RLCS, Revista Latina de Comunicacion Social



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DOI, Digital Objetc Identifier 10.4185/RLCS-2019-1326en | ISSN 1138 - 5820 | RLCS, 74-2019 | Audio-visual explanation of the author |

Index h of the journal, according to Google Scholar Metrics, g


How to cite this article in bibliograhies / References

J de la Fuente Prieto, P Lacasa Díaz, R Martínez-Borda (2019): “Adolescents, social networks and transmedia universes: media literacy in participatory contexts”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 74, pp. 172 to 196.
DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2018-1326en

Adolescents, social networks and transmedia universes: media literacy in participatory contexts

Julián de la Fuente Prieto [CV] [o ] [g ] Department of Philology, Communication and Documentation. University of Alcalá, UAH, Spain julian.fuente@uah.es

Pilar Lacasa Díaz [CV] [o ] [g ] Department of Philology, Communication and Documentation. University of Alcalá, UAH, Spain p.lacasa@uah.es 

Rut Martínez-Borda [CV] [o ] [g ] Department of Philology, Communication and Documentation. University of Alcalá, UAH, Spain rut.martinez@uah.es

[EN] Introduction. It analyzes the media literacy processes of young people through communities of practice in participatory contexts and through the use of digital discourses that enable the creation of transmedia universes. Methodology. It combines qualitative data collection techniques through action research, virtual ethnography and visual methods. Results They reconstruct the activity system of an audiovisual creation workshop aimed at pre-adolescents and adolescents between 8 and 14 years of age in a citizen laboratory. Conclusion. It reflects on non-formal strategies of media education, the roles that young people adopt as users of social networks and the creation of transmedia content based on the experience of narrative worlds.

[EN] Media literacy; Participatory culture; Transmedia Storytelling; Action Research; Virtual ethnography; Activity system.

[EN] 1 Introduction 1.1 From media literacy to connected learning. 1.2 Young audiences, creators and fans 1.3 Transmedia storytelling and word-building. 2 Method 2.1 Methodological strategies 2.2 Context and participants 2.3 Analysis 3 Results 3.1 Participants and his referents. 3.2 Instruments and applications. 3.3 Rules and languages. 3.4 Community and participation. 3.5 Roles and experts. 3.6 Goals and narrative. 3.7 Creations and transmedia. 4. Conclusions 5. Bibliography.

Translation made by Krystyna Sleziak (University of Swansea, Wales))

 [ Research ] [ Funded ] 
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1. Introduction

Learning is connected to our environment and for young people this learning revolves around the media. The Internet has become an important context for learning through new digital practices and discourses. Audiovisual communication is increasingly present in this ecosystem, becoming at the same time a tool and object of literacy.

The overall aim of this study is to analyze the processes of media literacy among young people. Our gaze is focused on non-formal settings where learning occurs in a collaborative way. We therefore want to analyze both the practices and audiovisual discourses that adolescents developed through new media. Due to this, we have three specific goals, to:

  1. Identify media literacy strategies that young people deploy in collaborative contexts.

  2. Define what functions young people adopt as users of social networks, especially in virtual communities.

  3. Describe audiovisual content that young people generated from the creation of transmedia worlds.

To do this, we will begin by analyzing the theoretical framework of these issues and then perform an empirical analysis based on direct experience with adolescents in a digital creation workshop.

1.1. From media literacy to connected learning

Media literacy is defined by David Buckingham as "the knowledge, skills and competencies required to use and interpret the media" (Buckingham, 2004, p.71). This supposes, from a traditional point of view, that media literate people have the ability to read as well as to write in and from the media. But this author also points out that "media education proposes both critical understanding and active participation" (Buckingham, 2004, p.21)

Figure 1: Proposals for learning in the media


This concept has been quickly adopted by the educational community, in line with other proposals focused on the updating of school curricula such as multiliteracies (Gee, 2012) or new literacies (Jenkins, 2009). In Spain, a very relevant contribution is the project on media competence (Ferrés, 2012, Rodríguez et al., 2011) that brings together a large number of academics responsible for defining a series of indicators, on which to develop a quantitative analysis of the degree of knowledge, skills and attitudes of Spaniards to the media. In addition, we can highlight the UNESCO initiative, proposing a curriculum aimed at developing media and information literacy (Wilson, Grizzle, Tuazon, Akyempong, & Cheung, 2013) that seeks a common framework for media education in the world.

