The False Digital Imperative

What I am about to talk about in terms of this week’s reading will likely not be a popular viewpoint.  Seeing as we are in a digital literacy class, my assumption is that many of you have a defined viewpoint on what extent you think technology should be involved in the teaching of composition.  I am assuming also that many of you believe digital literacy should be wholly integrated into composition pedagogy.  While I do not disagree that the world is moving towards and ever rapid pace of information consumption, I do not agree that as composition instructors we should jump on the band wagon and be touting that others are Luddite’s just because they have varying opinions on the application of this technology in the classroom.  Yet, this is what J. Elizabeth Clark does in her article, The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st Century Pedagogy, when she states: “Myopic, Luddite fantasies of returning to pencil and paper, the disavowal of the role of technology in the classroom, and the supposition that technology is a passing fad are tired arguments now giving way to a new era of digital rhetoric…”(Clark, 27).

One of the concerns that I am left with as the influx of digital media pervades composition classrooms is a concern that Nicolas Carr writes about in his widely read Atlantic Magazine article, Is Google Making Us Stupid?  Digital media supplies information, but it also shapes the process of thought.  He openly talks about his experience with feeling like his intellect has dwindled as the internet makes information so accessible that we are not burdened, and thus enlightened, by the search of answers any longer:

“…what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.”

Literary figures are openly admitting that they cannot engage in sustained critical reading, in a sense, they can no longer read for a purpose because they are searching for that hyperlink that is going to take them away from the painstaking task of being patient; avoiding the effort it takes to work their way into the answers they seek.  Students in our classes will not have to admit such an occurrence because by promoting these digital landscapes as the framework for new writing and information consumption, these students will have never engaged in sustained textual analysis of literary merit.  Kathleen McCormick, a composition theorist that contributes to the pedagogical textbook Intertexts, suggests that a way to promote agency in student reading and writing is to turn it from a, “functional literacy task to a critical literacy task (McCormick, 45). If we teach digital literacy as the only important mode of contemporary learning, we enable the pitfall of functional literacy to replace any instructional goals of critical literacy.  We are doing a disservice to our students by not expecting sustained, critical analysis of the texts chosen for our curriculum.

J. Elizabeth Clark posits that we should be moving towards, “a carefully employed pedagogy aimed at furthering students digital literacy, just as earlier, process-based composition emerged as a dominant pedagogical model” (Clark, 28).  She delights in the fact that everyone through digital platforms can “become an author,” constructing opinions and contributing to commentary threads.  As evidenced in this class, anyone can start a blog and begin to contribute to the mire of public writing with little or no peer review, fact checking mechanism, or intention of contributing to the civic engagement that propels democracy.  Our blogs happen to be academic in nature, but many blogs out there that have no business being on the web are written by people talking about what their cat did today, the sound of the fart symphony they have been working on, or the latest dabble into their semi-psychotic (or outright psychotic) brains. Many times during the Clark reading I felt as if she was out of touch with reality, creating a picture of what I interpreted to be her proposal: A utopian universe of digitally competent students that could A) construct perfect pieces of writing if they just embraced the process and B) that impact a global sphere by making this writing accessible to the public through the internet.

Henry Jenkins, author of Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, takes a much more balanced approach than Clark on the matter of technological integration into the classroom.  He makes a case for being wary of public writing in the classroom.  He suggests that if not implemented properly, this public writing can have far reaching consequences.  He suggests that as instructors we may not have the proper tools to ensure our students can ethically, competently, or socially handle the responsibilities of creating media/public text.  He also states, “Before students can engage in the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write”(Jenkins, 19).  Participatory culture is defined by the New Media Consortium as being, “skills and abilities where aural, visual and digital literacy overlap.  Youth must expand their required competencies, not push aside old skills to make room for the new” (Jenkins, 19;8)  He advocates for the reconfiguring of procedural literacy in order to make way for defining students understanding of text in their everyday lives.  This literacy needs to span across culture, class, and genre.  This can be inclusive of digital platforms but our pedagogy does not have to be primarily digital in order to promote learning that will help them succeed beyond college.

