Monthly Archives: February 2012

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – Getting Closer!

The page proofs are in and the book is listed on the publisher’s website, so that must mean it’s going to happen. While the book won’t be out until later this spring, here’s a look at the cover. I have to say, I’m rather partial to the purple. This has been a fascinating book to work on, and I’ve learned so much from the contributors and their chapters and, as always, from my friend and collaborator, Amy Zenger. I hope this book will help start conversations in a many different directions. I also like the fact that other books, like the new one Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (from Patrick Berry, Gail Hawisher, and Cindy Selfe) are coming at similar issues from different perspectives and making the conversation richer and more thought provoking. Anyway, here is the cover, and thanks to all the wonderful people at Routledge. More to come on this soon as well.

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Ideology, surveillance, and the software in our classrooms – Part II

As Ben Wetherbee’s pointed out in his comments on my last post and on his latest blog post, surveillance is happening in any number of sites in the university, from assessment sites to course management software. It’s not caused by digital media, of course, it’s just that digital technologies have made the transfer and storage of such material so easy – and so seemingly invisible. As Manovich said in the Language of New Media, once you turn information into 1’s and 0’s you can potentially turn it into any kind of text, and now you can send it and store it just about anywhere at a moment’s notice. What’s more, the sending and storing may be hard for an individual to track or comprehend.

If you think about gathering student papers for assessment, in the days when it had to be done through hard copies, a student would have to know that she turned the paper in, or at least that she didn’t get it back, and somewhere there would have to be a physical space that would indicate the enormity of the undertaking – and just have vast the university’s reach is. Now, however, a paper uploaded to a site is just another in a potentially unending set of copies from the student’s original file, and she may never miss that it’s gone – or was copied or never came back. And all the university needs is a few hard drives that could fit in a desk drawer to keep all the material for tens of thousands of students. So the psychological and emotional result of surveillance is hidden more carefully and people shrug and figure it’s not worth worrying about. It’s hard not to get all Foucauldian here when the visibility of the panopticon has been further clouded as its reach increases. More to come on this in terms of why the “university” loves Blackboard even while individual faculty, students, and even administrators don’t.

Ideology, surveillance, and the software in our classrooms

I’ve agreed to write a chapter for a very exciting new collection being edited by Robin Goodfellow and Mary Lea, titled Literacy in the Digital University (Robin’s blog on the same subject is here). I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of this project. My chapter is going to explore how “course management software” is shaping our pedagogy – in and out of the classroom – in ways we both understand and ways that may be more subtle. More to the point, though, is that I think the construction and use of this software (Blackboard and the like) is often antithetical to what we regard as good writing pedagogy and the effective uses of digital media.

So here’s where I’m going with this right now. Course management software, such as Blackboard, is purchased by universities and often required of faculty and students for everything from distribution of course materials to posting of grades. This software is promoted by university administrations as a set of effective pedagogical tools for use both in and out of the classroom. Yet such software is often hierarchical, rigid, and prescriptive – the antithesis of the kinds of participatory environment most conducive to creative thinking by students and faculty. It is imposed on teachers and students from the top down, difficult to modify or customize, and makes assumptions about teaching and learning that, again, tend to be rigid and hierarchical.

I see the adoption and promotion of such software  as driven by material and ideological imperatives of efficiency, control, and surveillance that are increasingly central to way the institution of the university works in contemporary culture. Course management software is promoted by university administrations as an efficient and centralized method of “managing” university courses. Faculty response to the use of such software is often to complain or shrug, and acquiesce to the demands of the institution. Yet in doing so we are complicit in reproducing institutional and cultural ideologies that are as hierarchical, rigid, and prescriptive as the software. In this way dominant ideological conceptions of knowledge and literacy – tied to notions of efficiency – find their way into writing classrooms even as we may imagine a pedagogy that will encourage students to resist such conceptions.

So in the chapter I hope, at least in part, to argue that university-imposed course management software works to reinscribe particular conceptions of epistemology and pedagogy that, as a field, we have criticized in other settings. I think it is important that we think critically and act more explicitly to resist the implementation and uses of these forms of digital media. We much also teach students to approach the use of these technologies from a more critical perspective.

But all is not grim. I refuse to give up without a fight, an alternative. So I also want to talk about how alternatives to designing digital environments for writing pedagogy that allow students a range of ways to participate in literacy practices in ways that are flexible, critical, and creative. But I’ll save more of that for the next post (which won’t be so long in happening, I promise. January was just crazy on many levels.) More soon.