The most recent contribution to these theories about learning through the media has been the "Transliteracy" project coordinated by Carlos Scolari (2018) in which a new notion of literacy is proposed, this time putting the accent on convergence media and on the informal learning exchanges that occur, especially among the youngest:

In this context, transmedia literacy could be understood as a series of skills, practices, priorities, sensitivities, learning strategies and ways of sharing that are developed and applied in the context of new participatory cultures. (Scolari, 2018: 17)

Therefore, studies that specifically address these literacy processes among adolescents and even more outside school contexts are still necessary (Lacasa Díaz, 2018, Livingstone & Sefton-Green, 2016). This leads us to seek a methodology for media education, which is not limited to functional literacy, but which is also able to promote practices and discourses of the socio-cultural context of youth (Cortesi et al, 2015; Itō, 2010). In this sense, one of the most recent models would be connected learning (Ito et al., 2013), which implies the sum of personal interests, peer collaboration and school performance. It is a learning context that combines real and virtual environments, by creating a community of practices in which anyone can participate:

This model is based on evidence that more flexible, adaptive and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition. This concept seeks to build communities and collective capacities for learning. (Ito et al., 2013: 3)

In this, as in other models there is an underlying desire to establish an open, collaborative and meaningful learning whose axis of action is participatory culture and collective intelligence. (Carpentier, 2011, Lévy, 1997) It is a model that is born in the field of psychology as well as education and that is currently increasingly rooted in communication, especially in practices and discourses associated with new media (Burn, 2009, Lowgren & Reimer, 2013). Therefore, we will now analyze how this participative culture is influencing the audience of interactive media.

1.2. Young audiences, creators and fans

The traditional treatment of media audiences has given way to a new conception, establishing an active role for the public when it comes to appropriating and constructing the meanings of the messages present in the media. (Sullivan, 2013; Zeller, Ponte, & O'Neill, 2014) The key to understanding this process is the participation and role of adolescent audiences, not only in the reception but also in the production of messages through media. In other words, young people are not characterized by being spectators of a medium, but by living in a specific context with which they interact thanks to the media. This is stated by Richard Butch and Sonia Livingstone (2013) as follows:

Audience studies have flourished with the emergence of a new paradigm of active audiences that restored them as actors in their own lives and placed the media in the context of the microclimate of social interactions between friends of family and community, and the landscape broader cultural hegemony and resistance. (Butch and Livingstone, 2013; #243)

This new role of the audience has been identified within a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2009, Jenkins, Itō, & Boyd, 2015) through different levels of activity that take us from merely viewing a content to interacting with it, getting involved in its creation or even leading its dissemination. This nuance of considering audiences as participants in the media, allows us to introduce different models, depending on their commitment and degree of participation within the media:

Figure 2: New participation models in the media


Numerous academic studies (Duffett, 2013, Gray, Sandvoss, & Harrington, 2007, Stein, 2015) have identified fan culture as one of these models, especially representative of the new roles that audiences adopt in the media. According to Louisa Stein (2015), the fan audience is not modeled exclusively by the consumer industry, but has its own autonomy as a user of the media. Its main hallmark is the appropriation of the contents through a community that regulate both the consumption and the dissemination or production of these messages. It is in these cases that the media reverts to the context where these cultural practices of interaction between users and construction of meaning take place:

Audience research has revealed the deep-rooted symbiosis between cultural practice and the prospect of being a fan and industrial modernity in general. Instead of being a transhistorical phenomenon, fandom emerges in historical studies as a cultural practice linked to specific forms of social and economic organization. (Gray et Al., 2007: #276)

As either users, creators or simply consumers, young audiences are increasingly active both inside and outside the media. This suggests we should decide how these practices are altering our perception of the actual media, leading to a total immersion in the content. The thread of our social practices is the narrative and its dominant form of discourse is what we call Transmedia.

1.3. Transmedia storytelling and word-building

The notion of Transmedia was first proposed by Henry Jenkins at the beginning of the 21st century through his article "Transmedia Storytelling" (2003). From here, this concept has been constant in its bibliography, which has been responsible for exploring from other phenomena such as media convergence (Jenkins, 2008) as well as the extensibility of content or "spreadibility" (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013). The success of this proposal is not only justified in its generalization among the academic community, but also in its rapid adoption by the content industry.

In his more in-depth analysis of the logic of this process, Carlos Scolari opts to identify two dimensions in the transmedia phenomena (Scolari, Bertetti, & Freeman, 2014) On the one hand observing the narrative at textual level and on other the media from the social point of view. Only when both dimensions converge does the transmedia experience take place.

It is possible to identify at least two possible expansions: media expansions and narrative expansions. From its outlook, the perfect case for transmedia narration occurs when the media and the narrative expansions converge into a single narrative experience (Scolari, Bertetti y Freeman, 2014: 191)

This concept of transmedia discourse forces us to overcome the analysis of narrative as a story, to start considering the narrative as a social practice. According to Marie-Laure Ryan (2014) we cannot continue talking about story but about storyworld. This implies not only considering the traditional textual categories, but also the cultural dimensions of any narrative phenomenon. Thus, the meanings no longer depend exclusively on the content, but also on the practices associated with it.

