Monday, March 26, 2012

Week 11: Libraries and Transliteracy, Questions from Bobbi Newman

One of the questions I am repeatedly asked about transliteracy is - what are the set of skills for transliteracy? I understand where the asker is coming from - in a world where we base to much on standardized tests, having a list you can check off and mark complete is something we have been trained to expect. We need it for validation.

You don’t need me to tell you that the world is changing around us rapidly. That approaches to teaching and learning are changing and that the “old” way of doing things isn’t working any longer.

There is no defined set of skills for transliteracy. That is not because Sue or others researching, reading, writing and talking about transliteracy have not bothered to create one, it is because transliteracy is a moving target. It is fluid. As the world around us changes so much we change with it. We must continual learn, unlearn and relearn. This process is more than a set of skills, it is a process and journey.

Watch this slideshow and consider the messages. Transliteracy is about more than technology.


  1. Bobbi, thank you for joining us. I've enjoyed your presentations that I've come across on slideshare, and also this thoughtful post. I found this comment from the presentation posted here very interesting: "The transliterate individual can identify the type of information, the appropriate method, format and media, for accessing info, and for sharing."

    When I think about this in relation to your comment about transliteracy being a moving target, a "process and journey", I have to ask: is transliteracy attainable? Or is it more of a philosophy, a willingness to both embrace different media, and to question its utility?

    I've always liked the idea of the Renaissance Man, or more particularly the idea of the (short) time in history when one could read all the books that had been printed, and claim to understand them. There must have been a point - 25 years after the invention of the printing press? 50? - when someone said, "Well, that's it. I can't keep up with all the new books anymore. I'll have to be choosy." I sometimes feel like we've reached that kind of threshold with media. As new ones come along, we have to pick and choose - we can't be fluent in them all.

    Bobbi, as a librarian you're a leader in the transliteracy journey. How do you choose the path?

    1. Komori
      I would like to think that it is possible to be transliterate. The questions becomes how to you measure it when it is a moving target? People really like to have a check list of skills to mark, but I'm not sure with something new like transliteracy that the old ways apply.

    2. Great thread of thought. I too found the "The transliterate individual can identify the type of information, the appropriate method, format and media, for accessing info, and for sharing." to be the resounding point. Checklist are always inadequate for in-depth assessment but I do think they can be useful. ie Can this person communicate on the phone, can they tweet, can they read and respond to text... etc - this is an assessment that needs to be done in order to figure out the best way to communicate. A similar trend is happening with literacy in the would of physical education - under the hat of physical literacy in that "Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person"

      Could we then move to say ...Individuals who are transliterate can communicate with competence and confidence across the wide variety of mediums and this that benefits with the well-rounded ability to communicate. - k, it needs more thought - the point being that the ability to function effectively across environments, physically or communicatively is a skill and an asset.


    3. LJ, the idea of "physical literacy" is a really interesting parallel. This holistic approach is starting to make more sense to me - it's not about a checklist of skills, but rather about being able to function in an environment as necessary. I can certainly see the challenge in measurement - if transliteracy is about achieving a level of fluency in various media as needed by the individual, then each person's transliteracy is unique to them. Within my workplace, I can see that while most move relatively easily between different media, we have developed our particular areas of higher literacy based on our work.

  2. Bobbi - I really enjoyed this slideshare and in particular the common sense approach it takes to this topic.

    Transliteracy is about communication and that has always been about choosing the method that is right for the message you need to deliver and the audience you want to target.

    I worry when I see people moving to embrace new media in an all or nothing manner. I am just reading about how some schools in the U.S. are actually removing the teaching of cursive writing from the curriculum. Some of the backlash makes the point that there is brain development value in learning how to write.

    But from a transliteracy perspective, isn't it a mistake to think you have provided an adequate education to children who won't be able to read old manuscripts, notes from past generations, or know how to use handwriting to deliver a personal message to someone? Let alone the studies that seem to suggest that when we write with pen or pencil on paper, that we are better at remembering that information?

    1. Kim,
      I agree. One of the reasons I prefer transliteracy to some of the single literacy approaches like computer, digital, information or technology is that it encompasses all formats and does not value one above the overs. It acknowledges that all forms have value.

  3. Wow, Kim, at nearly the exact time that you were posting this message I was having a conversation with the President of the Alberta Teachers' Association about her concerns that students are no longer learning cursive writing. She also made the point that certain brain development skills are attained through learning and practicing cursive writing.

    Our conversation stemmed from a conversation about the amount of (seemingly unavoidable) screen time that my 5 month old daughter is experiencing. She is mesmerized by the screen. According to Dr Michael Rich, the mediatrician, human brains are attracted out of survival to pay attention to movements and so the constant movement of screens attracts and exhausts young brains. He points to research from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends absolutely no screen time for babies under 2.

    Nonetheless, I have completely digressed.

