Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Transliteracy Colloquim

Yesterday I attended a Transliteracy Colloquim at DMU. I had a great time meeting new people and enjoying the conversations. I'm summarising here the main points from the morning presentation:

Sue Thomas argued that defining what is meant by Transliteracy is important because before you can quantify or measure something, you have to know what it is. Of course, whether or not it is desirable to measure transliteracy is a matter for debate, and it seemed that most people who were there didn't really want to do that! However, the small group I was working in later in the day developed a neat chart for looking at the effects of transliteracy, where Ted Nelson's binary paradigm of the Reader/Author contribution to a text was replaced by a continuum of participation in digital texts (which we assumed to be transliterate). At the most readerly end of the continuum is simply viewing a web page, followed by linking to it, followed by commenting, blogging, then creating collective pages (like a wiki).

Sue's definition of transliteracy can be found in the presentation she also made at the Narrative and Multimodality symposium. A briefer version is:

'Transliteracy is the ability to read write and interact (so modes of communication) across a range of platforms, tools or media'

But how wide can you go with the definition? When does it cease to become meaningful?

Much of the discussion invoked digital media, and it seems that transliteracy has become a matter of debate because of recent technological developments. Sue pointed out that transliteracy is the literacy of convergence, not just about computers but across all communication modes reading + writing + sth else? (music, you tube?) Being able to read and write is no longer enough. For me in education this raises the question of how we assess these qualities.

Sue also argued that transliteracy involves an awareness of historical and cultural context. Textual literacy so ingrained as become invisible in the western world. How else do we communicate? What are the synergies between them? This is important to me, because
how do we shift away our dependence on writing in places like a school of English? I actually think that this issue of contextualism is not definitive for transliteracy - in fact moving across from one form of literacy to another - reappropriating or mashing it seems to do away with context in a more abstract sense. I think that what she is reaching towards is that transliteracy can cause us to become more aware of our embodied experience of communication and textual forms. And as such, the text becomes more than words (as it always is), and as such, context becomes experienced in a more vital sense. Maybe.

Sue argued that transliteracy involves collective behaviour. I see the relationship between transliteracy and collaboration as one of mutual and dialectic enabling, rather than as one being a defining property of the other. I questioned whether one could be transliterate on your own? Surely you can? Similarly collective behaviour need not be translitaracy. Instead, I think the collective (web 2.0) nature of communication is both a by product and a cause of transliteracy.

A series of presentations followed from the PART team and speakers from the IOCT

Simon questioned what transliteracy can enable – is it a cognitive tool? An important point is that the pre-fix ‘trans’ implies both across or beyond? Moving across implies a plurality of literacy. For me this is both one of the most important but muddy points in this concept. How is transliteracy different from multiliteracy? In narrative studies we distinguish between the terms multimodal (meaning using more than one mode similultaneously) and transmedial (comparing or transforming across modes). I think transliteracy needs to decide whether the multimodal / muliliterate concept (and their definitions) are implicit in its own scope, and if so, how it is saying something more than this.

Kate Pullinger talked about her new project - Flight paths, which will be a Companion print / online narratives. She questioned what happens when you post first drafts of material on the web? Why shouldn’t people see behind the polish – demystify the process of writing / research and collaboration. Although it is messy - I think it can be useful to see this kind of process. I also wonder if it might sharpen some of us up in the way we carry out our work.

Chris Joseph spoke about production in transliteracy – how and why? This includes looking at the structure and forms of output (beyond and across) beyond types of textual structure – beyond narratives, generating new texts, oral /aural (narration, voice over, podcasts)
Writing to be tasted, felt, smelt, like Kate Pullinger's The Breathing wall. He pointed out that types of productive communication / collaboration suggest a shift from monologue to dialogue, again alluding to web 2.0 (eg a million penguins) He posed the important question of why particular transliteral forms are created? What power relations are put into play?
Jess Laccetti spoke about Transliteracy and multimodality, arguing that the online environment shows the transliteracy very clearly. She showed a sample of digital writing, indicating that hypertextual reading is multidirectional, not just straight left to right, up through down, and can invoke multimodality. Further questions from me are why does this matter? Do we process it differently from other texts? What difference does that make in the classroom? What does it tell us about offline texts?