In this way we can identify the transmedia with a discourse that combines a narrative and social experience at the same time. Narrative from the point of view of creating characters and a fictional space-time; but also social because all the people involved in the phenomenon have an immersion or interaction from the media point of view. This is what Kalogeras (2014) means when he states that both consumers and producers participate in this work of world-building:

Through social and technological space shared by the consumer and the producer, the concept of construction of transmedia world emerges: the creation of an intertwining of stories that come from a fictional universe driven by the entertainment industry. (Kalogeras, 2014: 380)

Figure 3: Creation of Transmedia Universes


The creation of worlds or "world-building" represents a symbolic activity that implies a complex degree of social organization. It is not a cognitive process based on our own perception, but a collective construction of a fictional universe. The transmedia discourse allows us to relate the different narrative worlds that we explore every day in a unified experience through the media. In practice, each of us participates in the different stories present in the media through our own discourse. 

In this sense, the industrial logic to which we referred earlier (Bernardo, 2011, Pratten, 2011) continues to segment the narrative through the media to differentiate content made by fans, derived from a primary content generated by professionals. However, this logic is not sustained from the point of view of users of a transmedia world. Maybe in the world of fiction there is still that gap between producers and users, but in other areas such as education, the transmedia discourse seems destined to definitively break down traditionally assigned roles (de la Fuente Prieto, 2014).

The transmedia discourse transforms the audience into users and consumption into participation. As a social practice associated with the creation of worlds, it allows us to create communities and share meanings. But its true revolution lies in the ability to overcome the technological context of the media, to focus on its narrative context. In our daily experience the media increasingly function as cultural objects rather than technological tools.

2. Method

As has been reviewed in the theoretical framework, our research is based on new media practices and discourses associated with their context. But we also wanted to focus the study on a population that is especially sensitive to these changes, such as children. Studies on childhood have a personality of their own in social research, and specifically in the field of media and their literacy (Boyd, 2014, Jenkins et al., 2015) There are increasingly more studies applying qualitative methodologies, especially in the field of new media (Gair & Van Luyn, 2017; Vittadini et al., 2014)

Qualitative methodology is characterized by its in-depth rather than extensive nature, it requires the interpretation of analyzed data and, above all, it is usually an iterative process in which each step can drive research reformulation. Within this approach, each project requires a specific design and the implementation of several combined methods (Berger, 2016, Maxwell, 2013). But above all, qualitative methodology is a commitment to a socio-cultural epistemology, which aims to establish an explanation rather than rules about the world we live in.

According to Meulenaere and Grove (2016), an empirical research study based on these practices should therefore include the study of the procedures by which it is carried out, the understanding of the meaning it has for the participants, as well as the identity that is establishes with the material results. Only if we take into account these factors, can we interpret the true meaning of the practices in new media.

2.1. Methodological strategies

The research design places the evidence in community contexts, in which young people develop a series of audiovisual practices through a process of participation. Following the latest research in this field (Cortesi et al., 2015, Delgado, 2015, Livingstone & Sefton-Green, 2016) we face the challenge of using qualitative methods that allow us to approach this data:

First of all we must make sure that the participants understand our research perspective and that we understand their context of activity. To do this, we proposed the use of participatory methods, such as Action Research (Brites, 2016; McNiff, 2013) that allows us to reflect on our own practice. In this regard, the workshop planning is reviewed before each session so that it is a process that suits the media culture of the participants and not vice versa. As a result, we can reproduce the practices that young people develop in the media and at the same time promote literacy processes through them. When codifying all these data we chose to primarily use research summaries.

In addition to considering our young participants as active and reflective, we must bear in mind that there are no barriers between their activity outside and within social networks. Other methods used must therefore integrate the different levels of interaction used by young people, including the different contexts in which these practices occur and especially the various roles they take on within the community. According to several authors (Boellstorff, 2012, Pink, 2012) virtual ethnography is an interesting option to use here. The advantage offered by this method is being able to combine the analysis of multiple data collected through a unique audiovisual record.

Finally, we needed to develop a method of gathering evidence about the meanings that young people build through the media. It was therefore very important to use visual methods (Margolis & Pauwels, 2011; Rose, 2016) which would enable us to analyze audiovisual representations that young people build both connotatively and denotatively. All the more so if these visual methods are participatory, since according to Gregory Stanczak (2007) they offer an alternative for young people to participate in both the generation and interpretation of their own visual data:

Figure 4: Combination of methods for data collection


In short, our research design implied the need to combine a series of methodological strategies that allow us to approach the data holistically. That is, addressing both the social, material and cultural dimensions of the practices we intended to analyze.

2.2. Context and participants

Our study object were the practices that children develop within a community which researchers form a part of. According to Susan Gair and Ariella Van Luyn (2017) this context can be achieved through the development of creative activities through new media and at the same time in physical contexts, both shared by researchers. In our case, we decided to create these communities of practice by performing digital art workshops with children in participatory contexts.

