From information … to knowledge creation!


Exploring Transliteracy

image by librarianbyday.net used with permission on a creative commons license

As I have been researching different forms of information and media literacy, I have been increasingly stumbling across the term transliteracy.   I have been pondering the need for a new term and struggling to discern what the subtle nuances are and how the term transliteracy differs from our understanding of information literacy.  In my search, I have come across the following statements that advocate for the expansion of the definition of information literacy, perhaps leading to the need for a new term to describe the changes. Standards for the 21st-Century Learner(2007) states:

The definition of information literacy
 has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed. Information literacy has progressed from the simple definition of using reference resources to find information. Multiple literacies, including digital, visual, textual, and technological, have now joined information literacy as crucial skills for this century. (p. 2)

The addition of interaction with various forms of media requiring skills beyond those needed to decode and manipulate text seems to be a leading factor in the shift.  Jenkins (2006) writes:

 As media literacy advocates have claimed during the past several decades, students also must acquire a basic understanding of the ways media representations structure our perceptions of the world; the economic and cultural contexts within which mass media is produced and circulated; the motives and goals that shape the media they consume; and alternative practices that operate outside the commercial mainstream. Such groups have long called for schools to foster a critical understanding of media as one of the most powerful social, economic, political, and cultural institutions of our era. What we are calling here the new media literacies should be taken as an expansion of, rather than a substitution for, the mass media literacies. …[T]he new media literacies should be seen as social skills, as ways of interacting within a larger community, and not simply an individualized skill to be used for personal expression. …We must push further by talking about how meaning emerges collectively and collaboratively in the new media environment and how creativity operates differently in an open-source culture based on sampling, appropriation, transformation, and repurposing.  The social production of meaning is more than individual interpretation multiplied; it represents a qualitative difference in the ways we make sense of cultural experience, and in that sense, it represents a profound change in how we understand literacy. In such a world, youth need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them. (p. 20)

A New Term

Thomas, et al (2007) 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. …The word ‘transliteracy’ is derived from the verb ‘to transliterate’, meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language. This of course is nothing new, but transliteracy extends the act of transliteration and applies it to the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal. 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. (p.2)

Thomas, et al address the question that is most pressing for me, namely, what is the difference between media/information literacy and transliteracy:

An ongoing debate …focuses on the ways in which transliteracy differentiates itself from “media literacy”, defined by Ofcom as “the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts” (Ofcom, 2003). Our current thinking (although still not entirely resolved) is that because it offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital literacy.” (p.3) …Transliteracy is, of course, inextricable from social practice, and social researchers have an influential part to play by investigating from two directions — transliteracy as a cultural phenomenon, and as a lens through which to examine society and culture. On one hand, it is the kind of literacy we require to be able to simultaneously attend to multiple media and modes of communication: the literacy of the ‘trans’. On the other, it also refers to that kind of literacy we use to apply the literacies of one mode or medium to another one: transliteration. This dual nature of transliteracy implies that it can be employed to understand communication both diachronically (over time) and synchronically (at the same time). (p.11)

Whew!  That is a lot to chew over.  Ipri (2010) put it a bit more succinctly:

Transliteracy is concerned with mapping meaning across different media and not with developing particular literacies about various media. It is not about learning text literacy and visual literacy and digital literacy in isolation from one another but about the interaction among all these literacies. (p. 1)

So What?

So, as I understand it, transliteracy encompasses the skills needed to successfully navigate among and between many modalities, including social networks.  This umbrella term and nuanced skill set seems important in our world of participatory culture.  Big questions arising for me are:

  • How will we clearly articulate this in the K-12 environment?
  • What are the specifics of the new skill sets that are needed?
  • Is there enough of a difference in this umbrella term that differs from our current understanding of literacy  to merit intense focus?
  • Will focus on this as something new bring a necessary new lens and needed attention to the media/information/digital literacy skills that we have been discussing for years now?   Can this be the new ‘horse we ride in on’?

What are your thoughts?  I welcome your comments and feedback.

For more information and a visual representation of transliteracy, please see the following slideshare and visit the transliteracy website and the post beginner’s guide to transliteracy.

