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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

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Getting collaboration right

By Jennifer Berryman

This artice was first published in InCite (September 2014)
Writing is the theme of this LIS Investigations column – at first glance, not a natural partner with the issue theme of collaboration, as writing is seen by many as a solitary endeavour.  But of course, writing and libraries are natural partners, as indeed are research and writing. This three-way relationship is the focus of Ferer’s investigation into collaborations between academic libraries and writing centres
Ferer’s research aim was to identify the range of activities embraced by libraries and writing centres when working together, to identify best practice.  Both these academic services are established to support students and help them succeed in a scholarly environment, and not surprisingly have a history of collaboration. The methodological approach was a review of the research literature published in English between 1999 and 2012. Ferer cautions that the results are somewhat skewed, as much of the literature reviewed is published by librarians rather than writing centre staff; the literature is overwhelmingly American.

A summary of the results of the review is grouped around five themes: outreach and partnership; building relationships; sharing space; providing services in each other’s space; jointly designing teaching modules and workshops. Interestingly, librarians providing services within the writing centre was one initiative for which results were mixed, although one library at least reported their services in the writing centre were well received as they were able to catch students seeking assistance at the very beginning of their research activity. 

The brief discussion focuses on the most frequently embraced collaborative activities rather than identifying best practice.  More popular collaborative activities included librarians providing writing centre tutors with training in library instructional services, for example, on how to manage citations, to enable them to assist students with their research. Other activities highlighted were co-teaching, cross-promotion of services and sharing spaces. Perhaps the most important finding discussed by Ferer is the importance of starting with small scale joint activities, and allowing the larger, more embracing activities such as combining services in a one-stop shop to emerge as the relationship develops.  While many of these activities are already in place in Australian university libraries, Ferer’s findings serve as a handy checklist when considering collaborative activity as a strategy to address the ongoing need to do more with less in delivering library services. 

Writing collaborations are also the focus of the work by Campbell, et al. The stimulus for their interest in forming a collaborative writing group in an academic library was the difficulty encountered in carving out time from busy days to write up research for publication. 

The authors analysed their own experiences against the published research of what is, they noted, an under-researched  field. The result is a list of factors likely to foster successful collaborative writing activities such as selecting compatible colleagues with whom to collaborate, and practical tips to increase the chances of being accepted for conference presentation or publication.  Also valuable is the brief consideration of the pitfalls that may be encountered. 

So to all those practising librarians who are keen to share the knowledge they have gained from in-house research activities  - have a look at this handy checklist , seek out writing partners with whom to collaborate and tell us about what you’ve found.


Ferer, E. (2012) Working together: library and writing centre collaboration. Reference Services Review, (40)4, 543-557
Campbell, K,. Ellis, M & Adebonojo, L.(2012) Developing a writing group for librarians: the benefits of successful collaboration. Library Management, (33)1/2, 14-21.


Dr Jennifer M Berryman works at the State Library of New South Wales.