    To Bobbi, I absolutely loved your nearly comprehensive compilation of media for communication that would be used by the transliterate person. I think it is common for people to forget about face-to-face, pencil and paper or expressions as media when we are so focused on rising forms of new media. As you suggest, the transliterate person does not necessarily always mix a large number of forms in each piece, but instead chooses the right form for the purpose and context of their communication. The skills are fluid, the media are fluid and the transliterate person thrives on diversity and stays nimble.

    1. Jonathon -isn't it interesting. I have come across more research about this topic of cursive writing and have begun to pass it on to my son and daughter in law who are expecting their first baby (yipee!) in about a month's time. Thanks for the mediatrician link - I've sent them that too! Based on this I think I will implement more note taking in my classes. I have tended to leave it to students (they're adults afterall in college) and I have also been complicite by providing powerpoints. Backed by this research, I think I will gently push them to take notes in long hand in class.

    2. You're right many people choose to focus on the digital aspects of transliteracy and forget that it is about all formats include print.

  4. Transliteracy is 3D

    While I agree that transliteracy is broad, wide and deep, I don't think that gives us the excuse to throw up our hands and give up. As a professional communicator, I would analyze the needs, preferred outcomes and the particular audience involved, and then develop a strategic plan with goals to achieve the outcomes. As these factors change/move, the plan would be readjusted to follow suit.

    Depending on the identified needs, a combination of communication and educational tactics would be chosen to fill the transliteracy needs.

    Alternately, the big term can be pared down into smaller, achievable chunks such as “printed book to digital fiction transliteracy for seniors” (using an e-reader) or “teleconferencing to video meeting for employees” (in my company). These are both examples of transliteracies that I see a need for around me. I think one need not master all transliteracies at once.

    Comments about Publishing

    As for Charlotte Abbott’s comments about libraries and e-books, I can see how librarians may balk at e-books (and iTunes, too), but I think that hard copy books can co-exist with e-books because people are becoming increasingly transliterate. In a previous post, I posted the head of McLelland & Stewart (a Canadian publisher) stating (in a video I took) that half of book publishers are expected to go under due to e-books and recent treatment by Amazon. Perhaps half of libraries will too. Those that survive will be those that can change with the times and offer e-books and other e-materials. I was very pleased to discover (some time ago) that the Edmonton Public Library offers e-books and some e-music too. University of Alberta and other connected libraries can also offer some e-materials alongside hard copies.

    In the same anti-change, anti-progress kind of way that the librarians seem to be espousing, Andrew Keen’s perspective, a “cantankerous reminiscence for the legitimacy of an earlier era of publishing” “that denigrat[es] online, user-generated content” is compared by Ianto Ware to other perspectives that effectively support and value a new world of legitimate, independent, non-expert “publishers”. On one hand, I suppose it depends on your personal definition of publishing. In today’s world, like the world of books and e-books mentioned above, there is room for both types of publishing – the traditional gatekeeper; one expert-to-many, and the many-to-many publishing world of the internet, for everyone who chooses to publish on it.

    Change is unstoppable, and society will evolve in a Darwinian way, for those things that no longer have value. If there continues to be value in a printed book, a CD, a book shop, news media, a library, an (expert) publisher, then it’s reasonable to expect that they continue to exist in some form, role, or quantity beyond a need for nostalgia and retro culture.

    1. The latter half of my comment should probably be under another post (Week 1O?). My apologies - I'm a bit confused about exactly where we are:).

    2. Barb
      I certainly am not recommending anyone throw their hands up and give up.

      I'm not sure where the comments about librarians rejecting ebooks are coming from but that is certainly not the case in the States. Most libraries and librarians have embraced ebooks as part of curriculum. Of course we understand that print isn't going away and ebooks are just one of many services that we offer.

  5. These discussions have made me much more aware of librarian issues and this week it was on the news about libraries in the east wanting to boycott some publishers who were planning on charging 3X the rate for e-books. The librarian who spoke talked about the tension between the libraries and publishers saying that publishers think libraries take sales away from them and it was the speaker's opinion that it is the opposite - that they encourage reading and more book sales. The problem with the boycott is that it is one of the larger publishers and if the library boycotts them, then they won't be able to get the books their readers are wanting. But the charge for e-books was going to be difficult for library budgets.

  6. Publishers risk feeding the black market for unlocked ebooks if they persist in pursuing predatory pricing models, much as what occurred in the music publishing industry pre-iTunes. I would like to see publishers devise a system whereby you could lend your e-book out once or twice, much as many of us did with paper books. That lending didn't kill the book publishing industry and I don't believe that it would kill e-publishing either.

    Some days transliteracy feels like a mad scramble to remember user names and passwords. But as I learn new means of communicating, I appreciate the richness it's providing.

    One more thing in this laundry list of thoughts. I'm less worried about cursive writing not being taught in schools because I see a corresponding rise in the use of other tactile teaching methods to help reinforce learning and retention. More attention is being paid and respect given to different learning styles, so while cursive may have been an excellent way for some of us to learn, it was torture for others and didn't suit them at all. However, I have an aunt in her 80s who still has copperplate handwriting as drummed into her by nuns in the convent. Some lessons become hardwired!