Literacy and Technology

Developed by Jessi Rochel, Spring 2007

Alexander, Thomas J. and Fellegi, Ivan P. Literacy, Economy, and Society: Results of the first International Adult Literacy Survey. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 1995.

This text is a comprehensive and collaborative report from seven governments and three intergovernmental organizations to provide statistics on adult literacy around the world. The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was carried out in the fall of 1994 with the goal of not only collecting and compiling statistical information, but to discover whether or not comparisons and conclusions could be drawn from the data, despite the immense cultural and linguistic variability.

I found this text helpful because although it is over 10 years old, it is well put together. Each term and definition is carefully explained and there are numerous examples for everything. Graphs and charts help to clarify where needed, and though it contains a daunting amount of information, it is a superb jumping off point for anyone who wishes to know more about adult literacy worldwide and how it breaks down number-wise.

Apple, Michael. “The New Technology: Is it Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem in Education?” Literacy, Technology, and Society: Confronting the Issues. Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997. Pgs. 160-175.

This article explores an alternative aspect of the digital divide debate. Apple looks at whether schools are striving to incorporate computers for the right reasons. He wants to ask the question of “Why” first, before jumping to the increasing pervasive, “How to.”

I think that this article offers an incredibly interesting and pertinent point of view. It seems most articles and research cover how technology is becoming critical to have in the classroom. By contrast, Apple questions whether schools are jumping the gun and focusing on computers without acknowledging the implications this may have. Apple questions whether new workplace dynamics are unnecessarily driving our school’s curriculums.

Becker, Henry Jay. “Who’s Wired and Who’s Not: Children’s Access to and Use of Computer Technology.” The Future of Children. Vol. 10, No. 2. Children and Computer Technology: Autumn-Winer, 2000, pgs. 44-75. (JSTOR).

A comprehensive national statistical analysis documenting computer use by children in the United States. This article looks at how access to computers in the home and at school differs among American children, as well as how their experiences are impacted by different social, economic, and cultural conditions.

Though dated, this article is definitely one to become familiar with as it covers so many different sides of the issue of a digital divide in the US. It follows children’s access and use of computers and breaks the information down into clear-cut numerical figures, accompanied with very telling and very visual graphs, charts, and tables. It provides a sound context and background to the topic of technology literacy.

Hawisher, Gail E. and Selfe, Cynthia L., eds. Critical Perspectives on Computers and Composition Instruction. Teachers College Press: New York, 1989.

Aimed at English teachers at all levels, but specifically at composition teachers in secondary schools and at the university level, this book is exactly what the title states-a critical look at computers and how they fit into the instruction of composition. Divided into three parts, this text is a collection of essays that explore what had been learned about writing and computers during the 1980s, what the possible barriers might be to successful integration of computers in composition classrooms, and what new insights there were at the time to using computers and technology to help students learn.

I especially appreciated the first two chapters that covered the differences between print on the page and print on the screen when it comes to reading and writing on computers. These two themes appear obvious enough-of course difficulties arise when moving between hard copies and electronic copies-but what’s important to note is that there are people out there doing research on these issues and not just stating that they exist and moving on. Even as a student who has had extensive exposure to computers and computer-based reading and writing experiences, it was interesting and informative to see these ideas included along with statistical studies and program recommendations. It’s integral that the foundation is laid before we move onto building something from it.

Hawisher, Gail E. and Selfe, Cynthia L., eds. Evolving Perspectives on Computers and Composition Studies: Questions for the 1990s. National Council of Teachers of English: Urbana, Illinois, 1991.

From the beginning, this text openly admits it poses a far larger number of questions than it actually answers. One of the key themes of the book however, is the issue of access and its subsequent implications. One essay states the following: “The power of the computer belongs to those who have one, and to those who control who may use it and to what purpose (300). As a compilation of essays, this text offers a range of voices covering a range of topics-all linked back to computers and composition.

The issue of access with computers is one that I was most interested in during my research. I thought that the article quoted above got right to the heart of the matter and simply and concisely nailed the problem head on. But in addition to this, the text as a whole also covered a wide range of topics-from the implications of politics to the issue of feminism. It was insightful to see such a broad range of topics covered.

Kramarae, Cheris, and Taylor, Jeanie H. “Women and Men on Electronic Networks: A Conversation or a Monologue?” Literacy, Technology, and Society: Confronting the Issues. Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997. Pgs. 160-175.Pgs. 348-356.

This article is a series of four problems with respect to women and new technology-ranging from how men can just as easily monopolize “talk” in digital format as they do in print form, to sexual harassment on the networks. It follows this discussion with a list of suggestions for university policy to help handle these issues.

