By Alan Mills
Inanimate Alice’s combination of exciting visuals and compelling music had me intrigued from episode one. And I am not alone. Since its inception four years ago more than a million viewers have followed Alice’s adventures through this multi-award winning interactive online series which has been applauded as one of the most exciting and cutting-edge interactive graphic novels.
It is a dark and moody tale which begins when Alice is 8, told over 10 increasingly interactive episodes through a combination of narrative, photography, illustrations, video, music and animation. It's perfect for aiding creativity in the classroom by assisting story telling and literacy, and it's free.
The series, which was created by novelist Kate Pullinger, who also teaches De Montfort University’s online MA in creative writing, and new media and digital artist Chris Joseph, has attributes and a delivery style similar to those of the motion comic/movie genre coming to the fore of mainstream internet popularity. Requiring the viewer’s participation to complete the story, it stimulates engagement and develops a degree of immersion not experienced with linear storytelling.
The episodes follow Alice, who was born into the videogame generation, to various parts of the world as she travels with her parents. She grows up surrounded by electronic devices so it is completely normal that she first learns to read on a screen. Equally unsurprising, in her mid-20s she becomes a successful computer game designer and animator. The series, interlaced with examples of different types of casual games, which are also played by the reader and become more complex as they move through the story, acts as a useful primer for those unfamiliar with video games.
'Air of impending menace delivers an edge-of-seat drama'
Teachers around the world are clamouring for cutting-edge, innovative examples of new media to use with their students. And Inanimate Alice has been recognised and acclaimed across a variety of game, education and digital media websites and blogs, demonstrating its versatility and uniqueness. With its intriguing title and strange events, Inanimate Alice’s general air of impending menace delivers an edge-of-seat drama that has mid to upper primary and lower secondary students gripped. It delivers across wide age ranges and works well for both hard-to-engage and gifted and talented students.
The series was originally conceived as an entertainment title, a new storytelling form that would go well beyond e-books, but it fits the bill for 'Classroom 2.0' in many ways. It provides sought-after new literacy material laced with global content that stretches across the curriculum, and it is accompanied by a suite of super-simple software applications that provide students following Alice’s narrative and career path with a basic grounding in digital storytelling applications.
Using iStories, students can create their own interactive story by uploading pictures, adding words, music and sound effects. This offers them a unique opportunity to design a digital media product that also stimulates and assists literacy, particularly exciting for primary students.
With schools in the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust’s (SSAT) national networks involved in the development of the resource, Afrikaans was added to the list of languages in Episode One at the request of South African members. Meanwhile, Australian schools and universities are adopting it as part of their training programmes.
Education packs downloaded by teachers in 27 countries
The education packs included with the series are also proving popular - teachers in at least 27 countries have downloaded them. Their comments are wide ranging and include “When using Inanimate Alice we are talking to the kids in their own medium," and “I intend to use it in literacy lessons but can see developments in ICT, geography and citizenship. From what I've seen so far I am very impressed and inspired to use Inanimate Alice in my future lessons."
The packs include lesson plans based on the content of each episode. For example peer pressure and bullying feature in Episode Four and examples of transportation feature heavily in each episode, all of these generating corresponding lesson plans.
Inanimate Alice won the IBM New Media Prize at the Stuttgart Filmwinter and was a finalist in the Learning on Screen Awards 2008, organised by the British Universities Film and Video Council awards, held at York last March and was featured at the 2008 Edinburgh Interactive Festival. In addition, episodes from the series have been screened at more than 30 film and new media festivals around the world.
A key feature of the series is the ease of translation. It was selected by the European Commission as a Showcase for its Intercultural Dialogue 2008 programme, connecting youth cultures from diverse backgrounds. The series was translated into four other major European languages and Afrikaans, inspiring its adoption by teachers as a teaching tool in other tongues as well as an EFL teaching resource.
Where Inanimate Alice stands out is that, in line with the participatory nature of the online environment, it adds to, rather than simply enhances, the element of interactivity that is integral to the story - and avoids becoming a diversion from it. And it is easily assimilated into the learning environments currently being adopted by UK schools.
BradField, producer of Inanimate Alice