Specifically, this initiative was developed in the Intermediae space (http://intermediae.es); a city-lab that is integrated into the contemporary creation center "Matadero Madrid". The project involved organizing a series of workshops for adolescents, to develop digital creation linked to community spaces. The aim was for participants to use social networks as creative tools, while researchers examined how the environment and cooperative learning influenced both the works and the messages they generated.

The workshops were held out between the months of November 2014 and May 2015 and consisted of a total of ten sessions. Most took place one Sunday each month for two and a half hours, but in some cases a double session was scheduled on Saturday and Sunday with the same participants. Participation was invited through the Matadero Madrid programming and was open to any pre-adolescent and adolescent between eight and fourteen years of age. Adults generally did not participate in the workshop activities, but they shared the same spaces as participants and were invited to view the creations at the end of the session.

Initially, the only division introduced into the workshops was to be the creation of the large group that included all participants and researchers and the small group that was to divide participants by age. There were to be no closed age groups, but rather a separation between small, medium and older children, adapted to each session according to the development of the participants. These small groups were able to support or adapt the contents viewed in the large group and above all to develop the workshop practice with support from the researchers.

Figure 5: Poster advertising of the workshops (GiPI group)


The number of participants varied greatly in each session, ranging between 10 and 23 people. However, both the infrastructure and the research team was the same for all sessions. There were 21 tablets available so that participants could make the audiovisual creations they wanted. Sometimes they had to share them, but most of the time they used one per person. These tablets had a complete list of audiovisual creation and editing applications. They also allowed access to the Internet and social networks, through a connection by mobile phone card. Both connectivity and interactivity between applications was thus ensured.

The collection of ethnographic data was carried out through the audiovisual recording of each session. Three cameras were used to record large group situations from different angles, and were then used separately to record activities in the small groups. Each researcher also had an audio recorder to use at times when they interacted firsthand with each participant or those moments when the video camera was not recording for whatever reason. In addition, another researcher took photographs of the different situations that occurred in each session and that would serve as a resource to illustrate the data analysis. All these data were completed with the summaries written by each researcher at the end of the workshop, as well as the minutes of the group meetings which the previous organization had distributed. Finally, we have the record of the audiovisual creations made by the participants that were also published through the profile of the research group on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/gipi).

















Audio Research

18:24 (Audio GM)
38:34 (Audio GP)

28:35 (Audio GP)

1:42:47 (Audi GP)
48:04 (Audio GM)

Photos Research

191 (DSNG)

182 (DSNG)

129 (DSNG)

Video Research

2:17:12 H. (Cam GG)
 1:08:27 H. (Cam GP)
1:20:49 H. (Cam GM)

2:12:12 (Cam GG1)
1:23:01 (Cam GP)
49:25 (Cam GM)

2:22:25 (Cam GG)
1:16:27 (Cam GP)
1:15:47 (Cam GM)

Table 1: Analyzed data (Group GIPI)

For the analysis we focused on three sessions which took place from January to March 2015. The link between them is that in all of them video was used as a creative tool through different applications that in some cases also incorporated social networks. Through the proposed methodology, the sessions of 18/1, 08/2 and 14/3 are examined diachronically through action research, ethnography and content analysis.

2.3. Analysis

To perform analysis, we need to understand all the processes and people involved in the workshop as a whole. To interlink all these elements, we would turn to the theory of expanded learning (Engeström, 2001; Gutiérrez, Engeström, & Sannino, 2016) that allows us to develop an activity model through which we can explain how participants engage in a community of practice to generate meaning collaboratively in the context of the workshop:

A system of collective activity, mediated by artifacts and oriented to objects, is taken as the main unit of analysis. Individual and group actions aimed at an objective, as well as automatic operations, are relatively independent but subordinate units of analysis, which are finally understood only when they are interpreted in the context of complete activity systems. (Egeström, 2001: 137)

This Activity System (Daniels, Edwards, Engeström, Gallagher, & Ludvigsen, 2013, Engeström, Miettinen, & Punamäki, 1999) has been adopted by numerous researchers to analyze various contexts, especially educational ones. However, it does not refer only to formal learning experiences, but to all those practices involving joint innovation development within a community. This is how Engeström and Sannino (2010) represent this model:

Figure 6: Activity System according to Egeström and Sannino (2010)


To understand this activity system, we must begin by locating the participants as subjects on one side of the model. On the other side are their creation objects in the upper vertex measured by the instruments considered as tools and signs used. To this system a social and cultural context must be added, identified with the community at the base of the pyramid. This community is characterized by division of labor between experts and novices, as well as rules that constitute the use of certain means and discourses associated with these practices. The ultimate goal, represented in outcome involves identifying both a sense of the personal as well as the collective meaning of these practices:

By using this model, we can establish several previous categories (participants, instruments, rules, community, roles, goals and creations) from which we can begin to codify the evidence that the collected data provide us with. An added complication is that these are sources of a different textual, visual and auditory nature: The written documents were the research journals, as well as the summaries of the group meetings. Visual information was based on photographs taken during the workshops, whilst the audiovisual record started from the recordings of the dialogues with the participants.