Exploring transliteracy

View more PowerPoint from Bobbi Newman


Ipri, T. (2010) Introducing Transliteracy. College & Research Libraries News, 71(10), 532-567. Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/10/532.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Standards for the 21st century learner. (2007). Chicago: American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/ guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf

Thomas, S., Joseph, C., Laccetti, J., Mason, B., Mills, S., Perril, S., & Pullinger, K. (2007). ‘Transliteracy: Crossing divides’. First Monday, 12 (12). Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2060/1908


Habits of Mind – from effort to second nature

Today I was involved in a group exploration/discussion around the topics of intellectual property, information literacy, copyright, ethical behavior and digital citizenship within the K-12 environment.  As we discussed these terms, I was struck by the huge commonalities between all these terms.  I envisioned them as big overlapping circles in a Venn diagram, and really, at the

Venn Diagram

intersection of all of these ideas is what we as educators are trying to instill in our students – respect.  Respect for intellectual property, respect for their own ideas and the ideas of others.  We are also trying to transmit skills to our students.  The skills to enable learners to correctly give attribution as they go about their work and expect the same from others who are building upon their work.


These skills are vital in our increasingly complex world.  I immediately thought of the goals and requirements necessary to belong to our participatory culture and the skills necessary to function within a thriving learning commons philosophy that emphasizes collaboration, co-creation, and knowledge building.

Jenkins (2006) discusses the changing landscape of ethics as they apply to a participatory culture, especially in light of our rapidly changing modes of communication:

One important goal of media education should be to encourage young people to become more reflective about the ethical choices they make as participants and communicators and the impact they have on others. We may, in the short run, have to accept that cyberspace’s ethical norms are in flux: we are taking part in a prolonged experiment in what happens when one lowers the barriers of entry into a communication landscape. For the present moment, asking and working through questions of ethical practices may be more valuable than the answers produced because the process will help everyone to recognize and articulate the different assumptions that guide their behavior. (p. 17)

Together for Learning (2010) expresses the importance of ethical skills in this way:

Society needs citizens who have respect for others and who understand their responsibilities in participating in a safe and lawful society. Issues such as plagiarism, privacy, intellectual property, copyright, bias, stereotyping and gender all require deep understanding, as well as reasoned acceptance or rejection. With today’s nearly unlimited amount of information available and vast amounts of unfettered content to be shared, these considerations have become even more sensitive and significant. (p. 29)


 Get a bunch of educators together who span the spectrum from division one to post secondary and you won’t hear much argument that information seeking skills and responsible/ethical use of information are very important.  However, what does cause some disagreement, in my experience, is the ‘who’ and the ‘when’.  Who is responsible to teach these skills to students?  When is the best time for it to happen?  I have been part of too many discussions where the blame game starts and teachers of each division level turn and blame the ones that teach students at the level before them.  Universities blame the high schools, high schools blame the middle schools, etc.  I have very strong opinions on this topic.  I believe that the blame must stop and the ownership begin.  We are ALL responsible for modeling ethical behaviours to our students.  We can begin at the start of school and build increasing rigor as students rise in grade levels.  Am I suggesting that we teach APA formatting to our kindergarten students?  Of course not.  However, we can teach them that when we use things that are not ours, we must give credit.  If we are asking our grade one students to find images of animals, we can send them to websites that provide photos with creative commons licenses and explain why we are doing this.

As I continue to think about this, the word that keeps popping into my mind is ‘intentionality’.  The skills aren’t automatic or absorbed through osmosis.  “Ethical behavior in the use 
of information must be taught. In this increasingly global world of information, students must be taught to seek diverse perspectives, gather and use information ethically, and use social tools responsibly and safely” (Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, 2007, p. 2).  Simply put, we are trying to create habits of mind and a culture of ‘being’, right from day one.  The ‘when’ quickly becomes an ‘always’.  It needs to be embedded into every assignment in a ‘just in time’ manner.  Teach the skills as they apply, not as a separate lesson at the beginning of a term. Model it for students in your exemplars and demonstrations.  Embed it within assignment instructions and expectations.  It does take a bit of extra time, especially at the beginning as we examine our practices and assignments and try to embed these skills.  It does mean that we model the behavior ourselves, but it is vital!  It is amazing to me how quickly students pick up these skills and start to monitor themselves and each other.  The pay-offs are tremendous. As educators, we all have a role to play in demonstrating and helping advance a culture of ethical use of information.


Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Standards for the 21st century learner. (2007). Chicago: American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/ guidelinesandstandards/learningstandards/AASL_Learning_Standards_2007.pdf

Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010). Toronto: Ontario School Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf

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Why Inquiry?