Though this article is less about technology literacy and more about the gender divide in computers, that is the reason I chose to read and include it. Not only does it cover a very important issue-there isn’t just a digital divide in socio-economic terms, but rather a gender-based one as well-but it lays out both the problems and possible solutions.

Labbo, Linda D., McKenna, Michael C., Reinking, David. “Technology and Literacy Education in the Next Century: Exploring the Connection between Work and Schooling.” Peabody Journal of Education. Vol. 73, No. 3/4. Literacy Education in the 21st Century: 1998, pgs. 273-289. (JSTOR).

This article discusses how technology is changing the general definition of literacy. It includes a quick description of the unique elements of digital text, the central tenets of digital literacy-specifically how these reflect technological changes in the workplace, and offers suggestions for using technology in a way that enhances digital literacy education.

I found this article helpful because it demonstrated the deep connections between digital literacy and the workplace. It clearly explained what digital literacy is and the implications of it, as well as showed its connections to the world outside of the classroom. Finally, it delineated a variety of ways to incorporate digital literacy education in the classroom in ways that are beneficial to those being instructed.

Oates, William R., Rodrigues, Dawn, and Selfe, Cynthia L., eds. Computers in English and the Language Arts: The Challenge of Teacher Education. National Council of Teachers of English: Urbana, Illinois, 1989.

Bringing together an assortment of knowledge and experience in the field of incorporating computers in English and Language Arts classrooms, this text caters to the teaching profession by offering example programs to both those who prepare teachers for teaching, and teachers themselves. It lays out teaching-training and education programs from around the country and then offers a “game plan” for both creating new teacher-training programs and for evaluating existing projects that combine computers and writing. The first part of the book details success stories of integrating computers in English and Language Arts curriculums, and the second part of the book focuses on the specific aspects that made these programs successful.

What I liked about this book were the specific examples it provided-tried and true case studies. Though many of the problems tackled in these studies are either outdated or no longer as pertinent, this text nonetheless supplies the foundation for working through the problems and issues that may arise from incorporating computers in the classroom. If nothing more than a template, these stories show how others have overcome varying obstacles that accompany the task of improving technological literacy.

Petersen, Julie. “Sex and the Cybergirl.” Literacy, Technology, and Society: Confronting the Issues. Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997. Pgs. 359-360.

The following line sums up exactly what this article is about: “Though the ‘information superhighway’ has been heralded as a great equalizer, where race, class, gender, sexual preference, and physical appearance make no difference, many women are finding otherwise” (359). Short and concise, this article focuses on an issue not often covered in regular debates about the internet. Though celebrated for everything from instantaneous exchange of information to an unbelievable database, there is still the issue of gender discrimination and harassment-just as prevalent on the web as in ordinary life.

I selected to include this article because it covers a very pertinent issue. Though it discusses the issue of gender more in terms of online chat rooms and the like, it still brings to the forefront a disturbingly relevant point-it is just as easy to alienate, abuse, or harass a person (women in this instance) through digital text as it is through print media. I think that this issue is something to keep in mind anytime computers or digital text is incorporated.

Selfe, Cythia L. “Paying Attention to Technology, Learning about Literacy.”Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale, 1999. Pgs. 133-145.

Selfe’s article offers four central lessons to keep in mind in regard to technological literacy. She covers the misperception of many to think that large-scale literacy projects necessarily lead to increased opportunities for economic prosperity; the fact that literacy is always tied closed to politics; the assumption that expanding technological literacy can lead to solutions for larger social, economic, educational, or political problems; and the effects of teachers’ actions in the field of technological literacy-intended or otherwise.

This article was interesting to read and offered some important lessons to keep in mind. It is definitely written with an audience of teachers in mind. I think that anyone going into the teaching profession could benefit from reading this article for these very reasons. It exposes a few critical myths and warns teachers and readers of this article to question things and not accept the usual misconceptions about literacy blindly.

 

IMPORTANT TERMS AND QUESTIONS TO ASK:
LITERACY AND TECHNOLOGY

Terms from the Texts

Hawisher, Gail E. and Selfe, Cynthia L., eds. Critical Perspectives on Computers and Composition Instruction. Teachers College Press: New York, 1989.

Traditional (print) literacy: literacy that involves both reading and writing, and concerns the ways in which human beings make meaning from printed texts by interpreting content in light of their own purposes and needs. The responsibility for this process of constructing meaning involves both readers and writers of text. Literacy training involves teaching individuals the shared system of conventions associated with reading and writing.

