Category Archives: Transliteracy

20 years since the founding of trAce. Do you remember the Noon Quilt?

In May 1995 I was teaching creative writing in the English Department at Nottingham Trent University when, quite unexpectedly, I fell into the internet. That moment redirected the course of my life, and the most instrumental part of that change was the birth of the trAce Online Writing Community.

trAce was born at the cusp of a new world. The Internet was 26 years old by then but the World Wide Web was still very new. Continue reading 20 years since the founding of trAce. Do you remember the Noon Quilt?

Storying Cyberspace: Narratives and Metaphors in ‘Real Lives, Celebrity Stories’

real_livesReal Lives, Celebrity Stories: Narratives of Ordinary and Extraordinary People Across Media
Eds: Julia Round and Bronwen Thomas
Bloomsbury Academic, 2013

I have a chapter in this interesting new collection edited by my colleagues in The Media School at Bournemouth University, Julia Round and Bronwen Thomas. Real Lives, Celebrity Stories collects research from published and experienced professionals, practitioners and scholars who discuss narratives of real people across cultures and history and in multiple media. It uses narrative theory to interrogate the processes by which we create, promote and consume these stories of real people, and the ways in which we construct our own stories of self. By bringing together different disciplines it offers a theory of the production(s) of self in public spaces such as television, cinema, comics, fan cultures, music, news media, politics and cyberspace.

My chapter is called ‘Storying Cyberspace: Narratives and Metaphors’. Cyberspace has given rise to many new terms. A surprising number of them, such as “information superhighway” and “surfing the internet,” are rooted in real-world metaphors which have been re-purposed for the digital. This practice seems to have evolved from the imperative to make sense of the new and highly abstract experience of being online by seeking comparable experiences in the physical world. This essay tracks the history of the cyberspace metaphor and considers its impact on the narrative of our lives online.

I got a 100% Read Ratio at Medium – but who cares? Counting our readers in a social media world.

Don’t get excited. The 100% only covered 32 views. But still, it’s 100% isn’t it?

Here’s the issue:

Between 1992 and 1995  I  was a busy writer. I published two novels, edited an anthology of stories, and wrote a handbook for creative writing teachers. All appeared in print, and each book sold in several different ways with different levels of royalties – bookclub, library, education, trade, hardback, paperback, UK and the World sales, US and Canada sales… I can’t remember them all. Once or twice a year my agent sent me royalty statements which I found completely incomprehensible, but eventually cheques would appear so that I knew some people somewhere were buying my books. I never really understood, though, how many people that might be, although as a former book-seller myself I was always aware that a certain number of remainder copies would also be languishing unsold in storerooms around the globe. And my earnings were not huge, so I’m guessing that, like the vast majority of authors, I didn’t sell very many at all. Another way to find out how many might be reading my stuff is through Public Lending Rights, because in the UK we’re lucky enough to get a tiny royalty from library loans once a year. And then there’s the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society, which collects payments for authors from various usages of their work such as photocopying and digital reproduction and also provide annual statements.

After 1995 I was distracted from writing by the need to earn decent money and I only produced one more book (in 2004) along with a number of academic papers which, of course, very few people ever saw, but this year I once again have a title out with a major publisher. It’s available in hardback, paperback, ebook and, I’m told, a free plain text edition which has not yet appeared. It came out in September and already friends are asking me how many copies have sold. They ask this because they don’t know that my publishers will calculate this number just once a year, on 31st December, after which at some point they will send me a statement to be followed later, I hope, by a cheque. After quite a few years of commercial inactivity I no longer have an agent, but at least that means I get to keep 100% of however much it might be. More than nothing, I hope.

Anyway, what I want to get at here is that while the traditional print writer part of me soldiers on in general ignorance of who, if anyone, is buying my new book, the social media part of me is taking a keen interest in who, if anyone, is reading my other writings. And I certainly do know the numbers for that. Like many bloggers, I have access to a huge array of statistics, demographics, and other numbers for every blog post I write. I also know, thanks to Google Alerts and various other tools, that an article I wrote for Aeon in the same week that the book came out reached all kinds of people in quite a few countries, and like any other Aeon reader I can see exactly how many Facebook Likes, Tweets, +1s and comments it got.

