Monday, January 28, 2008

Linear Sminear

All three pieces bat around one of the questions central to the Composition and Rhetoric field: how can the writer truly create something authentic and not just ideologically driven? It is unfortunate that American education remains an expedient machine intent on creating automatons under the guise of literacy. As Hesse and Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola mention essays and literacy respectively, it appears that a cultural laziness has gripped educators to use these terms broadly instead specifically; and dominate ideology is happy (and, no doubt, responsible for) umbrella statements that allow for constraint in student writing. Most notably, Hesse and Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola note that such sweeping definitions reinforce the expectations for linear composition, which not only complicates contrastive modes of discursive writing but also is a beginning of invaliding non-discursive modes of composition such as image and sound.

The pessimist in me thinks that computers and the digital screen will only manifest new ways of exercising power over groups of people; and the potency of this control will come from the fallacy that technological spaces are in fact neutral. The optimist in me believes what Baron says when he states, “the computer has indeed changed the ways some of us do things with words, and the rapid changes in technological development suggest that it will continue to do so in ways we cannot yet foresee” (31). The computer is not just a new means for control, it is a new means to reform literacy (and, by the way, Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola have totally ruined ‘literacy’ for me by exposing it as a Comp buzz word; now I have to search for a new word, and apparently ‘articulation’ is already taken).

So, question: if post-modern notions of space and time frees up the user of technology from learning linearly, whose to say that non-linearity doesn’t become the enemy by being a form of literacy that not everyone is comfortable with? If non-linearity becomes a dominant form of expression (and I am even wondering if it even could be a dominant form of expression in education), couldn’t it be just as exclusive as linear forms in that non-linear forms can be elusive in meaning while linearity at least attempts at clarity? This just one of those nagging questions that have whenever any idea is championed as a solution to education.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Digital Commonplace

Technology is a part of our lives. I’m stating the obvious here. Even if a person in America tries to say they are techno-illiterate, they must admit they know what email is and probably sent a few in the past week. If they said they don’t own a computer, they still use public computers to find a book in the library or check online current events. The digital revolution has come and it is interwoven into our social life. You can’t even enroll in classes or manage your finances at WSU without regular access to the internet.

Faigley notes Slouka’s contension that technology alienates the individual into pursuing technologic environments that are more appealing than real physical communities. Yes, there is a deliberate escape from reality in World of Warcraft and Second Life; but I am more interested in how the digital screen is interwoven into our reality as not only part of our social understanding of communication but our conceptualization of reality. Ten years after Faigely’s address to CCCCs, we have seen the literacy of technology move from innovative exciting social possibilities to commonplace social interaction.

Because this literacy has become commonplace, it seems more necessary to consider how to make writing applicable in a technological world instead of using technology in the writing literate world. The development of civic pluralism in society, as the New London group discuss, has made consumerism and productivity a part of our private lives. The vehicle of this production is technology: a tool for efficient, expedient production. Hence, literacy in technologies and technological spaces makes a part of a society. What is your email address? What is your account number on the database? Please enter your password. Having an email account takes priority over what you write in the email. Having the tool is more important than knowing how to use it.

So, I wonder if the New London Group’s emphasis on calling writing ‘design’ further prioritizes technological access over technological articulation? Are ‘available designs’ just a toolbar on the digital screen that gives us options to choose from but ultimately limits our creation?

Monday, January 21, 2008

PoMo o' that Messy Discourse

As a teacher and administrator in the computer lab, I experience the most frustration in trying to hold the attention of twenty-some students who have the internet, various games and software programs, and preference menus to play with on the computer as I talk. I have barely introduced myself and there are two people in the corner checking their email, three people off to the side checking facebook, and a guy right next to me is adjusting the background of the computer while playing chess on a sidebar widget. Part of me just wants to scream, “Alright, everybody! Just turn off your computers and look at me!” But that is just not how it works in a computer-based classroom. Faigley, Hawisher and Selfe, and Cooper are right to note that we must be attentive to the post-modern structure of the electronic space. If the electronic space is the beginning of a student-centered space for a classroom, I (as an instructor) have to come to terms with relinquishing the power previously held in lecture-based classroom when guiding a classroom in a electronic discussion.

When Cooper defines postmodernity as “a response to our increased awareness of the great diversity of human cultures,” she notes both the need to confront issues of power dynamics and also an awareness of the cacophony of cultures and symbols we encounter on a consistent basis (142).

When I see students enter into the computer interface, I see that they experience the space as a liberated and free space for them to express themselves without constraint. Besides what the class has already discussed regarding Foucault and the disciplinary functions that computers can employ in users (and I don’t want to dismiss this alternative caution towards the invisible supervisor; I just want to dwell on the apparent positives for the time being), a computer interface does allow students to escape a visible authority figure. In the transcripts from Faigley’s article, we see that the students are actively engaging with each other and with ideas rather than just appeasing the instructor. And though the dangers are that conversations can get off topic, Coopers suggestion of guiding students towards being consciously aware of how their voice is affective in social situations seems to optimistically suggest that a “teaching moment” could arise out of any train wreck of a classroom experience.

This liberated space is a fragmented space. Even while I write this blog, I have done the following:
• gone into iTunes to adjust my playlist to songs that will fit my current mood
• Checked my email twice
• Responded to one email.
• Checked the scores of a few Pac-10 games on
• Shuffled a few files on my desktop into a folder because I was thinking my desktop was too cluttered
• Adjusted the size of my word processing window three times.
I’m not looking for distractions either: that is just the nature of the space. I mean, electronic conversations can take place and be quite enriching while the users are concurrently playing games, checking email, conversing on other chat spaces, etc. The space is fragmented. But is this multiaccentuality or is it really lack of attention? Can this lack of attention get in the way of people seeing the power structures apparent in electronic spaces?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Pursuit of the Ideal

Let’s step out of the controlling gaze of the panopticon and imagine a technological space that can transcend assessment: liberating any person to express both their individuality and their culture without the expectancy of conforming to a ‘white’ way of thinking. In this ideal space, an individual can finally break away from the ideologically oppressive mire left in the physical world and enter into a space that will welcome difference and thrive upon unrestrictive expression for the sake of literacy. That is the dream, at least.

