Friday, December 3, 2010

Making sense of transliteracy?

A gift from my sister: owl glasses holder
 Information literacy dressed up in sheeps clothing?

I'm a sucker for buzz words and the new one in libraries is transliteracy, described as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media . AACL recently featured an article attempting to demystify the concept for those who find it difficult to grasp and not long after a witty response popped up via Twitter.

Some argue this new buzz word is just a way of describing what libraries have always called information literacy because it basically means using new tools to understand, find, evaluate, use and create information. In many of my blog posts and papers written this year I’ve talked about the need to support 21st century learners and therefore build 21st literacies. My focus has been on supporting the physical, digital and mobile worlds of our clients including making use of social media to connect with them informally in their online communities. Some might call this Library 2.0 but I  think it's just common sense to understand your clients and support them accordingly. This year I've been involved in many projects to reinvent our information literacy programs with a Fun Day, new workshops, treasure hunts, games, and mobile technology. This has taken considerable effort from a team of keen librarians who are committed to experimenting and playing with new technology in order to understand the information worlds of our clients and develop new services and support to meet their needs.Transliteracy seems to be the answer some people were looking for to make this easier and I wonder if it's already happening intuitively without the need for a buzz word?

A recent PEW internet report describes 21st Century learners as ‘networked learners’ who embrace new technology, mobile devices, gaming and social media as part of their information landscape. Obviously these people are making use of multiple platforms to read, write and interact. Is this transliteracy? Since Web 2.0 has created a blurring of the lines between work and play, we now use these platforms in multiple contexts of everyday life. I wonder if we are supposed to be transliterate at work or play or both?

I think in an everyday life context, transliteracy is easy to grasp – basically you get the main idea of something and apply it to other platforms. For example, in a previous post I wrote about a radio interview by Kathryn Greenhill who spoke about transliteracy in terms of the way her kids make sense of their world. They read Harry Potter books, watch Harry Potter movies, play Harry Potter Lego, play Harry Potter video games, dress up as Harry Potter – what more can there be? I’ve also spent too much time with friends drawing Hogwarts and dreaming Harry Potter dreams. This isn’t necessarily reading and writing but it is interacting across a range of platforms and making sense of information by embodying the experience. To me this seems like a better way to understand transliteracy - the ability to interact and make sense across a range of platforms.

I think transliteracy is harder to define in an academic context. Does it mean students can effectively use collaborative tools like Google docs to work on group projects , share files using Dropbox, find scholarly information such as books, journal articles, videos on YouTube, images on flickr, journal articles, webpages and create interactive multimedia presentations? How is this any different from what’s already happening? Perhaps it is more to do with the ability to find information in books, ebooks, journals, websites, blogs, video, images, social networks, and friends to effectively filter and evaluate that information and then create new information using appropriate tools and media? Is that any different? This second scenario places more emphasis on evaluation rather than just using the tools which has long been considered the more important of the two.
Another option is to harness the networked learner idea and combine it with the idea of Web 2.0 blurring the lines. Can we combine the work and play context to have one everyday life context that makes use of new technology, old technology, mobile devices, gaming and social networks to read, write, interact and make sense, therefore creating the ultimate transliteracy? ELT – Everyday Life Transliteracy? No more separation between how I make sense of the world at work and play. Worlds are merged and transliteracies are merged. This is what I think the 2010 ANZ Horizon report is getting at when it describes supporting students as they move from study to the workplace: (sorry for the long quote)
The need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy, poses a continuing challenge to educational programs. As noted a year ago, students need — and often lack — a strong understanding of content and media design, the ability to interpret advertising and other media, and the capacity to create multimedia messages that demonstrate visual fluency. A handful of institutions have begun to integrate the teaching of these skills into a standard curriculum, but the practice is not widespread and too many students remain unschooled in this critical area.

In today’s networked world, learners are placing greater value on knowing where to find information than on knowing the information themselves. The ways we learn are changing. The amount of knowledge collectively held by humanity is staggering, and being able to find, evaluate, and synthesize material from a variety of sources is arguably more important than holding much of that knowledge oneself.

Young people beginning postsecondary study — and those entering the workforce — are accustomed to constant access to a network of peers on whom they rely for knowledge, expertise, and mutual learning. This cohort may well expect to be able to make use of their own personal learning and social networks, and the technologies that support them, in their places of work or study. Their world is open and mobile, and they expect access to it constantly.

I think this extract emphasises that support and instruction is needed for students to develop a strong understanding of how to build transliteracies. Libraries are well placed to  provide training and support through traditional face-to-face and online modes but we also need to think of new ways of supporting students through social media and mobile technology. I also see an opportunity for us to share our expertise and collaborate with academics who are interested but not experts themselves in these areas. The extract also point out the need to prepare students  for the future workplace. Students need to seamlessly move from study to the workplace with the ability to read, write, interact and make sense across a range of platforms. Whether or not we call it transliteracy is irrelevant. If we don't get to know and understand our clients we/they don't stand a chance. We're hearing it all the time - they want flexible, open, spaces with ubiquitous access and support. So for one last time this year, I encourage you all to experiment and play in order to understand your clients and develop new services to meet their 21st century needs.


  1. As always - inspiring and wonderful.

    Have yourself a merry little Christmas :-)

  2. I like the concept, and agree with its aims and all you've said above but the word itself is an indication that we just like to talk amongst ourselves. I believe we must stop using language like this if we are to relate to real people and users. I've been guilty of using it myself, but will stop because I think it alienates people.