Figure 7: The analysis tool was Nvivo 10.2


For this particular project, we decided to use the NVivo 10.2 software that allowed us to work simultaneously with text, photographs or video. This allowed us to generate nodes directly from the images or audio, without creating intermediate descriptions or memos. We only transcribed the dialogues that we considered most representative in terms of their use in the research results. This technique allowed us to process large amounts of interactions within the workshop (over 15 hours) and specially to maintain the context of each of these events analyzed. Thus, we were able to triangulate the extracted data in order to interpret the results in a narrative and conceptual way (Lacasa, Martinez-Borda, & Mendez, 2013)

Again, we stress that the approaches to data and analysis models intertwine holistically in our interpretation. This is so because our goal is not so much to obtain structural patterns of the analyzed practices as to explain the keys that generate them and enable discourse reproduction. Literacy processes and participation are at the base of this methodology that requires starting from the precise to identify general models.

3. Results

The results of this research project carried out in Matadero Madrid by the Images, Words and Ideas Group are outlined below. It was a media literacy experience aimed at children between 8 and 14 years of age through digital creation workshops. Following the model of the activity system, we will look at the participant references, the instruments of creation, the rules of languages, the participation in community, the roles derived from learning, the shared goals and finally, the video creations. In this way we hope to fully reconstruct the practices collaboratively developed in the workshop.

3.1. Participants and their references

The setting of any practice requires dedicating a moment at the beginning of the workshop to contextualize the children in their usual media activity. To get to know the participants, there is nothing better than to ask them about their use of the Internet and in particular of social networks. Although many of them recognize that they do not surf freely on the Internet due to their age, others are users of Instagram. It usually coincides that those who are more active in these social networks are also recognized fans of music groups or celebrities; mixing popular culture with alternative or emerging activities.

Summary Matadero S., Ref#1, 08/02/2015
C. She is the expert of this session. She explains what she uses instagram for. Mainly to follow her group, one direction. We ask the children if they are fans of someone and they begin to mention “youtubers” like “the rubius”.

It is certainly surprising that their media references are celebrities on social networks rather than on traditional media, despite the fact that the Internet access participants have is more restricted than access to radio or television. The primary evidence for this is that the influence of the Internet as a channel is greater than that of any other communication medium. In fact when asked about it, they do not hesitate to recognize content creators in social networks as a paid profession:

transcription GG/00 01:23:21-01:24:02 (15/03/2015)
I: what do the great creators do in social networks?
q: earn money
p': upload videos continuously.
i: very good idea. They work a lot, they upload a video from time to time. What else?
i': upload cool videos
i: so they can’t just upload any video. You have to upload a lot of videos but taking care with what you upload.

In this transcript it is clear that for participants not all social network users are equal. They describe a specific profile of creators called “youtubers” who they follow through different social networks in addition to YouTube. Some of them even identify themselves as one of these “youtubers” because they also create original content for social networks. They specifically refer to the gamers who record the video game matches and then publish them:

Summary Matadero S, Ref# 3, 18/01/2015
One of the children of the workshop discovers that he is the creator of contents on YouTube because he makes videos on video games. He records himself playing and then publishes the videos. It is obvious that their approach to video is not detached, in one way or another they are content creators. The key of the workshop is therefore to make them become good content creators. The goal for that will be to make videos and publish them on social networks.

Despite being active users of social networks, most participants realize that they still have much to learn in content creation. In fact, many express their interest in making better videos to get more followers on social networks. This interest is fully in keeping with the objectives of the workshop and allows us to connect learning with participant experience.

Figure 8: The participants and their references (Group GIPI, 18/01/2015)


3.2. Instruments and applications

The next step in the workshops is to give the tablets to the participants so that they can freely explore how they operate. Participants’ previous experience was usually limited to taking photos or videos with phones or home computers belonging to their parents. This meant that most participants had restricted full mastery of these tools and the content they could create through them. Normally it is the parents who manage their creations within the domestic sphere, as the following transcript shows:

Transcription GP/02 00:01:16-00:02:47 (15/03/2015)
q: have you ever made videos?
all: yes
i: what do you use to make the videos?
p: my mother's mobile and my father's mobile
i: and then what do you do with the photos?
p': i save them on the mobile':
i send them to whatsapp
i: that's a social network

Many participants are therefore unaware of the existence of social networks and their use in creating and sharing content. One of the first tasks carried out in each workshop was therefore to give a thorough explanation of how to manage the main video tools offered by the tablets.

