Reading: Multiliteracies for a Digital Age
Presentation: Conor on Kress’ Literacy in the New Media Age (wiki log-in key = “conor”)
The Problem: …computer literacy is a vexing and ongoing problem even for teachers who have good support systems. Many in the profession are understandably skeptical about getting involved in computer literacy initiatives. One explanation for this skepticism is that those who work with technology can quite easily find themselves in a number of precarious situations. Some are fortunate to have access to impressive computer facilities but find themselves operating in a culture that vastly underestimates what must be learned to take advantage of technology and to understand its social and pedagogical implications. Others function rather productively in relative isolation, organizing an active community of dedicated graduate students and part-time instructors, while bending over backwards to entice faculty colleagues to invest their time and energy in a new direction. Still others – the great majority of teachers, I argue – are encouraged, even mandated, to integrate technology into the curriculum, yet no incentives are given for such an ambitious assignment, one that places an extra workload burden on teachers, adding considerably to their overall job activities. (2)
Multiliteracies: …teachers should emphasize different kinds of computer literacies and help students become skilled at moving among them in strategic ways. The three literacy categories that organize my discussion – functional, critical, and rhetorical – are meant to be suggestive rather than restrictive, and more complimentary than in competition with each other. […] Students who are not adequately exposed to all three literacy categories will find it difficult to participate fully and meaningfully in technological activities. (24)
Technology as Artifact: It is indeed a shameful act that certain technologies have been designed in order to repress subaltern groups. Harley Shaiken reports on a machine shop that installed an override switch on an automatic turret punch press so that the company could send the symbolic message to workers that management was in control. […] Langdon Winner mentions a number of examples in which the designs of of technologies have served purposes of domination: the design of college campuses to diffuse student demonstrations; the design of industrial plants to deter union activities; the design of overpasses to segregate people of color who ride city buses. […] Still, at least two other explanations (not excuses) for abusive designs are possible. First, a design can be socially inattentive. […] Second, a design can have unexpected consequences. (89-90)
Functional Literacy: …why do so many students today still operate the computer like a glorified typewriter? In part because teachers often implicitly or explicitly dismiss student experiments with genres and formats, and in part because certain documentation styles remain quite traditional (the MLA style, for example…puts angled brackets around Website addresses as opposed to permitting actual hyperlink designations). In addition, however, teachers have not paid enough attention to the so-called advanced features of software programs (e.g., style sheets, master pages…), which are typically explained in the associated help features. […] These five parameter – eduational goals, social conventions, specialized discourses, management activities, and technological impasses – provide a framework within which teachers of writing and communication can conceive a productive approach to functional literacy that encompasses computers. On the whole, they serve as an alternative to the prescriptive lists of software skills churned out in academic settings by technologists and administrators who fail to problematize modern literacy practices that seem to be given and natural but are in fact subject to social forces. (48; 72)
Critical Literacy: …students that are critically literate can work against the grain of conventional preoccupations and narratives, implicating design cultures, use contexts, institutional forces, and popular representations within the shape and direction of computer-based artifacts and activities (95).
Rhetorical Literacy: …students who are rhetorically literate can effect change in technological systems. Students should not be just effective users of computers, nor should they be just informed questioners. Although these two roles are essential, neither one encourages a sufficient level of participation. In order to function most effectively as agents of change, students must also become reflective producers of technology, a role that involves a combination of functional and critical abilities. (182)