Multi-layered literacy: computer-based literacy that stacks one grammar on top of another; includes not only the text on the page, but text on the computer screen

Labbo, Linda D., McKenna, Michael C., Reinking, David. “Technology and Literacy Education in the Next Century: Exploring the Connection between Work and Schooling.” Peabody Journal of Education. Vol. 73, No. 3/4. Literacy Education in the 21st Century: 1998, pgs. 273-289. (JSTOR).

Digital Literacy: 5 key concepts related to this

  1. Requires the ability to be a life-long learner
  2. Often occurs in the pursuit of other goals
  3. Occurs in social contexts
  4. Requires strategic competencies
  5. Requires critical knowledge assembly and production

Digital Text: electronic representations of alphabetic and graphic info using binary code; the coding allows computers to transmit and transform text and pictures quickly and fluidly, presenting individuals w/ situations for which there is little precedent; includes hypertext and multimedia programs

Becker, Henry Jay. “Who’s Wired and Who’s Not: Children’s Access to and Use of Computer Technology.” The Future of Children. Vol. 10, No. 2.Children and Computer Technology: Autumn-Winer, 2000, pgs. 44-75. (JSTOR).

Digital Divide: exists between children who are benefiting from computer technology and those who are being left behind; based on differential access to computers in both school and at home.

Questions from the Texts

Apple, Michael. “The New Technology: Is it Part of the Solution or Part of the Problem in Education?” Literacy, Technology, and Society: Confronting the Issues. Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, 1997. Pgs. 160-175.

Whose idea of progress? Progress for what? And fundamentally, who benefits?

Behind the slogans of technological progress and high tech industry, what are some of the real effects of the new technology on the future labor market?

What may happen to teaching and curriculum if we do not think carefully about the new technology’s place in the classroom?

Will the growing focus on technological expertise, particularly computer literacy, equalize or further exacerbate the lack of social opportunities for our most disadvantaged students?

What will happen to teachers if the new technology is accepted uncritically?

Given the future labor market, do we really want to claim that computers will be more important than further work in humanities and social sciences or, perhaps even more significantly in working class and ethnically diverse areas, in the students’ own cultural, historical, and political heritage and struggles?

Where are computers used? What are they used to do? What do people actually need to know in order to use them? Does the computer enhance anyone’s life? Whose? Does it hurt anyone’s life? Whose? Who decides when and where computers will be used?

Hawisher, Gail E. and Selfe, Cynthia L., eds. Evolving Perspectives on Computers and Composition Studies: Questions for the 1990s. National Council of Teachers of English: Urbana, Illinois, 1991.

What statements a particular tool-a stylistic program or a complete “writing environment”-make about the nature, function, and power of the writer, the text, the reader?

How do these messages “fit” with the other ideological strains of contemporary writing instruction?

When teachers or researchers study the effects of word processing, desktop publishing, electronic communications, and so on-we must ask, what is the relationship between the conceptual fields a particular configuration of hardware and software opens and those it obscures or proscribes?

Claims that networks redistribute authority and encourage wider and freer participation, for example, need to specify which network, according which privileges, to which participants, and under what circumstances. What privileges and prohibitions are embedded in the design of the particular tools used in the studies? How are writers’ behaviors, and even their desires, affected by the workings of those tools’ deepest structures?

How do alternative modes of discourse-the new possibilities of hypertexts and hypermedia structures-work, rhetorically and ideologically?

Whose interests and visions, whose realities, do these structures serve, and can they be made to serve?

Ought teachers to foster awareness of the ideological constructs tools imply among students learning to write? How?

To what extent are the tools teachers are using shaped by composition theory, and to what extent are they the products of technological and economic forces blind or even hostile to their theories? In other words, can we discover and disclose the difference between a reactive agenda-teaching and research responsive to what happens to be available-and a constitutive one-teaching and research enacting their best theories and therefore capable of influencing their technological environment?

What forces at work in teachers’ economic, social, and political environment privilege the development of some kinds of software and discourage other directions, other imaginings of what is and what is not possible?

What role does the structure of the institution-its budgeting priorities or its decisions about student and faculty access to various technologies-play in determining what tools can be created, what tools can be used?

How do professional rewards encourage or discourage faculty development and use of emerging technologies in their teaching and research practices?

What impact will electronic “publishing” have on the political structure of various professional communities? On the construction of knowledge in composition, rhetoric, and other fields?

What part does the emerging networking environment play in the process of forming and validating discourse communities? Are hardware and software configurations working toward the maintenance and the perpetuation of existing hierarchies of privilege as others predicted? And what alternatives can teachers imagine and create?