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On transliteracy: learning more

I am looking back at the school year and thinking differently about a few tipping point moments that I initially considered very forgetable.

1. I introduced Mashpedia as a Wikipedia alternative for students researching a breaking news stories. In addition to the encyclopedia-type background article, they saw instantly that a lot more was happening on many more information platforms in a variety of media.  Though this is not the only tool we use to tap real-time information feeds, it was the first time I really saw the light bulbs.

2. The kids helped me with a few media projects this year.  Among the projects, The Wizard of Apps, a keynote for the K12 Online Conference, was seen all over the world by teachers and graduate classrooms.  My students were stunned to discover that their work actually made the front page of a section of an Australian newspaper, not to mention that it continues to be viewed by thousands, that their impact carried way beyond the auditorium, and that it is very possible to  leave an academic digital footprint that matters. 

3. Although I suggest it kinda often as a research strategy, just this week, a few of the kids who happen to follow me on Twitter, asked a few questions about why I am so personally committed to it. I showed them lists, how to use hashtags, my own ways to figure out who to follow, and specific cool news I am getting from my network on a regular basis. One of my most creative film kids asked if he might be able to follow people he admired in the film industry.  Yes!

My students are what many would call, digital natives. Though many of my students read well and score well on bubble tests,  they are not necessarily what many would call, transliterate

I We am working on that.

Wikipedia defines transliteracy as:

the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks. (PART 2007) The modern meaning of the term combines literacy with the prefix trans-, which means "across; through", so a transliterate  person is one who is literate across multiple media.

Around this time of year–the time of prom and commencement–I do my share of worrying and reflecting.  This year I worry if we did enough for this graduating class in terms of transmitting the importance of tranlitercy.

We’ve measured the hell out of their ability to read a passage they don’t care about, their ability to write a five-paragraph essay, their ability to solve quadratic equations. 

It’s time to begin to build on all those (over)measured literacies.  And perhaps we need an expanded notion of effective reading and writing.

Our learners must be able to read, analyze, and evaluate: digital video and other media, and blogs, and microblogs like Twitter, and wikis, and events in virtual worlds, and podcasts, and webinars of all sorts.

How do we attack digital reading in networked landscapes where it may be increasingly valuable to leverage reading and writing as social or collective experiences? 

And, if you ever thought teaching the skill of synthesis a challenge, consider what it looks like as learners use their peripheral vision scanning for and evaluating relevant posts and finding meaning in news feeds, ebooks, online journals, comments, and tweets. To say nothing of the various array of new strategies for organizing and communicating research as new knowledge.

This is a challenge just made for the library world.

Some of us are leading the movement.

Brian Hulsey shares an example of Everyday Transliteracy (as well as his blueberry smoothy ideas) in this video:

In this presentation, Buffy Hamilton discusses Libraries and Librarians as Sponsors of Transliteracy:

The slides that accompany Buffy’s presentation are available on SlideShare.   

Want more information on transliteracy?

Follow the thoughtful posts by Bobbi Newman, Brian Hulsey, Buffy Hamilton, and Tom Ipri on the Libraries and Transliteracy Blog, as well as the recent conference blog and Ning,, and the University of California’s DML Central (Digital Media and Learning network).

You can also download and share Digital literacy across the curriculum, a 63-page pdf handbook from the UK’s futurelab project.

Created by educators, the handbook is designed to

introduce educational practitioners to the concepts and contexts of digital literacy and to support them in developing their own practice aimed at fostering the components of digital literacy in classroom subject teaching and in real school settings.

For deeper background, read Transliteracy: Crossing Divides, by Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Mills, Simon Perril, and Kate Pullinger. (First Monday, Volume 12 Number 12-3). December 2007.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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