Digital literacy 3: Crossing the divide

Transliteracy can be defined as being literate across a number of platforms. In essence, it is the ability to be able to create content, organise, share and communicate across, and through, a variety of social media, discussion groups, mobile tools and other services that are commonly available. This assumes that we communicate differently depending on the tool we use. When I give a co-present presentation (face to face), it is qualitatively different for me and my audience to a remote presentation I give through Elluminate or Adobe Connect. It's not just the experience - I also behave differently, and manage my impression in a different way. I have argued in previous blogposts that the way we represent ourselves (using avatars, user names etc) varies for many depending on what medium we are using. I represent myself differently in Second Life to the way I represent myself on Facebook, because each environment prompts a different response from me. In LinkedIn, I manage a professional version of my online persona, which evaporates when I'm on Facebook. On Twitter I am a bit of a mixture. Sometimes I like to have a bit of fun, and at other times, I'm deadly serious. I have also discussed the idea that each tool has its own particular set of affordances which enable or constrain particular ways of using it. In many ways, however, although these tools are different, they all have a common purpose. Thomas et al (2007) put it very well:

"From early signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present. It is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides."

So for Thomas et al, the argument over whether media are different - for example whether digital will replace paper - is spurious. It's more important for us to recognise the significance of each tool, and how they can be used effectively in all their variations, and also in combinations. Ultimately, transliteracy should be about using whatever media and communication tools that are at our disposal, and also being able to discern which tools will be the most effective and appropiate in any given context. Do we learn better watching a Youtube video or reading a text? Are we better at presenting our ideas in pictures or as a podcast? I know my answer to that, and it may be different to your answer - we all learn differently.

Students today use a variety of tools to create and share content, and it's vital that they are able to do so in a seamless manner. It's important that students spend more time thinking about what they are learning and less time thinking about how to navigate around a website, or how to save a file. This is one reason why many students are more at ease using an external wiki than they are using an institutional Learning Management System. It's also the reason they choose to use Facebook rather than the institutional e-mail system when they want to send each other messages. But students do use all of these tools, and the trick is to ensure that they are comfortable with each, and have the requisite skills to exploit each tool to its optimum value. This is why transliteracy is becoming increasingly important as a digital literacy. It will assume even more significance, as more of us become our own broadcasters, publishers and directors.

Reference: Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Lacetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S. and Pullinger, K. (2007) Transliteracy: Crossing Divides. First Monday, 12 (12), 3 December 2007.

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Crossing the divide by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Doug Belshaw said…
Hi Steve, I've just seen you tweet out this link to an older post of yours so thought I'd respond as I didn't see it first time around!

I critique Thomas, et al's notion of 'Transliteracy' in Chapter 7 of my Ed.D. thesis ( - I hope to submit by the end of August 2011). My argument is that such 'umbrella' terms have led to a fragmentation of research with each researcher claiming that there is 'one literacy to rule them all'. Other new literacies are relegated to 'micro-literacies'. I go on to argue that this is a reason why new literacies are 'stuck' in ambiguity.

I'd be interested in your take.

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