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Friday, 24 October 2014

Staying in a transliterate flow

By Suzana Sukovic

Findings of the digital storytelling project iTell have been recently reported in the Australian Academic and Research Libraries (ALIA) under the title 'iTell: transliteracy and digital storytelling'. Workshops have been offered for three years in a row, research findings have been reported and action research cycles have been closed for now. But, iTell data has been talking to me ever since. One of the ideas that make me wonder and speculate is a possible connection between transliteracy and student engagement, a possibility of transliterate learning.

Audience with the Cupcake Queen by Nyari Morales
But, firstly, a bit of a background. iTell was offered at St.Vincent’s College, Potts Point, an independent high school for girls in Sydney, as a series of workshops in which students created digital stories based on stories they knew and liked. They looked into fiction of their choice from different perspectives, presented some oral stories for digital media or created their own digital stories. An important aspect of the project was the development of transliteracy skills through the process of creating digital stories. (Transliteracy relates to the ability to apply a range of skills in many different contexts while communicating and interacting with different media and technologies.) A research aspect of the project considered the development of transliteracy skills, student engagement with learning and any impact on learning after participation in the workshops. 

At the time when I decided to include engagement as a research question, I thought I was, most likely, setting myself for a failure. Why would students engage with iTell differently than with any other learning at school? Is there anything new in observing more of the same behaviour? Curiosity almost killed the cat but, in the end, student engagement, turned to be a particularly successful part of iTell. Some of the students in iTell workshops were gifted high-achievers, others were self-selected because of their interest in creative work, but many others were encouraged or even required to attend. A number of iTell participants were notoriously disengaged learners for whom iTell was an opportunity to try a different approach to learning. Their literacy levels covered a broad spectrum from struggling to highly literate students. Regardless of all the differences in skill and motivation, they all found something in iTell that kept their attention. In interviews, students reflected on how iTell was different from their classroom experiences. The difference was to do with the length of half- or whole-day workshops, which created opportunities for engagement; relaxed rules around how they were sitting and using space; the playful nature of some activities and the way they were set up to create opportunities for individual work and peer-support. The lack of assessment and any formal requirements had potential to become an issue when student self-motivation didn’t go far enough to sustain many hours of work. It may have been the case with few students but, for the majority, the absence of assessment created opportunities for a more organic integration of reflection and evaluation through the ‘story circle’, watching each other’s stories, providing informal feedback, public screening and reflection in research interviews. 

Student survey response (4 is maximum)

A context for transliteracy is an important aspect of student engagement, I suspect. ‘Transliteracy is about fluidity of movement across the field -- between a range of contexts, modalities, technologies and genres’ (Sukovic 2014). While mastering a range of specific skills is important, it seems that a transliterate way of working brings another quality. I speculate that a context for transliteracy encourages creativity and a sense of internal and external connections. Through these ongoing and evolving connections of skills and meanings, engagement is maintained and deepened. It seems that the fluidity of transliterate way of working supports ‘staying in the flow’ as defined by Csikszentmihalyi. Context for transliterate learning allows moving between a range of tasks, ideas and technologies providing mechanisms to maintain interest and the right level of challenge. Particularly important are different access points to learning. For example, writing a digital story can be approached as traditional story writing, visual story board, dramatic improvisation or developing a framework to work with technology, opening different approaches to the writing task.   

The idea of transliteracy came from the field of media and communication studies, but it has captured the interest of library and information professionals who are well positioned to take the idea of transliteracy further and, hopefully, provide some evidence for inklings and speculations about the nature of transliteracy. Working ‘across’ disciplines, technologies and practices is modus operandi for most librarians. More focused on the information needs of the person or group at hand rather than on any external requirements, librarians are in a position to think of new ways of applying their tool set to individualised transliterate contexts. 


Sukovic, Suzana. 2014. iTell: Transliteracy and Digital Storytelling. Australian Academic & Research Libraries 45 (3):205-229. 

iTell stories are available here

Dr Suzana Sukovic is the Head of the Learning Resource Centre at St.Vincent's College, Potts Point and Co-Chair of the ALIA Research Advisory Committee

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