That was the dream put forth in through the large-scale computer literacy project by the Clinton-Gore administration that Cynthia Self mentions in her article “technology and literacy: A story about the perils of not paying attention.” Selfe notes that technology and literacy and inextricable, and that social implementations of technology tends to reinforce divisions of literacy and the digital divide. The idealism of thinking that placing computers in front of students (typically privileged students) will open up equal opportunities is misguided since oppressive ideologies still guide this technological implementation in education. According to Selfe, the potential lies in local attention to technology and literacy.

Grabill, Banks, Walton each discuss the potential of technological spaces and they also discuss the power of these spaces. Grabill states outright that access to computers is an ‘issue of the justice’ in which the egalitarian dream of universal literacy is dependent. Meanwhile, Banks and Walton describe this space as white dominated. Thus, these articles in dialogue, portray technological spaces as empowering but ultimately restrictive. Additionally, both Banks and Walton discuss the problem, but how do we really open the space? Can spaces like BlackPlanet really diffuse white ideology? Or these spaces further alienate such space from mainstream white-controlled technological spaces?

Monday, January 14, 2008

No Subject

A question that comes to mind when reading Foucault’s “Truth and Power” and Giddens’ “Agency, Structure” is how does the participant in power structures willingly consent to a structure that has no subject? The simple idea that comes to mind is blind allegiance: willingly involving oneself in a system of ideas that seems to have no controlling agent. Foucault seems to think that this subject is hidden within historicism (117) while Giddens sees this absence of subject as important for our structured social system (66), but what is most intriguing about the necessity of the subject being withdrawn from social systems is that this breeds transformation of structures through a seemingly malleable social structure. Though ideology can be oppressive when the subject is elusive, the opposite can be true: ideology can then be diffused. Our blind allegiance can easily change allegiance.

A transformative belief in social structures appears to be a hopeful belief towards change and improvement, and yet Giddens’ discourse on the recursive nature of social structures does not give me great hope. Do we really have agency in these structures? Giddens is certain that we have the free will to act in structures, and yet he outlines a system that is socially recursive and interdependent.

The relate the social structures Foucault and Giddens discuss to teaching with technology in the fact that the agency that technology gives to both the teacher and student in a pedagogical setting is transformative, recursive, and constraining. For many technologies are aimed at being a transformative structure: a liberating social space that teachers drool over because they see students ‘open up’ in their expressions. However, these new social structures, developed through chat rooms, online gaming, and multimedia composition, are still built within the larger superstructure of society that is governed by, as Foucault states, power and truth. As Foucault describes the ‘specific’ intellectual, he envisions one who seeks to transform social spaces while being aware of the constraints of the power that controls new technologies. That is the hope of the teacher using technology in his or her classroom.

But, once again, are we afraid of being wowed by the technology and blindly forgetting the power that operates the technology? Does the subject disappear because we are not looking intently enough for it?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I am Panopticon

I admit that I am always drawn to the latest technology and consider it for classroom use. And in Bentham’s time, panopticism is the latest technology: a new hope for a utopian society—order and eradication of society’s ill humours. I could only imagine that if the time of 18th century reform thought and 21st century composition theory were to coexist in some parallel state, many composition instructors would consider the panoptic method of surveillance as means of social improvement to be a useful methodology in the composition classroom. Desiring to find new and interesting ways of viewing student writing (and then, in fact, controlling the writing process while controlling the individual), instructors want to embark on the exciting pedagogical adventure through new technology to help individuals succeed in a society by being literate. In fact, these presumptions are based on the fact that the classroom (and I am specifically the composition classroom) are directly influenced by the panopticon. Foucault rhetorically asks, “is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons” (Panopticism 228). And I shutter.

For it is a sobering and sad thought that technology is not a savior and that new means of viewing and correcting composition (as a form of discipline and behavior correction) is just another manifestation of panoptic control. But. . .wait. It’s too late! I am a computer lab assistant exhorting the great benefit of technology in the classroom— exclaiming the virtues of the latest software that makes assessment easier, fast, more indicative of individual literacy. And yet am I contributing to this panoptic ideology that has dominated our modern society. Ugh, I’m not an passionate teacher; I am just another part of the mechanism that is training students for a disciplined existence in society.

These readings, to me, were warnings to be attentive to the mechanism of education that we construct as we construct a classroom. Bentham’s Panopticon, as Foucault describes it, is a sinister mechanism of control predestined for social society. What is perhaps most interesting about this mechanism is its covert function. The chief observer in the tower is unseen: hence, “invisibility is a guarantee of order” (Panopticism 200). The ideology of the panopticon operates under consent in social reality on a consistent basis and it does so, in large part, because of a consistent awareness of surveillance.

So, while being immersed in the excitement of using new technologies in the classroom, are composition instructors perpetuating an institutionalization of the individual by using web communities and socially interactive software as tools in their classroom pedagogy? As Foucault notes in The Eye of Power, eighteen century reformers, in their idealism, “failed to see that [media forms of survellience] would necessarily be under the command of economico-political interests” (162). Are we idealistic thinkers, too? Are we not considering how new technologies are panoptic?