And now there is Medium. I’ve been reading Medium for quite a while so when it offered readers the chance to request an author account I was keen to get involved. I didn’t think about what this would mean in terms of statistics because I was simply keen to join the Medium crowd, but I’ve discovered that it’s another whole new statistical world.  This is how it works:

Medium boils down your stats to some very simple numbers: how many people have seen your post; how many of them have read it; and the resulting read ratio – e.g. if 4 people viewed it but only 2 people went on to read the whole thing, the Read Ratio is 50%. The last column shows how many people recommended the post to others. At the time of writing this article I had experimented with just 4 posts. The screenshot below shows the accumulated stats for all four posts for the last 30 days. As you’ll see, they’re not massive.

mediumstatsWhat’s especially clever is that by clicking on the post title you can separate out the stats and see just the numbers for that post. I’ve done this below for ‘I love my digital life’, my first post. You can see that it got most hits at the start but it’s still picking up the occasional read here and there. The others, in comparison, spiked early but then tailed off, although the Jack Dorsey post has maintained some regularity  (This is probably due to the publicity for Twitter’s IPO) even though the numbers are minuscule.

statslovemyMedium aggregates all these statistics and automatically generates links on its homepage to articles which are currently trending, just like on Twitter. There are lots of other interesting features too, such as making it easy to collaborate by sharing drafts behind the scenes, and commenting on articles once they’re live. It’s great, really.

It’s all great. But it’s a very long way from living in general ignorance beyond an annual publisher’s royalty statement, and marks quite a significant culture change beyond the obvious one that you’re not remunerated in money at Medium, but in statistics. And I’m starting to pay too much attention to these figures which are now passing judgement on my work every minute of the day. I can’t stop looking at them even though they are mostly meaningless. For example, 2 of my 4 posts at Medium got 100% Read Ratios. Woohoo! But wait, the numbers are tiny. They don’t mean anything at all.

wordpressstatAnd sometimes stats are downright misleading. Last summer, after years of using Typepad, I set up my first WordPress blog. For quite a while I was confused by the fact that on the front page WordPress displayed the number of people ‘following’ the blog, and it was quite a lot. Wow! What a huge number of readers I had suddenly acquired! And everyone could see! Fantastic! But no. The number shown does not represent the people who choose to follow my blog. It’s made up of those people plus my Facebook Friends plus my Twitter Followers. That’s naughty, WordPress. But I still display it because it gives me a nice warm glow.

But wait! What’s all this talk about numbers?  I’m not a statistician! I’m a writer! Every day I spend hours crafting and revising pieces that are meant to convey what I want to say as accurately and fluently as I am able. In the past, I’d find out once a year roughly how many people may have accessed a book, and if it was a magazine or newspaper article I would simply never know nor expect to, since a paper’s distribution numbers tell you nothing about the number of readers of each individual piece. But now, online, I do know those numbers. I even know how many only viewed at Medium but didn’t go on to read. At Aeon I know my article got 26 comments, 329 Facebook Likes, 160 RTs on Twitter, and 38 G+s. And because I recently re-published my last book book on Kindle and GooglePlay, I can get real-time information about their sales too.

It’s distracting. It makes me think too much about how to increase my stats and it eats into my creative time. It’s an extra hurdle to leap in a world where writing is as hard to do as it ever was, yet it’s one that’s very hard to ignore. I don’t like it but I can’t stop looking. This new ability to count our readers and gather all kinds of demographics about them is fascinating and we’re very lucky to have it but how will it affect the way we write and publish? That’s yet to be seen.

CFP: 3Ts Conference: At the Core of Teaching, Technology and Transliteracy

I spoke at this year’s 3Ts at Empire State College and really enjoyed it. Now the CFP is out for next year and here it is:

The 2014 conference 3Ts: At the Core of Teaching, Technology and Transliteracy, to be hosted at SUNY Geneseo on March 14, invites educational professionals from K-20 – librarians, instructors, instructional designers, IT professionals, administrators – to highlight their best teaching practices that encourage student engagement.

The conference planning committee seeks educational professionals that have excellent teaching models to share, based upon sound pedagogical principles. This year’s 3Ts conference will not follow the typical format; there will be no keynote speaker. Instead, presenters are encouraged to demonstrate their teaching methodologies to other professionals in a workshop style, allowing participants to engage in the instruction as if they were students.

As proposals undergo a peer-reviewed process, emphasis on the following are highly encouraged:

  • Connecting theory to practice as discussed and modeled through your presentation delivery
  • Collaborative projects/lesson plans that could include (but are not limited to) cross-disciplinary teaching, faculty/librarian partnerships, K-12/college experience

Response to Eveline Houtman – Lonely at the front? We need an International Transliteracy Network

Libraries and Transliteracy totebag by Bobbi Newman

Eveline Houtman at Robarts Library, University of Toronto, has written a very detailed overview of the progress of transliteracy since I and my colleagues published the first paper on it in 2007. In New literacies, learning, and libraries: How can frameworks from other fields help us think about the issues? she observes that today’s leading promulgators of the concept have come from the library community, and asks “Do we really want to adopt a term not recognized by people in other fields?” She goes on to say that although “librarians want to take part in the larger debates and discussions on new digital literacies together with educators, researchers, and policy makers… it sometimes feels as if the library world is invisible”.  She writes “Surely we’ll communicate better with our peer communities if we’re not using a term and a framework that no one understands, that separates us from the conversation and muffles our voice” and concludes with the question “Do we really want to continue to carry the baton for transliteracy?”