Figure 9: Discovering applications and social networks (Group GIPI 08/02/2015)


This was carried out in a practical way, reproducing both the interface and the commands on a screen that the participants would later use. The researchers focused on two apps: Vine and Instagram. Both stand out above all for their differences in duration and playback movies:

Summary Matadero S. Ref# 2, 18/01/2015
We continued talking and trying to make them think about the differences between the apps. For example, it is not the same thing taking a photo with a mobile as taking it with a camera. THEREFORE, the possibilities of each application are also different. with Vine, the most important thing to highlight is the loop, the sensation of continuity. With instagram we have a beginning and an end, and it lasts longer, fifteen seconds.

The most important thing is that these two applications are also social networks and therefore the possibilities of creating contents are predefined to a certain video format. This makes it easier for participants to use, but also restricts their creative freedom in terms of the duration or editing of the video. That is why the researchers did not hesitate to propose using another different application that offered further possibilities, but which above all did not subscribe to a specific social network:

Summary Matadero M.R., Ref#1, 18/01/2015
We talk about imovie and the questions revolve around whether they know this application and what it is for. The difference with vine and Instagram is that these applications serve to do things directly but we are not allowed to edit. The key to imovie is that it allows us to improve videos.

A literacy process is involved in the participant’s use of all these applications and this leads them to set their objectives on the social network, to then complete the learning process on the editing tool. The main insight this process offers us is that it is necessary for each application to differentiate between its dimension as a tool for creation and as a social network, if the application includes this.

3.3. Rules and languages

Promoting a transmedia literacy process implies the use of different media with their corresponding rules. Similarly, the use of different audiovisual languages may pose a theoretical controversy for the researchers during the preparation meetings of each session. The first question to ask is how far the social network influences the use of language and secondly whether it does so from the standpoint of technology or social impact:

Summary Matadero S., Ref#2, 18/01/2015
Sometimes i have doubts as to whether the social network becomes a simple content container, if it is really the medium, or the medium is the image and video since they are what you learn to manage. one shouldn’t forget that they are learning to handle it from the application and this therefore always leads to the idea of social network and the possibilities offered, but only on a technical level, not socially.

Having implemented the previous workshops exclusively through the Instagram social network it was necessary to explore other tools for content creation. Perhaps for that reason, we began to dissociate the creation applications from the social networks in the tablets. The purpose of this was so that participants could become aware of separating the processes of creating, editing and performing interaction.

Figure 10: Video recording (Group GIPI, 18/01/2015)


For example, it was suggested that participants create from a language that was not specific to the social networks they use, such as sound. One of the tasks proposed during the second session was to modify the ambient sound of a video through different sound effects. During the third session participants were even given the freedom to use photography and video indistinctively, with the result being an audiovisual content that could be published through a social network.

Summary Matadero M., Ref#1, 08/02/2015
the possibility of working with videos and photos in the same workshop was raised. We had not raised this issue as of yet but i think it could be successful and a possibility that we should leave open. beyond this, i also think we could play with it and try to create a message in the social networks with different languages such as photo and video.

Promotion of transmedia literacy was therefore fostered by exploring different languages and rules within each social network. In fact, great efforts were made to convey the uniqueness of each language, particularly in these sessions through video. However, evidence proves that audiovisual creation can be achieved through different resources and applications.

3.4. Community and participation

Rather than creating their own community in the workshop, the goal was for young people to integrate into existing digital communities on the internet. Participation in the digital society was one of the most powerful objectives we were able to propose in the workshop. Getting participants to have full control and the ability to use social networks for their own ends. That is why we greatly insisted, through dialogue and reflection, for them to tell us their concerns. Most researchers agree that this is one of the first steps in driving their experience to become a significant activity for them and not merely a task to be completed:

Summary Matadero S., Ref#1, 18/01/2015
We gathered together in the small group, this was our initial approach. everyone sat in a circle and we tried to talk about the things that interested them regarding the theme that had just been suggested in the large group. Issues arose such as: the people in the workshop; art; the objectives; the decoration; what we do in the workshop.

As we can see, their references usually conect with elements which are close, and immediate to their experience in the workshop. The important thing in any case is that they feel that they can contribute something within their present context. During the large group session there was a lot of emphasis on this, so that it did not become a mechanical task and they were able to rationalize why they participated in social networks. This is shown in this transcript in which the researcher is interested in their motivations:

Transcription GG/00 00:08:11-00:08:48 (18/01/2015)
I: when i upload a video onto the internet i want to tell people something. Why do you upload videos?
e: to tell people something, to express myself.
q: to show people what i do.

The goal of participation was thus able to be a conscious decision but also freely chosen. Each participant decides whether to use the social network in a family, school or use-open environment. In fact, we cannot think of better evidence about the acquisition of this goal than the decision made by one of the participants to keep their account on social networks private. Regardless of the age limitations implied by the use of these networks, becoming aware of whether or not you want to use them publicly demonstrates that participants are fully enabled to interact in virtual environments:

Summary Matadero GM, Ref#1, 15/03/2015
In the end, one child commented that he would prefer to have a private account. We talked about the possibility of having more than one account. Here it becomes obvious that maybe workshops with age separation would be better. i believe the younger participants are unable to understand questions like these and they are key.

