Tech Identities: An Evolution of an Old Problem in Academia

As I read “Becoming Literate in the Information Age” and considered my own development in my own identities in technology and literacy outside of the “norm,” I began to think on the struggle for teachers in the composition classroom to effectively instruct different speech and discourse communities; a Sociolinguistics subject I studied in undergrad and, currently, the reading subject of the Introduction to Composition class Theory here at SFSU. Students from these different communities have no issue with  conveying ideas or constructing communication; they simply don’t communicate in the specific way desired by those in power. Because the prestige language is not in their own primary or secondary discourses, these students are told that their language identity is incorrect either directly or subversively and the result can be the inability to succeed in academic institutions. Now, with technology creating further expansions and fragmentation of discourse and speech communities, not to mention becoming more important globally than traditional literacy, more students have the potential to fall through the cracks if composition teachers cannot find a way to incorporate some of these new literacies and recognition of tech identities, as well as language identities, into the classroom.

one-does-not-simply-a - One does not simply become fluent in a Secondary Discourse

This felt especially relevant in the case study of David John Damon explored in “Students Who Teach Us,” who, despite being an early adopter of web design, seemed extremely practiced, skilled, and talented at not only creating websites, but also networking people, failed out of college because of his non-academic language used in his speech and composition courses. Growing up in Detroit, he did not have the background in the “standard” Academic language discourse communities that the institution he took classes at wanted him to have skill in. His other talents were never considered or really observed by those that only saw his inability to construct traditional literacy by writing formal papers.

David spent a large portion of his time creating, learning, honing and developing websites for the various communities on campus he participated in. This is basically Tapscott’s dream student who is, “hungry for expression, discovery and [his] own self-development” (Buckingham 13). He showed all of the traits of a person who knows the importance of computer literacy in an increasing technocentric world and spent his time developing these skills much like the two people examined in “Becoming Literate”, but the difference was their upbringing, creating an academic as well as technological identity that helped to lead them to success. Sadly, while David’s teachers expressed concern for his issues with formal writing, nothing is said on attempts to work with him, nor do we find out what happened after his year at college.

It is too bad that these teachers had not also read the “Students Who Teach Us” chapter of Writing New Media since it contains some interesting ideas on how to create a culture of tech literacy and identity awareness in the classroom. These kinds of writing exercises can help students realize their own authorship and literacies that they have already developed, which might make an English class less threatening. As I explore further into this fascinating and evolving world of English Composition, I have to wonder how it is possible to incorporate even elements of everything that I am learning that seems like it would benefit student learning. In addition, I have concerns about students moving forward into other classes with teachers who are still very much traditionalists and a student’s ability to succeed coming out of a class that I teach and even more how the hell teachers can not only get away with these different ideas but begin to change the departments that they reside in, but maybe that is just me overthinking things.


Finally, to emulate one of my favorite YouTubers TotalBiscuit, here is an OC remix track that I feel emulates the wonder (and possibly a little fear of the unknown?) of this world of technology and literacy that we are exploring:

Say a 1000 Words About a Picture…What Will Your Words Say About You?

Anne Frances Wysocki’s, “The Sticky Embrace of Beauty” was a difficult read for me. Wysocki argues that the contemporary approach to helping students critique visual texts is incomplete and may prevent students from being able to thoroughly critique those visual texts. What is missing from our approach is the realization that we, us, as viewers are culturally accustomed to seeing form in particular ways, ways informed by Western conceptions of universal beauty, and because we don’t realize how our judgments are culturally informed, we divorce form from content. In divorcing form from content, we objectify whatever material/media makes up that content. In Wysocki’s argument, her example is the body of a women used in an advertisement. The woman’s body has been divorced from the content, and is used to enhance the form of the visual ad. The objectification of the woman’s body goes unnoticed because her body is presented in a visual form that is pleasing and in line with our cultural ideals of “universal beauty.”

Wysocki borrows this term of “universal beauty” from Kant’s Critiques. I admit I was lost in much of her explanation of Kant’s theories, especially when she notes that Kant states that our judgments of beauty “should be disinterested” and that Kant himself is always gendered. I thought maybe what she meant was that since we all partake in the judging of “universal beauty,” we are all like Kant and are all gendered in our judgments of beauty (and beauty could easily be replaced with the words “truth” or “goodness” here).

Wysocki proposes that we strive to present visions of beauty that highlight how parts of the everyday fit into a larger and more communal ideas and activities. She posits, “How then, might we learn to appreciate—see the beauty of, take rich pleasure in—the particularities of our experiences and those of others within this shared day-to-day?” (171) (My immediate response to this was, “Wow, that is a very intellectual form of beauty. Will the whole country get on board with that?” Images of Susan Boyle come to mind. People were so shocked that a woman who didn’t fit a visual ideal of “universal beauty” could produce something so “universally beautiful” She disrupted the whole process of objectification and people were shocked.)  ImageI think that Wysocki’s goals are ambitious, and I find myself a skeptic because of the sheer scope of the problem she presents. I want violence against women to be less reified by society, but I don’t see the presence of sex leaving advertising anytime soon. I was troubled by how hard it was for me to envision what she is talking about. What Wysocki proposes definitely falls into critical pedagogy (pedagogy that has an aim of social justice), and I have to remind myself that in discussing what art should do she is not expecting that a composition student would perform a visual rhetorical analysis and immediately be cured of biases, but its easy to get overwhelmed when reading this kind of scholarship.

The other reading this week, “Between Modes,” by Madeleine Sorapure, answers a very straightforward and prescient questions in the context of new media assignments like the ones that Wysocki would have her students participate in, and that question is how do we assess works in the composition classroom that contain visual imagery? What is a success and what is less effective? Sorapure presents the notions of the metaphor and the metonym, a metaphor being a substitution for an idea, and a metonym being a trope that evokes ideas that are in proximity to the image being used. I really appreciated the simplicity, and the practicality of her method of assessment. It’s not foolproof–teacher assessment can still be subjective when a student is assessed on their use of these tropes—for example, I didn’t think that world on a hook was so bad.

The Wysocki reading was REALLY difficult to read at times, but it did get me thinking about how I could perform similar analyses with students. I nominate this picture of Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T’s lap as a possible photo to analyze, but it might be too dated for my students.

This is a good example to me of a photo that has a lot going on in it, and the metonyms and the metaphors you could draw from it would be evocative even though they may not be intentional due to the context of this photo.

Photo Credits:

Susan Boyle:

Mr T and Nancy Reagan:

The Medium and The Message

In “Opening New Media to Writing”, Wysocki invites teachers to use new media as an addition to their composition-based pedagogy, and to allow new media to inform the composition classroom in new ways. In “Composition in a New Key”, Yancey does the same, and Cynthia Selfe joins in as well in “Toward New Media Texts: Taking up the Challenges of Visual Literacy”.

There is a call to arms in Wysocki, Yancey, and Selfe’s articles to push composition into a future of public writings and readings, visual analysis in addition to text, and examination of the construction of self, identity, and place through the lens of the internet. Ohmann, a skeptic, offers some minor cautionings and perhaps occupies a similar mindset that I do in “Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital”: New Media and technology have the potential to be incredibly beneficial to education as a whole, but our goals and purposes will ultimately decide whether it is successful or not.

While I am enthusiastic about the potential benefits of such an application, I conflict with the purpose of inserting new media in a classroom.  Each reading contained a specific kind of reasoning for this shift, however I still struggle to except justifications at hand.

So, by adding new media into the composition classroom, are we training students for future jobs? Ohmann seems to think that this is an exaggeration of the future state of technology. He relates this ‘age of technology’ to previous ages of economic revolution; in this, technology is a tool of workforce stratification where only a few will need the specialized skills of technology.  By no means is Ohmann alone in his skepticism of the political implications of technology.

Certainly there are niche jobs in technology, and training for them is done in specific classes that may even happen in specific technology-centered schools. And, if future students are becoming proficient with new technologies earlier than ever, then how are we, who may often be behind their skills, going to help them with future jobs?

While there are those who would argue that even the most recent generation is under-prepared for jobs involving even the slightest technological skills, I’m not sure I understand the task of training for technological jobs in the writing classroom. Based on my job technology-related job experience, I envision composition classrooms working in Excel, Word, Outlook, and alike. And this seems like a challenge to me, even if Yancey does detail an interesting idea for using PowerPoint in the classroom.

Then, if we are not training a future workforce, are we leveraging new media as a means to engage students and motivate them? Yancey offers different points in her articles where she details several moments in history where writing and reading activities were done on a large scale outside the classroom. She asserts that not only do people not need formal instruction to participate in different forms of social reading and writing practices, they especially do not need assessment to validate these acts.

Ultimately, people don’t need grades to be active readers and writers. If we then decide to pull things from technologies that drive people to read and write more into the classroom and assess them, are we just going to slowly suffocate their joy?

Ok, so we’re not trying to be kill-joys and grade your favorite internet activity. Continue to make Willy Wonka memes without fear. Then, is this move into a related, but seemingly separate field a last-ditch effort to give composition departments a fighting chance in the academic world? Yancey, Selfe, and Wysocki spend a lot of time detailing how composition should be moving into the future–presumably so that we don’t get left in the past.

There’s been plenty of concern about the direction of composition studies over the past couple of decades (See: End of Composition Studies by David Smit– the title says it all). And so, it’s no wonder that we want to make sure that we’re presenting something fresh and appealing to colleges. But I think some of this progress has the potential to dismantle the field and place it in the realms of other disciplines. I think this is why Yancey mentions WAC classes and their new importance to composition teachers.

Ultimately, I’m conflicted with what our purpose is or could be, even if I can see all of these justifications as potential benefits. The answers I have are certainly a product of being here and now for me, grappling with teaching myself for the first-time, and generally doubting everything I do in the classroom. Perhaps though, others have more insight for the use of New Media in the classroom and the choice, like inserting anything into your teaching, is a personal one based on personal reasoning. Clearly, I’m not quite there yet.

Curious about grammar instruction: common ground?

I have a strong response to McGee and Erickson’s essay on politics and MS Word and want to post something that makes a proposal and asks questions. The field of composition seems very rational and democratic in discussions of writing, but I observe a lot of conflict, political division, and polarization around the teaching of grammar. Although there is support in the field of stylistics for teaching grammar in context, as descriptive, and as part of that larger discussion of style, it seems that the majority of the field of composition wants to ignore grammar altogether as not contributing to better writing. However, my experience points to postsecondary teachers who teach grammar regularly and unsystematically (is it because of this lack of conversation within the field and the politicization of the topic?) and students who struggle with grammar, often avoiding content to deal with grammar issues. If the grammar checkers are students’ only coherent source for grammar instruction while writing, students use it. So McGee and Erickson offer good advice that teachers familiarize themselves with grammar checkers and talk about considering the settings of MS Word software. My question is–aren’t we missing the point? In a paper I wrote, I found support for finding an approach to teaching grammar that is descriptive, not prescriptive. If grammar engages student writing at the time when he or she is engaged in writing a paper, my experience in a tutoring center shows that students are interested.  My research shows that process, content, and sentence logic may not be all that far apart, and I’m curious what ideas, feedback, experiences-pro and con-others might have regarding grammar instruction or lack thereof.

These are a Few of My Favorite Posts (Part II)

As I continue my synthesis of ideas from the class blog , I should mention that you all have written lots of great stuff about many subjects including games, podcasting, multimedia and so on, but I will ignore all that for now in favor of what supports, expands or challenges the ideas I have been developing about my own teaching methods which seem particularly relevant to teaching a face to face, textually based writing class with online support.

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These are a Few Of My Favorite Posts (Part 1)

What stood out from this week’s reading was the idea of asking students to write about their favorite posts or posters on the class blog. Rather than allowing to vanish over time, the assignment forces students to look back over the work the class has produced. Such an exercise has two important functions: it reviews the material, develops critical skills and encourages the social production of knowledge.

I would recommend a variation that would add another important skill, synthesis: students could review the blogs from the course and pull out ideas that seem most significant. Since my final project is an overview of the salient points of the course, along with some of my own new ideas, I thought I would mine your posts for the most relevant concepts for my own purposes (teaching face-to-face, text-based classes with online support), which I would then possibly include in my final paper. Such recycling of material fits in with my developing idea that teachers should encourage students to use the smaller pieces of writing, both their own and that of others in the class, to create a larger whole in an integrated and continuous process.
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Teaching Writing Offline (With Online Support)

Even though Scott Warnock’s book Teaching Writing Online: How & Why focuses on writing classes that take place entirely over the internet and hybrid classes which are about half online and half in person, any writing teacher in the digital age can glean important advice from his book on how to update and enhance their own teaching practices. Here are some suggestions I thought I would adopt and, in many cases, adapt, with comments and musings about why they are significant.

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