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Stuart’s Multiliteracies

September 19th, 2009 No comments

This book was written to help teachers of writing and communication develop full scale computer literacy programs that are both effective and professionally responsible.

Stuart Selber opens his book, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, with the above introduction, letting us readers know that what he plans to address in the next 239 pages will be a comprehensive plan for teachers. This book is more or less a persuasive argument and you should enter it with that thought in mind.

Sliding gracefully across fourteen pages, Stuart then announces in a clarifying voice what the problems are in today’s (2004’s) teaching of computer technologies and literacies. Initially, his focus falls on how many schools with computer competency courses lack in one of three crucial literacy categories that he outlines throughout the book. These are functional literacy, critical literacy, and rhetorical literacy. Stuart presents the example of Florida State University’s computer science requirements, explaining that it “…promotes skills for working productively in practical terms, on the other hand, fails to offer the perspectives needed for making rhetorical judgements.”

Thus, Stuart defines what he claims:

Students who are not adequately exposed to all three literacy categories will find it difficult to participate fully and meaningfully in technological activities.

Stuart enters his chapter on functional literacy and identifies computers as tools. His list of competencies, that the ideal functionally literate student has, hold within them parameters Stuart finds important: ability to achieve educational goals, understands social conventions that determine computer use, makes use of associated discourses, effective management of online world, and confident resolution to technical impasses. These skills provide a sound foundation for functional literacy.(45) However, Stuart warns that the literacy hides the political leanings embedded in technologies, and while a functional literate student can manage himself effectively, such work is shortsighted and dangerously malleable without a critical understanding of technology. And so, he addresses that in his next chapter. (72)

It is the why and then the how that is stressed in this next chapter. Under the flag of critical literacy, Stuart encourages teachers to instill in their students a questioning, almost skeptical, frame of mind. He asks critically literate students to be aware of the dominating politics inherent in technology, to contextualize it, and to criticise the sculpting forces of culture and institutions. To achieve this, he prescribes metadiscourse heuristics. He quotes Michael Joyce as saying, “…technology, like any other unacknowledged representation of power, endangers learning.”(133) To counter, students and teachers need to be able to recognize the ebb and flow of power, and need to be able to act accordingly.

This action, as Stuart puts it, is reflective production, constitutes the majority of his definition of rhetorical literacy. Within this literacy, he visualizes computers as hypertextual media, digitized text engaged in the mass dissemination of information. Viewing these hypertexts as form of rhetoric, students can engage in discourse with them, much like conventional conversation. This is largely done at the interface, where the user and the technology meet, where the user asserts control. Stuart idealizes rhetorically literate students as being able to negotiate the persuasive techniques of the producers, and to be able to become producers themselves. (160)

Stuart sums up his beliefs on page 179, 58 pages from the end, by saying:

The more associations that individuals can form between old and new knowledge, the better their understanding of that new knowledge is likely to be.

While the phrase can be applied in many way to many subjects, we can tweak it ourselves by replacing “knowledge” with “technology”. Proceeding, he explains his suggested pedagogical procedures in matters of layered contexts, enabling the students to heuristically climb to higher and broader levels of understanding. Or rather, he says what he thinks is a good way to help students learn about technology and learn from technology. And although rather broad and idealistic, we, as students, can already see his changes in our education. It’d be a wonder to see if they’re being applied to the younger generations.