Bruce Mason compared Transliteracy / culture / communication as an object of study and Transliteracy as a research tool (lens through which we look at culture).
He suggested that in the process of transliteration we should ask how we take our nderstanding of one mode of study and then transfer it to sth new to us? In particular he argued that we might look at existing studies of literacy, and note that these involve more than the skills of reading and writing but also the social meanings of literacy. How people encounter new literacies or struggle with them are important, and the plethera of new modes of communication + new affordances allow us to see existing forms in a new light.
Bruce raised the point that terms used in one field of study (taking the term 'publish') can carry different currency when transferred into another domain. The value implications of this are important, as are the misunderstandings that arise then the translation doesn't quite work. Lost in transliteration?

Simon Mills raised some significant points about how technology, text and perception are related and embedded in wider philosophical and political issues, asking 'Why transliteracy now?' He claimed that new tools engender new processes and the way we perceive the world. This involved not just the ability to use technologies but the practice of technology use – is this the same thing? The example given was how we experience time and space – how is this changed by technology (clocks, calendars) disorientation? He claimed that digital media – a new form of memory – allow us to experience memory over and over again, suggesting that this is a form of technologies of the spirit, and drawing on the concept of tertiary retention.

Mohamed Ibrahim spoke of the importance of the prefix ‘Trans’ meaning 'across', because of its implied plurality, especially multiculturalism. He argued that cross disciplinary research needs common vocabulary with clear grounding, and that this was especially true for human centred activity – the humanities and natural science. Suggesting that AI does not help us understand how humans think and behave, and questioning what the term ‘design’ means in different disciplines. Of course this has happened with the narrative turn too. It is pretty clear to me that multiple meanings of narrative translate in very different ways.
What implications does this have? Can we go across the divide and talk to each other in meaningful ways? We still need the divides in order to define who we are – but these surely should not be barriers that keep people out or stop forging new synergies. When we put the same word into different contexts and discover what it means to someone else, does it then mean that we dismiss it (oh, I didn’t mean it like that) or could we use this more productively to examine critically our own use of the term, make our assumptions and practices more visible, learn from the weaknesses and limitations and strengthen our understanding of how the environment as a whole works?

In the Q/A session that followed lunch some of the questions were:
How/why does the tran in transliteracy help us going from between, across to beyond? Can it help us to think about what is further ahead (for example how might 2-D immersion say on the web, 2nd life etc become multidimensional and more embodied?
How do we see transliteracy in a diachronic perspective?
What is the utility value of transliteracy, and why now?
How is ‘trans’ different from ‘multi’?
How does transliteracy relate to immersion and how in turn does this relate to deep and surface learning?
Maybe it is the speed, scale interactivity audience that is different with the digital media, and this is why transliteracy is arising as a topic of discussion now?
Is the use of digital technology and cyberspace resulting in an almost groundless experience?
The day was very productive for me. I came away with lots of thoughts I need to explore further. Watch this space.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Kate Pullinger ...questioned what happens when you post first drafts of material on the web? Why shouldn’t people see behind the polish – demystify the process of writing / research and collaboration."
Good point!
One of my students is doing her Master's dissertation on process writing, and she has set up a blog to record her own progress in writing a dissertation.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Dr. Jessica Laccetti said...

I've been thinking about your questions since you posted them Ruth: "Further questions from me are why does this matter? Do we process it differently from other texts? What difference does that make in the classroom? What does it tell us about offline texts?"

Good questions. I don't think we can say multimodality always matters in a certain way, I would think that it largely depends on the context and the audience. As is the case with the web fictions I'm studying, multimodality works in very specific ways - developing narrative (as in story level), progressing narrative (at the discourse level), representation of *becoming* subjectivities, and as invocation to reader interaction (and possibly more).

Your question on how we process multimodal texts is of great interest to me - if only I had a brain imaging machine to hand and a room full of eager students! This is something we've been talking about quite a bit in the PaRT group. I would imagine that the more modes that are available, the more each reader has to interpret (at least in order to *fully* read - browsing/skimming must employ a different schema) and thus more parts of the brain will be activated.

I've just been reading a fascinating article (The Neural Bases of Sentence Comprehension) that demonstrates evidence of higher rates of interaction among brain processes when reading more complex language (as in increased lexical and syntactic loads). So, if we were to add images, movement (as in videos or animate), sound, and user interaction that would, theoretically, be quite complex, then numerous parts of the brain will need to interact in order to interpret fully (I think). Just look at all the processes involved in naming an image: "Neural regions essential for distinct cognitive processes underlying picture naming" (page 3).

In the classroom - well, there's loads of scope, especially when we think of different learners, visual, kinesthetic, auditory, etc... multimodal works should be able to offer points of entry to a variety of learning styles.

9:19 AM  
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8:26 PM  

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