Professor Henry Jenkins


Finally, the reliance on technology to make decisions for us…to help us find our way instead of learning to read a map, to help us find information quickly and just as quickly forget it; this intentional move towards brevity and away from sustained critical reading/writing is sure to negatively impact the future of our students, thereby impacting the future of our country.  Nicholas Carr, who was referenced earlier, appeared on National Public Radio’s well known show, All Things Considered. Here is a short but informative clip on his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. His ideas are ideas that must be considered in conjunction with composition theory and our attempts to change pedagogy towards a digital platform.  The decisions we make today can have lasting impact on what our profession will contribute to the state of affairs in American education.


6 comments on “The False Digital Imperative

  1. Pingback: Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 10/14/2012

  2. I really enjoyed your view on the “you’re either with us” or “against us” divide that seems to be so prevalent in the digital literacy debate. I think it is important to consider how technology influences our students in their thinking, writing, and actions; however, I do not automatically believe that digital literacy should be wholly integrated into composition pedagogy, as you aptly observe. I , too, agree with the Nicholas Carr ‘s piece “Is Google Making Us Stupid”. When I first had to conduct research for college papers, I had to actually use extent books to look up articles, order them and wait for at least a week. The process has exponentially sped up, but the time to think about crafting your own argument before taking in a multitude of other viewpoints has decreased. One role as composition teachers is to assist students with the mechanics of reading, writing, pre-writing, and conscious thinking that does indeed take time, and should take time.

  3. The concept of patience can be connected to tools of new media. I worked for a brief time doing data entry for a social networking site, and when you start working on the back-end of technology, you realize the PAINSTAKING tedium that is involved with creating such useful tools. I think giving students a taste of the back-end patience it takes to create true quality content in a new media platform will give them some perspective on a) what it takes to create quality work in general and b) make them more grateful for the ease that they enjoy when they just “google it.” (Not to mention the cultural elephant in the room, that much of this painstaking labor gets outsourced to other countries). I’m not saying that every student should learn how to code, but some work with excel spreadsheet data, some time tackling the ins and outs of an unfamiliar program, (even figuring out how to use WordPress effectively) is time well spent in realizing that what looks so pretty and easy on the computer is A LOT of work.

  4. So nice to see that others are just as apprehensive about technology as I am. Really loved the quote you used from Carr, and especially the line which read: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” This metaphor really struck me, because during the summer months I rent jet skis up in Lake Tahoe, to a bunch of, in my opinion, dumb ass tourists. I can recall years ago, when all we use to rent were kayaks and canoes. People would slowly take their time paddling around the lake, closely observing everything and just enjoying the day. Much like how people use to sit down and really examine articles and go to that mysterious place which old timers call the library to find articles. Now though, we rip through google and other various search engines at dangerous speeds, sort of like idiots on jet skis doing 50 mph on the shores of Tahoe, not really paying attention to the scenery or anything else passing them by. I do feel though that technology has helped tremendously, it is easier to find more articles by more people, and is a lot easier to share. But I feel not everyone is as responsible with technology as they should be. Most want their results, and they wanted them five minutes ago without much effort!

  5. Pingback: Update: Diigo in Education group (weekly) | ChalkTech

  6. I defer to Steve on this one… The thing that sticks out so much to me with all this talk of digital literacies is the fact that people seem to be so “for it or against it”, when I don’t think there needs to be such a drastic divide. Like any good academic practice, digital literacy stands on the shoulders of all the other forms of literacy that came before it, and it can’t really be extricated from its cultural and philosophical roots. Like many of the other ideological battles of the English department (Lit vs. Comp, Current traditional vs. expressive, etc.), I can’t help but wonder what we are fighting about…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s