Selfe, C.L. (1999). Technology and Literacy: A story about the perils of not paying attention. College Composition and Communication, 50(3), 411-436.
I haven’t read Selfe’s call for critical attention, critical awareness of technology since grad school. I had forgotten how much I like this article. I want to talk about why I assigned it, and why so many of her suggestions continue to be necessary reminders.
First, I assigned this article in my Social Media grad class that meets tonight as an introduction to the field of Rhetoric and Composition, specifically digital writing and social media. Most of the students in our program study and teach literature – so before we jump into digital rhetoric and digital humanities texts I really want to discuss the foundational ideas about literacies and technologies that shape so many of our research questions and influence public discussions of technologies. I’ve read one too many “ban all phones because teens are depressed” articles recently that never ask – are teens more depressed now? Do these teens have an outlet for discussing their experiences, their depression? Do they have people to help them work through these ideas who destigmatize mental health, take them seriously, and work to help them feel comfortable and confident? In most cases, the depression (causation error – thank you rhetoric training) linked to facebook results in a call for banning phones and facebook. While I don’t want to extoll the virtues of facebook (or my favorite twitter), and I’m not just arguing for the need to include digital technologies, I really do believe that to address the issues teens face we need to critically question the values influencing the cause and effect issues in our logic.
What I love about Selfe’s call is her focus on literacies and values, and her lengthy discussions of how school curriculum, public funding, values, and politics all influence what is taught and where it is taught. The inclusion or not of technology is always political – and in either case unless students are using and critically examining, we’re doing a disservice to our students. I’ve also been reading Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole where she draws attention to ALL. THE. THINGS that influence composing and a composing situation (lights, food, water, desk height, chair comfort, etc.). I want to discuss what Shipka’s call for paying attention to everything surrounding composing adds to Selfe’s call for critical awareness. Both are so important!
Second, I’ve also assigned the article to my undergrads. I want them to grapple with how we ask questions about critical awareness of technology in relation to writing and why writing. So often, students complete composition courses simply because they are ‘required’. We know that affects their mindset about the course (in some positive and some negative ways). My goal is to raise awareness of all the places they compose, and all the choices they subconsciously make when they compose.
I saw a link floating around facebook – a composition course with the theme of Master of None. While theme’d courses are a whole discussion themselves, as I read Selfe’s article and considered Shipka’s call for attention to contexts of writing I thought about all the episodes, all the jokes Aziz Ansari devotes to the amount of time he spends composing a message. We all get it – we all spend tons of time making these hard decisions, but it’s rare that we stop and consider that we’re making hard writing decisions. We notice the language choices, we pay attention to the audience and audience reception, the device and so many other things. But why do we know to write in those ways? I hope Selfe can help my undergrads ask these questions. The goal is to raise awareness of how they are better writes because of my course so they can start from a better place (transfer) in all their other classes.
With all these ideas floating around, I’m excited for my students to read and discuss this article!