Better Spaces, Better Thinkers

I don’t know how I missed this the last few weeks (or maybe I did notice but did not pay much attention to it), but I think it’s funny that after each blog post here, there is a list of “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated).” Who generates these posts? How do they determine what are related to the blog posts? Much like MS Word’s grammar check, these automatic posts seem arbitrary and make one wonder how much of what we do here on these digital media platforms are structured and determined by these “unseen” forces. McGee and Ericsson’s article starts out with a quote from Mark Weiser that warns us of the “most profound technologies” that “disappear… and weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” This is the age that we now live in, where the ubiquity of digital technologies directly impacts how we communicate and perform literacy practices in ways that we don’t necessarily think twice about.

The connections that I was able to gather from the readings this week and which struck me as salient are

  1. the urgency and importance of critical digital skills, so that we may be better able to
  2. bridge form and content (interface and information; medium and content; materiality and immaterial content), which will then allow us to
  3. “make the Web a better research space” (DeVoss and Rosatti 201) and “understand the ‘mere’ uncreative act of selection and connection as very active and creative” (Johnson-Eilola) so that we may better appreciate intellectual property and how we read and write about texts.

All of these important arguments are key to the new literacy skills that students have to be taught to develop. More importantly, teachers will also have to learn these new skills so that they can perform the task of educating students on critical digital skills in order for students to value authentic engagement with the texts they read and write about. All of these, however, are labor-intensive and do not seem to me currently feasible in the context of today’s crisis in higher education (otherwise, how do we make these much-needed lessons on critical digital literacy happen in humanistic education?). With dwindling funds and time constraints, how can universities implement such needed and crucially important workshops on critical digital skills, and weave these into the curriculum?

The bridge between form and content is something that, I think, constantly comes up in discussions. These essays make it clear that a pedagogy of textual materiality is also necessary for students to navigate the online world and be better researchers and writers. For instance, the Selfes encourage us to “recognize computer interfaces as noninnocent physical borders…cultural borders…and linguistic borders” (qtd. in Ericsson 454). These are the kinds of materialities that anyone reading and writing about texts must consider. If students are aware of new media technologies as “material technologies,” then perhaps that will lead them to an increased awareness of the sensitivities of intellectual property — that just because something is online and can be cut and pasted, it does not mean that everything is up for grabs; it’s not as transparent and free as one may think. This is a half-baked idea, but I think there’s something about being aware of the materiality (in all the senses of the word) of texts that can lead to really rich and new ways of seeing and understanding texts in both print and online versions, and this includes a deeper understanding authorship, etc.

Lastly, DeVoss and Rosati’s article reminded me of the latest (7th ed.) MLA Handbook, which now tells us new ways of citing online documents, links, etc., but is so short-sighted in its efforts that it erases differences among texts. Moreover, in putting out this new edition, the MLA is assuming that scholars have the digital literary skills to navigate and do research in the online world. What we need is a supplementary handbook that teaches us, in addition to the mere citing of sources, the how we should find and evaluate digital sources, and why and when we should cite them. Mark Sample wrote an intriguing and useful blog post on the MLA’s 7th ed.: “The Modern Language Association Wishes Away Digital Differance.”

Since Nate had links to 2 extra readings in his blog post, I feel obliged to do the same ;). This week’s readings really brought home the importance of “equipping students with the skills to be critical thinker and critical researchers in all of the realms…they do research, especially within online spaces” (DeVoss and Rosati 199). See Howard Rheingold’s piece on “crap detection” (a strategy inspired by Hemingway): “Crap Detection 101.”


2 comments on “Better Spaces, Better Thinkers

  1. Evaluating the validity of web sources is only going to become more important as we become more and more digital in our research. Unfortunately, this is a skill that many students often lack. I took an undergraduate course not too long ago(for financial aid purposes as well as self edification) which stressed this very skill early on in the semester. Our first activity, interestingly enough, was mentioned in that article that you linked to. The professor had us compare to It didn’t take long to figure out that the first site is controlled by some sort of white supremacist organization, whereas the second is the real deal, but it drove home the point that a casual browser might not notice the bias inherent in the site. An excellent tool(though definitely a little “Web 1.0” stylewise) is this from our friends over at Berkeley:

    Evaluating Web Pages

  2. So many great thoughts, Viola! I wanted to respond to your concerns about where to teach this new critical reading to students in the University. After our class discussion yesterday, I don’t think teaching critical reading of digital texts is really different than what is taught in Composition courses already. We talk about critical thinking all the time with students; a popular essay assignment for writing classes is for students to analyze print advertisements. They are to look at the colors, images, and texts to decipher what messages the company is putting forth. Students are taught how to look at texts all the time. They know not to use Seventeen magazine on a paper about Biology. What I think needs to happen is a more explicit connection between the critical thinking we teach students to apply to visual texts and digital media. The skills are present; we simply need to extract them, and show students how to apply critical thinking to emerging technologies.

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