The evidence we can draw is that full participation in social networks depends not only on the ability to create content or communicate through them, but above all on the conscious use of what it means to interact with other people. When participants liken the activities performed in networks to their relations in their physical environment, then this is when this full participation occurs.

Figure 11: The ultimate goal is participation in the digital society (Group GIPI, 18/01/2015)


3.5. Roles and experts

The only roles referred to at the beginning of the workshops were those of the researchers and the participants. However, one of the great innovations introduced in these sessions was the figure of the expert. This was the role played by participants who had already had previous experience in the workshop and helped both researchers and other participants to develop it. The proposal was suggested at a meeting of the research group and is related to the creation of a community of practice both within and outside the social network:

Meeting Group GIPI, 1/12/2014
The idea of expert i find very interesting. I would address it at two levels: between equals and with an expert as model and in two scenarios, presential in the workshop and virtual, through communities of photographers on instagram.

Experts really are the best evidence of the success of this media literacy experience. However, it is significant that they did not acquire this role by practice, but had it appointed to them when the workshop was organized. The evidence here is that it is essential to establish a division of labor and tasks among those attending the workshop. Only when each participant accepts the role of his or her own experience can learning activity become fluid.

Summary Matadero M., Ref# 2, 18/01/2015
The figure of one of the experts was important in leading the workshop. he knew more or less what were after just because he had previously attended other workshops. when p. Asked the children, he had very good answers that helped the others to really understand what was expected of them.

The division into novice, expert and researcher fitted perfectly into the workshop. While the researcher encourages the creation of common goals, the expert can help with more technical issues and the novice generates ideas to meet the objectives. The final result of these interactions is a system of activity in which several roles are intermingled, as well as situations of small and large groups in which the participants interact in different ways. In this way collaborative learning is encouraged and the distribution of activities within the workshop is particularly improved.

Figure 12: The expert helps another participant (Group GIPI, 18/01/2015)


3.6. Goals and narrative

According to the activity system, the achievement of goals is what gives meaning and generates sense to the objects that the participants create in the workshop. One of the joint goals in these sessions is the narrative or the ability to tell stories. Perhaps it is the most complex aim since it not only implies mastering the tools and knowing how to use the audiovisual language, but also building a story with the available elements. Similarly, to artistic creation, the first step proposed by the researchers was to explore the immediate environment and try to establish a narrative based in it:

Summary Matadero S., Ref#2, 18/01/2015
We'll try to deal with the idea of telling other people what they have liked the most about the "matadero" since they arrived there. The goal here is that they focus on observing the spaces and think what can be told from them or they think about the workshop and its elements.

This task led to working on the domination of some of the key elements such as space, time and characters. The next task was to establish a staging and an action or events to narrate. Our first hurdle appeared here, because the first impulse is to opt for preset stories. Such is the case of iMovie, through which templates suggest story models that each user simply records in real image until completing a film trailer. Researchers were adamant that this practice model should be avoided:

Transcription GP/04 01:27:45-01:27:47 (15/03/2015)
I: what are you editing?
Q: we are going to make a trailer
I: look, we do not want you to make a trailer, because the trailer conditions everything. 

Figure 13: Avoiding the use of narration templates (08/02/2015)


Creating a story from scratch is a complex task which is why we choose to return to work in small groups, encouraging interaction among participants, experts and researchers. Working in pairs requires participants to express and trade their ideas. This dialogue leads to the ability to narrate in images, subsequently recording the actions and helping each other in editing to introduce titles or effects. The final result is small fictional scenes that manage to tell a short story with meaning:

Summary Matadero GM, Ref#3, 15/03/2015
The other pairs are a little confused, at the end the other three pairs make videos with fiction situations; one simulates an electrocution; another simulates a funny situation, j. Helps the latter with the recording, because they want to do something which is a little difficult technically speaking.

It is very difficult to learn to narrate in a single workshop, but you can start creating content around a fictional story. The ability to generate a staging through a space, time and specific characters shows that participants are able to narrate beyond the limits of the representation of their immediate environment. Almost like a game, they are opening the doors to creating stories beyond their everyday reality.

3.7. Creations and transmedia

The result of the workshop were the creations made by the participants, through the instruments and with the support of the community practices. Thanks to the analysis of all these elements we can interpret these videos beyond their formal aspect or denotative content. In fact, our intention was to understand them as transmedia universes, built from the creation of fictional worlds. The joint learning about languages shows that participants are able to construct a narrative without the context or objects of the environment conditioning the meanings they can come up with. Indeed, we found several examples of fictional stories built during the workshop, based solely on the imagination of the participants.

