “A Note from the Futurist,”  “We Want to Remember a Time When Our Lives Were Not Made of Plastic,” and “What’s Next?,” in Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology (New York: Make, 2013), pp. 1-14, 283-284, 359-376.


Assignment: Students should write a short five-page reflection sharing their current understanding of the concept of the public intellectual and discussing which models from the class they might choose to pursue in their own career. Be as specific as possible about how these ideas might apply to the intellectual interests you identified in the opening audit. (Due at the start of class on December 3.)


Tuesday, November 12

Risks and Rewards of Industry-Academia Relations

  • Eric Klopfer, Alex Chisholm, and Jason Haas on the NBC IQue Project (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Sandra de Castro Buffington on Hollywood, Health and Society as an intervention into entertainment education (8:00-9:30 p.m.)



  • Jason Haas and Eric Klopfer, The More We Know (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013).
  • Shiela T. Murphy, Heather J. Hether, Laurel J. Felt, and Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Public Diplomacy in Prime Time: Exploring Potential of Entertainment Education in International Public Diplomacy,” American Journal of Media Psychology 5(1-4), 2012, pp. 5-32.
  • Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Entertaining Health: Inspiring Writers and Producers to Create Storylines that Change Knowledge and Behavior,” Sustain, Spring-Summer 2013, pp. 16-21.
  • Charlotte Lapsansky, Janel S. Schuh, Lauren Movius, Paula D. Woodley, and Sandra de Castro Buffington, “Evaluating the ‘Baby Jack’ Storyline on The Bold and the Beautiful: Making a Case for Bone Marrow Donations,” Cases in Public Health Communication and Marketing 4, 2010, pp. 8-27.
  • Janet Okamoto, Sandra de Castro Buffington, Heather M. Cloum, Brett M. Mendenhall, Michael Toboni, and Thomas W. Valente. “The Influence of Health Knowledge in Shaping Political Priorities: Examining HIV/AIDS Knowledge and Public Opinion about Global Health and Domestic Policies,” Global Public Health 6(8), 2011, pp. 830-842.

Tuesday, November 19

Innovation and Change

  • Jonathan Taplin on the role of centers, labs, and think tanks in fostering innovation (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • (tent.) Manuel Castells on the global scholarly community





Tuesday, November 26

Theory, Arts, and Politics

  • Marsha Kinder on scholarly and artistic collaboration on the Labyrinth Project (6:30-7:45 p.m.)
  • Debating feminist porn



  • Marsha Kinder, “Designing a Database Cinema,” in Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel (eds.), Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary After Film (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 342-360.
  • Marsha Kinder will also make some of her digital projects available for access in advance of her session.
  • Editors, “The Politics of Producing Pleasure;” Constance Penley, “A Feminist Teaching Pornography?: That’s Like Scopes Teaching Evolution,” and Tristan Taormino, “Calling the Shots: Feminist Porn in Theory and Practice,” in Tristan Taormino, Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young (eds.), The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure (New York: The Feminist Press, 2013), pp. 9-22, 179-200, 255-265.
  • Carole Cadwalladr, “Porn Wars: The Debate That’s Dividing Academia,” The London Observer, June 15, 2013.


Tuesday, December 3

Final Reflections

  • The girls game movement as utopian entrepreneurship
  • Students on their personal goals growing out of the class



  • Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
  • Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, “Chess for Girls?: Feminism and Computer Games,” in Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (eds.), From Barbie to Mortal Kombat (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), pp. 2-45.