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Thursday, 17 April 2014

iTell rewards

Call for applications for ALIA research awards is now open. This post is a reflection from a previous Award recipient.

Suzana Sukovic
Photograph 'iTell reflection' by Hannah Berekoven
A study trip to Europe was one of my highlights last year thanks to the ALIA Research Award. I received it for the project entitled iTell: digital storytelling@National Year of Reading. The project started at the beginning of the National Year of Reading when I decided to investigate issues of writing and reading in a digital era while giving students at the school where I work an opportunity to try something new. This is how iTell was born. Transliteracy and digital storytelling were at the core of the project, and as project developed, I felt I missed a connection with relevant communities of practice. I applied for the ALIA Research Award proposing to travel to the United Kingdom to meet with a few key people in areas of interest and attend DS8: Digital Storytelling Festival, hosted by the University of Glamorgan’s George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, in June 2013 in Cardiff. I was delighted when my proposal was accepted in spring 2012 and the grant covered some project expenses and a study trip, which would take me to a main DS event in the world. 

Between my grant application and the trip, iTell was going through some major developments. Library staff were trained in digital storytelling and we provided a few rounds of workshops to students at our school. I was interested in experimenting with boundaries between reading and writing, so in iTell students worked with existing stories to develop their own unique perspective based on their reading. Although some students decided to work with their original writing, most based their digital stories on books. During the workshops, I gathered data about their engagement with learning, development of transliteracy skills and any impact on students’ learning. By the time my study trip started, iTell was presented at several conferences and professional gatherings. After some ups and downs, it was a well established project, which generated interesting data. At that time, I was curious how experiences with the project fit with developments elsewhere.

My study trip started in June 2013 with a whole day seminar at the British Library and an opportunity to catch up with colleagues I met in the past. Later I traveled to Bath to meet with some members of the original PART Group (Production and Research in Transliteracy), which initiated the concept of transliteracy as we discuss in the LIS field today. Professor Sue Thomas, the creator and leader of the Group, was very generous with her time and traveled to Bath to meet with Prof Kate Pullinger, Australian Dr Donna Hancox and me. We spent a few hours talking about transliteracy, multimedia and research interests. To this day, I cherish the opportunity to learn about the development of transliteracy from its originators. 

DS8 conference dinner
DS8 in Cardiff was the final destination of my study trip where I found a very diverse crowd of media producers – from community and health workers to political activists and academics – coming from Japan, Egypt, Norway and, mainly, from the UK. I was a bit of an unsual presence there as the only person from Australia and LIS sector. My paper iTell: digital stories for creative readers was presented in the panel session Digital Storytelling inEducation. After a day of thought provoking presentations, there was a conference dinner with a difference. I thought I knew what conference dinners were about, but here we were in a room with a bar, listening to impromptu storytelling, some even in musical forms. I left lovely people of Cardiff, bilingual signs and chilly Welsh winds with some heart-warming memories.

Months later in Sydney I am still feeling benefits of my study trip. Unlike academics who tend to travel to international conferences, this experience was a privilege for a profession-based researcher. Not only that I learnt interesting things, but experiences I had are a constant reference point and a confidence-builder in my work. At times when I am unsure how to tackle questions of my branching involvement with transliteracy, I rely on Susan Thomas’s voice in my mind telling me that there aren’t any ready answers. When I wonder about a reflective space digital storytelling opens for our students, I remember numerous examples of how digital stories are used for healing with prisoners and victims of trauma. A sense that my approach to digital storytelling through reading has a potential for further exploration is now based on confirmations from a digital storytelling community. A freshening effect of chilly summer rains in foreign lands, far away from a daily grind, shouldn’t be underestimated either.

A new round of proposals for ALIA research awards is now open. I would strongly encourage all of you interested in research to send a proposal and see where it will take you.

Come to the next LARK meeting on 1 May if you wish to talk with experienced researchers and get some advice from members of the ALIA Research Committee!

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