Figure 14: Fiction scene (M2015031_iPad12_0575)


There are several ways to create a transmedia universe. Participants often start from their intuition, but mostly from well-known references. Staging a fictional situation was one of the most commonly used formulas in the workshop. For example, in figure 14, a video made by two eleven-year-old children is played in which they simulate how one of them puts his fingers in a socket and receives an electric shock. The tone used in the audiovisual is comical, since the actions are exaggerated and funny music is used. Electricity even appears as a character in the final shot, where an intense light is matched with an audio of childish laughter. In addition to knowing how to perform the scene, participants were able to modify the message through editing, using elements which fitted in with world building.

Figure 15: Sound Fiction (M20150315_iPad10_0608)


In Figure No. 15 we see another example in which, thanks to sound, a different story is constructed from the recorded images. In this case, there are two shots recorded at different moments of the workshop, in which a young man is shown looking to the side and then a girl running in the same direction. On the image of the young man, a deep sound is superimposed and on the girl a sharp cry. Neither of the two participants was acting when they were recorded, but the two girls of thirteen and fourteen who made the video took advantage of these images at random to mount this sound fiction. What is surprising is the use of editing in the purest constructivist style to generate a transmedia narrative universe.

Figure 16: Genre fiction (M20150208_iPad11_0493)


The last sample of world-building is found in the video reproduced by Figure No. 16. A single eleven-year-old child records, add sounds and interprets this sequence without editing or cutting. In a dark room he begins to shake the camera in the initial shots, while referring to the presence of a monster. The image goes black while guttural sounds are heard and occasionally the face of the child who plays the monster approaching the camera. Suddenly, the sound is interrupted and the child's normal voice is heard again, wondering what is happening to the camera. It is a clear genre narrative, both in the content represented (the presence of the monster) and in the aesthetic (darkness, errant camera). The video is every bit as good as any commercial horror movie. This is genuine evidence of the ability to use a transmedia universe in which this participant demonstrates mastery of both the language and audiovisual narrative.

4. Conclusions

The research findings resulting from the goals specified at the beginning are listed below. Once the practices of the young people in the workshop had been reconstructed, through the activity system model, we were in a position to explain how media literacy processes take place in non-formal collaborative contexts of digital creation.
From the point of view of learning strategies, we identified three principles based on interaction, cooperation and participation:

  • The generation of collaborative learning scenarios based on interaction among young people is one of the fundamental elements of media literacy. Sharing tools such as tablets or working in small groups have proven to be useful in fostering creativity.

  • The interlinking of experts and novices proved to be particularly fruitful, especially when connecting the more technical issues with the socio-cultural context of this media literacy. Its mediating role was also particularly relevant for the research team itself.

  • The achievement of common goals is crucial to activate meaningful learning. Without these goals, it is impossible to generate a sense of media participation and the value of a shared culture. These are the goals which generate the meaning of practices in the media.

Regarding the functions performed by young people through social networks we have defined three characteristics that correspond to creation, dissemination and privacy:

  • Most of the participants use social networks as a means of creating and publishing content. The virtual community dimension remains in the background of consciousness.

  • Social network references encourage young people to disseminate their content for re-dissemination and mentions. Often there is cooperation in the distribution of these contents, without any clear community awareness.

  • In many cases, social network usage by children is private and focused on their immediate environment. Their idea of audience is thus limited to their family or closest friends.

The contents that young people create are articulated through transmedia universes that we can describe from the medium, space and narrative used:

  • The final meaning of the created object is not the tacit representation it contains. The meaning is constructed in a parallel way through the medium in which it is distributed. Young people do not build images or videos independent of the transmedia context in which they are shared.

  • Space is another content that young people reconstruct in a fictitious way, generating representations beyond sensitive experience. The staging, far from conditioning this representation, is a field of exploration and creation of fictional worlds for young people.

  • The creation of gender narratives is another constant, which is not based on the use of audiovisual language, but on the creation of narrative worlds. The interpretation of these narratives depends on the practices that accompany them and not on the registered representation.

In sum, this study reveals several factors to be taken into account in the media literacy of young people: the importance of connecting physical and virtual environments in cooperative contexts; the need to become aware of the communities that generate interaction in social networks and the functionality that transmedia narrative implies in the creation of fictional worlds. Future research needs to make an in-depth study of these contexts, practices and discourses. Only then can we truly understand what the youngest people are doing with the new communication tools in the 21st century.

* This article is the result of the research project "Literacy Transmedia: New ways of telling stories," reference CCG2015 / HUM-025 funded by the Research and Transfer of the Universidad de Alcalá through the call for aid for the implementation of projects to promote the creation and consolidation of research groups.

- Start of the investigation: January 2015
- End of the investigation: January 2018

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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References

J de la Fuente Prieto, P Lacasa Díaz, R Martínez-Borda (2019): “Adolescents, social networks and transmedia universes: media literacy in participatory contexts”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 74, pp. 172 to 196.
DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2018-1326en

Article received on 30 May 2018. Accepted on 13 June.
Published on 7 January 2019.