I empathise with her frustration but she’s not correct. The term is recognised by people in other fields, but it’s true that since many are working in isolation she may not be aware of them. I would also ask that librarians not be daunted, since in my experience they are very often the first people to recognise new trends in information technology. After all, librarians, you are working at the coal-face with real people, whereas many theorists are not. They rely on the academic echo chamber, whereas you know the practical day-to-day realities. So don’t be down-hearted if you’re lonely at the front, you’re still at the front!

Although quite a few people worldwide are working on transliteracy they often don’t know about each other. In fact last year Kate Pullinger and I applied for AHRC funding to establish an International Transliteracy Network to remedy this, but we were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, I’ve watched from afar as the transliteracy/library movement has grown in the USA, so I’d like to offer some other examples of transliteracy research that may have gone unnoticed.

NB these examples are all personal because (except for the India example)  I learned about them from people contacting me out of the blue.

  • In 2012 I was invited to keynote at a Transliteracy Symposium at the Sorbonne. The team there had already obtained UNESCO funding for a project about transliteracy, young people and social capital. I had no idea they existed until they emailed to invite me. See Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris3, France (oops sorry, dead link, will try to find a better one)
  • The same year, I was also invited to give a transliteracy keynote at Presidency University in Kolkata. On this occasion I did know the conference organiser because he had worked with me in the UK, but now he wanted to bring transliteracy to India. I couldn’t make the trip unfortunately so I gave the talk live over Skype. Presidency University. Kolkata, India
  • I was asked to give a keynote about transliteracy at the 3Ts conference – Transliteracy, Technology, and Teaching – at SUNY Empire State College, Saratoga, New York. I hadn’t heard of that either, but it was their 3rd annual conference! And as it happens I’m giving a live presentation via their Metaliteracy MOOC this coming Monday. Please come if you can, it’s open to all.)
  • And I was contacted by Suzana Sukovic at the University of Sydney, Australia, where she is researching transliteracy and story-telling. We met up in England and had a great conversation about her work.

I have also taught online classes on transliteracy several times for the University of Alberta, and this year I was invited to bring my transliteracy research to membership of the Digital Reading Network, based at Bournemouth University, UK. Beyond this, I’m regularly emailed by people who want to tell me about their transliteracy research.

The examples given above come from Social Science, English, Distance Learning, Media Studies, and Storytelling, and of course there must be many more I don’t know about. So, since there’s as yet no official network, perhaps the people involved in these projects might like to get in touch with each other and ensure that transliteracy does what it is meant to do i.e. break down disciplinary boundaries.

If you want to publicise your own transliteracy project, please add it here in the comments.

And thanks to Eveline Houtman. I think she raises some very good points in her article. This is an important conversation.

PS: after posting this, I reflected on Eveline’s comment that I haven’t published much more about transliteracy. I have, actually, (see my CV) but I’ve been more engaged in actually doing it through various social innovation projects (see CV again). I’m not defensive about this, but just saying that the First Monday essay was a flag in the sand to share for discussion, after which I wanted to do it, not endlessly write about it. Hope that makes sense.

Transliteracy Archive

trg websiteThe concept of transliteracy was developed in 2006 at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester (DMU). Since then, it has been taken up around the world, most actively in the USA, France, and Australia, but research in the UK has slowed down. Plus, the researchers originally involved in its development have left DMU. But there’s still a lively interest in it. This year alone, I was invited to give a keynote speech on it at SUNY Empire State College and I’ve written a paper and a chapter on it. I’m currently a member of the Digital Reading Network based at Bournemouth University, where transliteracy plays an important role in the discussions, and I’m giving an online lecture on transliteracy and technobiophilia in November.  I maintain a page about transliteracy here.

But the original blog where all those heady conversations took place in the early days is no longer maintained, and for that reason I’ve copied it over to WordPress and archived it. The old address still works but the blog will not be updated. However, if you teach or research in this area, please do make use of this fantastic resource and share it with colleagues and students.

Important transliteracy research is happening in all kinds of places. The best way to find it is by following #transliteracy on Twitter. Enjoy!