Over the past few weeks, I have been contemplating and discussing the seemingly simple question of “why inquiry?” as a choice for teaching, and I have been challenged to go much deeper past my first instinctual answer of “what other choice is there”?  I have been teaching and learning from an inquiry-based approach for many years, and it has become like second nature to me.  However, I have been recently challenged to defend the use of inquiry and persuasively describe what inquiry is and isn’t along with exploring the spectrum of inquiry – from the idea of complete student generated questions and pursuit of knowledge to quite structured and mostly teacher-driven guided inquiry.  I, myself, prefer to land somewhere in the middle by providing enough structure to allow my students to explore and emulate real world issues and problems while pursuing their interests and passions, but also providing enough scaffolding to ensure curricular connections and just-in-time learning of necessary and relevant skills.

What is Inquiry?

There are myriad definitions of inquiry that exist in the world of education.  The following are two that have resonated with me. Together for Learning (2010) describes inquiry in the following way:

Inquiry is a complex process of constructing personal meaning, applying critical thinking skills, solving problems, creating understanding, and questioning. In its truest form, the inquiry process requires an individual to look deeper and beyond the obvious, examine information for validity, point of view and bias, and construct meaning from all of these endeavours. Effective application of an inquiry model can transform novice learners into interdependent and independent learners, confident of their information power. (p. 25)

Focus on Inquiry (2004) defines inquiry-based learning in this manner:

Inquiry-based learning is a process where students are involved in their learning, formulate questions, investigate widely and then build new understandings, meanings and knowledge. That knowledge is new to the students and may be used to answer a question, to develop a solution or to support a position or point of view. The knowledge is usually presented to others and may result in some sort of action. (p.1)

I am often asked how inquiry is different from other teaching models and why it would be an important framework to examine.  In work that I have done with several schools, we have taken a look at the following chart to begin our discussion.  Many teachers find that they are not exclusively landing on one side of the table or the other, but implement a mix of the two.

I have found that by looking at this chart, we have a starting place to discuss ways to shift from coverage style teaching to a more inquiry based method.  It does a good job of breaking down a ‘hard to articulate’ concept to some identifiable concepts and perhaps bite-sized pieces in the journey to further understanding and potential implementation.

As a next step in the conversation when we reach the stage of “how do I go about doing this and how will I know when?”, I have used questions to promote brainstorming. The document Focus on Inquiry (2004) poses several questions for teachers to consider when thinking about adopting an inquiry model for their teaching:

  • Will inquiry-based learning increase my students’ understanding of the learning outcomes mandated by the curriculum I must cover?
  • Will inquiry-based learning increase my students’ ability to read, write and reason?
  • If I allow students to spend time on inquiry-based learning, what do I remove from my program? How do I make time?
  • Which strategies are the most effective in teaching inquiry- based learning?
  • What are the biggest obstacles I must overcome to implement inquiry-based learning?
  • When is inquiry-based learning worth doing?
  • Will inquiry-based learning help me meet the curriculum standards?
  • How do I manage an inquiry-based learning activity by myself?
  • Will inquiry-based learning improve my students’ test scores? (p. X/Foreward)

How to Begin?

Taking the first steps towards inquiry sometimes feels like standing at the edge of a cliff and contemplating leaping off.  Even when you intellectually understand the goals and importance of the shift to inquiry learning, actually making the shift can feel daunting.  How can you dip your toe in?  How do you recognize a natural place to begin an inquiry?  I can only encourage people to try.  It will be worth it. There is no paint-by-numbers answer to those questions, unfortunately.  The following quotation from Clifford and Marinucci (2008) really resonates for me and I plan to share it with colleagues:

Good inquiries sometimes begin, as in this case, when the world itself has something so powerful to say that students and teachers are compelled to pay attention. But questions can also arrive in other ways. Teachers oriented toward inquiry will sometimes set up precisely the kinds of problems, labs, or events that provoke wonder. “How is this possible?” a student might ask, venturing into territory that seemed, at first, simple and obvious. “I didn’t know this would happen!” Teachers know that a well-chosen problem, lab, or story can evoke precisely this sense of wonder or puzzlement. So even if a tsunami or controversial local event does not disrupt students’ ordinary, taken-for-granted understandings, teachers can make it happen. (p. 678)

If you haven’t yet tried a shift in your teaching from a completely teacher-directed and coverage-based approach, I would encourage you to try!


