Ideas for Incorporating Transliteracy in the Classroom

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One of the frequent questions I’ve encountered from academic library instructors goes something like this: “Transliteracy sounds like an interesting concept, but how do I use it in my library instruction sessions?” It’s a very good question; how can transliteracy inform the typical one-shot library instruction class? I’ll be addressing this issue at LOEX in a few weeks, so I can’t give away the answer just yet. But, in the meantime, I’d like to point out a recent article that provides substantive, practical, and engaging classroom techniques founded in transliteracy.

The word ‘transliteracy’ does not appear anywhere within Greg Bobish’s recent contribution to the Journal of Academic Librarianship. His article, “Participation and Pedagogy: Connecting the Social Web to ACRL Learning Outcomes,” is directed at effective methods for incorporating social media into the traditional library instruction session. Importantly, he makes the case that “instruction designed to take advantage of [Web 2.0] tools’ capabilities on their own terms,  however, will prepare students to directly apply information literacy skills as these technologies are increasingly encountered in daily life” (p. 55). Put another way, incorporating social media into the library instruction curriculum can add a familiar, effective, and transferable skill-set for addressing the critical ACRL Information Literacy Standards. As Bobish concludes his article, social media and related technologies

present a golden opportunity, not generally available previously, for students to see the real world relevance of the skills that they learn through information literacy instruction and to learn how information is created and shared by doing it themselves rather than hearing about it. (p. 63)

Yet, though he does not directly address transliteracy, his approach is an excellent example of transliteracy in practice. Transliteracy is all about the ability to move across competing literacies, and one way to address this in instruction is to emphasize cross-platform (or “multimodal”) research skills. That is, we need to teach skills and concepts that are transferable between radically different media. So, rather than treat library instruction as a class on “library skills” we can address information literacy more broadly, divorced from any particular information source. Bobish’s article reinforces this need for transferable information literacy instruction, insofar as he provides great examples for classroom activities that engage the students on their own information turf (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), yet still teach the kinds of skills that are needed in academic research.

Best of all, Bobish suggests an activity for each and every performance indicator in the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards. For example, to meet the performance indicator I.1.e (the student identifies key-concepts and terms that describe the information need), we might have students run blog-posts, articles, or wiki-pages through Wordle to find the best keywords. To meet  performance indicator II.2.c (selects controlled vocabulary specific to the discipline or information retrieval source), we might use social bookmarking sites like Delicious or CiteULike as a parallel to subject headings. In total, there are 87 suggested activities for using social media to teach information literacy skills in the library classroom.

Of course, not all of the selected activities are going to work in your library instruction program. Many of them require a level of interaction that is difficult to achieve in the traditional one-shot library session. Several of them require some reworking to address possible FERPA concerns. Others can be met using different social media. But, at the very least, the ideas presented can be helpful if you are trying to figure out new and engaging ways to address information literacy competencies that transfer across multiple literacies. As an earlier review on Ink and Vellum sums it up, Bobish’s article “takes a step beyond simply using Web 2.0 for its entertainment value (or just because we can) and asks students to question the platforms they use daily to communicate information, both personal and professional.” In other words: it’s one way to answer how we can teach transliteracy in the classroom.

Recommended Reading: Bobish, Greg. “Participation and Pedagogy: Connecting the Social Web to ACRL Learning Outcomes.” Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37, no. 1 (2011): 54-63.

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