Overview - Kris Blair
In his recent article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” (2008) Nicholas Carr notes:
The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
Carr concedes that the current skepticism against the Internet in fostering intelligence as opposed to stupidity is not all that different from Socrates’ concerns about writing in Plato’s Phaedrus and not all that different from initial fear of Gutenberg’s printing press and its ability to expand the access to ideas, whether they be good or bad, religious or secular. Too many ideas for too many people couldn’t possibly be a good thing.
And whether it be Plato then or Carr now, concerns about the impact of literacy and communication technologies is certainly not new. Indeed, today’s media is as saturated with tales of the problems with texting on standard English, with social networking and instant messaging on the safety of our children, as it is with its own use of blogs, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 tools to keep viewers as “mediated” as possible.
Because of the lament about the information overload aspect of the Internet, many writing programs have partnered with academic libraries on information literacy education in the context of first-year writing to limit the potential problems with relying solely on Google and Wikipedia for academic research. Such literacy education has had as its goal the dual emphasis on functional and critical literacies (Selber, 2004).
Despite this emphasis, however, the potential of these tools and others in fostering the third point on Selber’s multiliterate triad, e.g., the “rhetorical” perspective that students must be effective producers of technology-based communication, is all too often overlooked by writing programs because of the tensions between the perceived practical need to foreground “academic discourse” vs. the theoretical call for multimodal literacy practices within the curriculum (Selfe, 2008). Documenting this tension is the recent “A Vision of Students Today” YouTube video produced by Michael Wresch and his students at Kansas State University, one that compares the type and amount of reading and communication practices by students outside the academy with those practices inside the academy, powerfully articulating that the question of the personal and professional relevance of academic literacy is exactly that: a question of how to make teachers more “willing to expand their own understanding of composing beyond conventional bounds of the alphabetic,” lest we risk “composition studies becoming increasingly irrelevant” (Selfe, 2004, p. 54).
Rather than “pass the buck” on how to establish that relevance, I believe it is the responsibility of rhetoric and composition specialists to address this question in the context of preparing future faculty to be functionally, critically, and rhetorically literate with regard to their application of technology into their teaching and research careers in English studies. What this has meant for me as both an English Department Chair and as a computers and writing specialist is, as Debra Journet (2007) has suggested, a necessary move for all English faculty away from what is familiar and comfortable to what is new, risky, and inevitably, more relevant.
With this paradigm shift in mind, in the Fall 2007 I made the decision to abandon Blackboard as the course management system in my graduate seminar Computer-Mediated Writing Theory and Practice for precisely the same reasons I adopted it in the first place: a stable sense of comfort for both faculty and graduate students as future faculty. Instead, I have since embraced a more chaotic Web 2.0 curriculum: Google and Facebook groups for asynchronous communication, SecondLife and Meebo for synchronous communication and virtual reality; Blogger and Wordpress for online journaling about readings; YouTube for video storage; PBwiki and Dekiwiki for resource sharing, and other new media production technologies including Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop, along with Apple’s Imovie for video editing.
What made this a risky proposition for the graduate students enrolled in the course may have been the initial sense that this was what all computers and writing specialists advocate against: technology for technology’s sake. Yet what diminished that early perception was the constant reminder that these tools were the ones in use by our students, and lest we consider those irrelevant to the concerns of English studies in general and Rhetoric and Composition in particular, we can only turn to the current national election process to see the role of tools like YouTube in the candidate debates, blogs in disseminating political views by pundits and citizens alike, and how can one forget Barack Obama’s early morning text message to his supporters about his Vice Presidential choice. Because these tools are ones in the hands of today’s students, defined as digital natives (Prensky, 2001), they should be ones worthy of functional, critical, and particularly rhetorical literacy education within graduate programs in Rhetoric and Composition, not only to transform the undergraduate writing curriculum but also to change the presumption that all academic discourse is print in nature, particularly in light of concerns by the Modern Language Association (2006) about the crisis in scholarly publishing and the impact on print production processes as well as on the academic reward system for faculty caught within the paradigm shift between the print and the digital.
That the risk I took with my graduate seminar was worthwhile is perhaps most evident from the collaborative work that has evolved on this webtext. My collaborators, representing the future of the profession, theorize the role that Web 2.0 plays in their own educational philosophies and their own pedagogical practices, serving as mentors for those of us newer to Web 2.0 literacies. While Toby Coley focuses on blog and wikis, Ruijie Zhao addresses the power of both Google groups and Google docs, the latter proving to be a useful tool for our own collaborative efforts. Eden Leone addresses the pedagogical potential of Facebook, while Joe Erickson and Jeremy Schnieder focus on the growing emphasis on audio, with Erickson profiling YackPack and Schnieder overviewing the power of podcasting in general. Although we organize our discussion around specific tooks. For Lawrence Ragan (2000), and for us, “good teaching is good teaching,” and as the various sections of this webtext suggest, good teaching is as possible within Web 2.0 environments as within more institutionally supported course management systems such as Blackboard, and as within our traditional education spaces where , as the Kansas State group suggests, the chalkboard was touted as the technology that would “be ranked among the best contributors in learning and science.” Thomas Benton recently concluded in his Chronicle of Higher Education column "On Stupidity: Exactly How Should We Teach the 'Digital Natives'?" that if digital technologies are a contributing factor to 'stupidity,' then they are also part of the solution. Ultimately, as Nicholas Carr conceded, the use of Google and many other tools of the digital age are an integral part of the history of literacy in Western culture; to ignore this fact and to bridge the gap between students as digital natives and faculty as digital immigrants certainly calls the question about which group is truly more ignorant and less literate.
Benton, T. (2008). On stupidity, part 2. Exactly how should we teach the 'digital natives.' Chronicle of Higher Education, September 5. Available online at http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2008/09/2008090501c.htm.
Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. Atlantic Monthly, July/August, pp. 56-63.
Journet, D. (2007). Inventing myself in multimodality: Encouraging senior faculty to use digital media. Computers and Composition, 24, pp.107-120.
Modern Language Association. (2006). Report of the MLA task force on evaluating scholarship for tenure and promotion. New York: MLA.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9.5, pp. 1-6.
Ragan, L. (2000). Good teaching is good teaching: The relationship between guiding principles for distance and general education. The Journal of General Education, 49, 1, pp. 10-22.
Selber, S. (2004). Multiliteracies for the digital age. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
Selfe, C. (2004). Students who teach us. In Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition, eds. A. Wysocki, J. Johnson-Eilola, C. Selfe, and G. Sirc, pp. 43-66. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
Selfe, C. (2008). Multimodal composition: Resources for teachers . Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Wresch, M. (2007). A vision of students today. Available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGCJ46vyR9o