Clifford, P. & Marinucci, S. (2008). Testing the waters: Three elements of classroom inquiry. Harvard Educational Review, 78(4), 675-688. Retrieved from http://library1.ucalgary.ca/u.php?id=3209

Focus on inquiry: a teacher’s guide to implementing inquiry-based learning. (2004). Edmonton: Alberta Learning. Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/media/313361/focusoninquiry.pdf

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2009). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles in action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010). Toronto: Ontario School Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf


Towards a Learning Commons

together we are stronger

As we continue to discuss inquiry and ICT in my current graduate course, many individuals have remarked that it is hard for a teacher to implement inquiry on his/her own.  They posit that it is easier if they are embedded within a school that promotes a culture of inquiry.  From my own personal experience, I would wholeheartedly agree. I would also hazard a guess that it is difficult for students to exist within a building where in some classes they are expected to engage with learning in a certain way and in other classes, the learning framework is completely different.  Colleagues have told me that they are interested in hearing more about what is happening in other classrooms and schools. As educators, it seems to me that we have, of late, talked incessantly about the need to do things “differently” and change the way we teach.  How can we make this happen?  How could we come together as learners (students of all ages, teachers, experts, the community, etc.) to share and collaboratively build knowledge and expertise?

I would like to suggest that one way to draw attention to the importance of inquiry as a method of learning and a shift in educational practice would be to explore a learning commons philosophy within a school.

Why a Learning Commons?

Friesen and Lock (2010) point out that “…schools will need to broaden their focus from managing information exchanges to engaging learners, all learners— youth and adult alike—in collaborative knowledge building activity (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000; Gilbert, 2005; Hargreaves, 2003; Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009; Jardine, Friesen & Clifford, 2006; Papert, 2004; Sawyer, 2008; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003; UNESCO, 2005b; Wagner, 2004)” (p. 3).

Society (beyond education) is calling for citizens and:

…a culture that collaboratively builds, negotiates, and shares such knowledge and information: a participatory learning culture. If the resources and infrastructure are in place but he education community, as well as society as a whole, fails to maximize their power, then millions of unique learning possibilities will be lost. (Bonk, 2009, p. 53)

Jenkins (2006)Defines a participatory culture as one:

Where members believe that their contributions matter
. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created). …In such a world, many will only dabble, some will dig deeper, and still others will master the skills that are most valued within the community. The community itself, however, provides strong incentives for creative expression and active participation. (p.7)

If we agree that establishing a thriving participatory culture is vital and necessary to education, how will/can we move learning outside the walls of individual classrooms to encourage a more collaborative process?

What is a Learning Commons?

The Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) has created a document called Together for Learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons (2010).  In it, they reflect that:

A Learning Commons is a flexible and responsive approach to helping schools focus on learning collaboratively. It expands the learning experience, taking students and educators into virtual spaces beyond the walls of a school. A Learning Commons is a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn. (p.3)

Just as the Internet has created a web of global connections, information and interactions, the Learning Commons creates a network of information, people and programs for learning within a school and beyond. Universal access ensures that learning is within reach of everyone at all hours… day or night. (p.6)

How to Begin?

How would a school shift to implementing a learning commons? Together for Learning (2010) has some suggested questions for teachers/school communities to consider when considering moving to a learning commons philosophy:

  • How will the Learning Commons logically be developed?
  • How will the overall leadership of the Learning Commons be shared across the school? (e.g., administrator, teacher-librarian, representative teachers, media specialist etc.)
  • How can all members of the staff contribute to the success of the Learning Commons?
  • How can the school library program be essential to the success of the Learning Commons?
  • How can all school learning spaces contribute to the learning taking place in the school?
  • How can schools utilize the technology and social media that students bring to learning?
  • How can social media enrich the potential of learning activities?
  • How do resources owned, accessed and available to the school reflect the range available?
  • How do virtual resources and spaces integrate with existing physical spaces?
  • What flexibility is needed to allow students and staff to learn together?
  • What are the potential benefits of the Learning Commons to school improvement?
  • What are the professional development needs of staff to enable full participation in the Learning Commons approach to teaching and learning? How will these needs be met?
  • How do we create a culture of reflective continuous learning for all?
  • How will we measure the effectiveness of the Learning Commons? (p.41)

Concluding Thoughts

This is just the beginning of the conversation – the bigger ‘why” and the start of the ‘how”.  I plan to continue discussing this theme in future posts and welcome any comments and feedback from readers.  What do you think?  Would developing a learning commons to promote inquiry, collaboration, co-creation and sharing of new knowledge be something that would be desirable for a community of learners?


Bonk, C.J. (2009). The world is open: How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey‐Bass.

Friesen, S. & Lock, J.V. (2010). High Performing Districts in the Application of 21st Century Learning Technologies: Review of the Research. Prepared for the College of Alberta School Superintendents. Retrieved from http://o.b5z.net/i/u/10063916/h/Communications/ CASS_Research_Paper_2_Friesen__Lock_Characteristics_of_High_ Performing_Districts_in_the_Application_of_Learning_Technologies.pdf

Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. (2010). Toronto: Ontario School Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf