Experts have identified a cultural and technological gap between today’s youth and school systems struggling to keep up with rapid societal changes and developments in the digital world. But rather than constantly play catch up, researchers in the EU-backed Transliteracy project wanted to give education planners the tools to shape the game in their favour.
High schools have made great efforts to adapt to new socio-technical conditions in the past two decades, according to Carlos A. Scolari of Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) who led the research. “But the general perception is that the social life of teens is built up around a set of digital technologies – from social media to mobile devices – and new practices that are frequently very different from the educational protocols of schools,” he notes in the introduction to one of the key outputs of the project, a book in Spanish and English of lessons learned and contributions from young researchers.
The publication, called Teens, media and collaborative cultures, explores how youths develop media literacy in formal and informal settings, how they apply these skills, and the implications this all has on education policy, digital oversight and wider society.
“Establishing a firm basis for media education in the compulsory school curriculum has been a long struggle, and there are very few places where it has been successfully achieved,” writes David Buckingham, a visiting professor at King’s College London in the book’s foreword. “And yet the need for media literacy – and for coherent, rigorous programmes of media literacy education – seems even more urgent than ever.”
This is where Transliteracy has proven invaluable, not only producing practical teaching kits and tools, but also in raising awareness and informing the debate on what shape media literacy should take in formal learning circles in order to boost problem-solving skills, stimulate creativity, promote (participatory) literature and in new forms of content production, sharing and reporting.
Short but intensive
The research focused on young people aged 12 to 18, an age characterised by short but intensive experience in the use of new media and digital technologies. The fieldwork – based on surveys, interviews, focus groups, participant observation, and analysis of online activities – was carried out simultaneously in eight countries: Australia, Colombia, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
Data and insights gathered from all the international partners proved invaluable in confirming the unsubstantiated belief that a new transmedia ecology is emerging. Discovering clear similarities between young people’s interaction with new media, both inside and outside formal educational contexts, validated the idea that digital technology is shaping global learning trends.
Armed with these findings, educators can improve curricula, train teachers and generally bring the world of learning into the 21st century. The research also served as an important vehicle for boosting international cooperation between Europe and other regions with varying education systems and levels of development.
"We verified in our study that adolescents in Uruguay and Colombia share with European children a digital culture with strongly globalised traits, but at the same time we noted differences and inequalities arising from the social and economic realities of our countries,” says Rosalía Winocur of the Faculty of Information and Communication in Uruguay, a Latin American partner in Transliteracy. “This can be seen in the unequal access and appropriation of digital technologies and resources inside and outside the school.”
International cooperation, the researcher adds, is essential to assemble teams from diverse socio-cultural realities. “The value of this type of cooperation is more than the funding it provides, or being able to compare different realities, it lies in the academic insights and reflections made possible thanks to multidisciplinary networks, both virtual and physical.”
All of the international contributions helped Transliteracy answer some fundamental questions about the sorts of transmedia production and sharing practices adolescents are developing in new media environments. What informal learning strategies are they displaying? How can schools use these practices to improve formal learning environments? What can educational institutions learn from transmedia narratives? How can the content generated by students be better integrated in the learning process?
New media ecology
“Research into the relationships between teens and the media has also been challenged by the mutations of the media ecology. New questions, new research objectives and new methodologies have been proposed to deal with this new situation,” the team offers in its White Paper, Transliteracy in the new media ecology, which has been published on the project website.
The project’s findings and tools have been presented at high-level conferences and events in Hong Kong, USA, Argentina, Moscow, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, and elsewhere. And more scientific publications are expected. Many institutions are asking the team for teacher training support, which is strong validation of the Transliteracy’s work and future directions.
“We are also very interested in youth-generated content in the context of transmedia storytelling practices, such as the production of fan-fiction, memes, etc., and the professionalisation of those practices,” explains Scolari. Several team-members are working on fake news and (trans)media literacy, he adds.
In this unique international cooperation, participating teams from Spain, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, the UK, and associated partners are motivated to continue updating the online teacher’s kit with the latest classroom materials and ideas that capitalise on young people’s transmedia skills.