Tag Archives: Literacy

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.


Job Opening – Associate Professor, Digital Media, University of Louisville, Fall 2012.

We have a great job opening here at UofL. I’m on the search committee, so if you have questions about the position, please let me know.

Associate Professor, Digital Media, University of Louisville, Fall 2012.

The Department of English invites applications for an Associate Professor in Digital Media, to begin Fall 2012.  Ph.D. and teaching experience required.  Candidates should have a demonstrated commitment to pedagogy and the ability to do successful research.  We are particularly interested in candidates with experience teaching digital production and expertise in one or more of the following areas of specialization: digital media and composition, new media studies, new literacies, digital humanities.  Teaching load appropriate to a research institution; salary competitive.  Course assignments range from
undergraduate writing, which all professorial faculty teach, to seminars in an established, successful doctoral program in Rhetoric and Composition.

Send letter, c.v., writing sample of no more than 25 pages, and teaching statement to Professor Debra Journet, Chair, Search Committee, Department of English, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292.  Review of applications will begin November 15, 2011 and continue until position is filled.

All applicants must also apply online and attach a current version of their vita at http://www.louisville.edu/jobs.   Please reference Job ID 27598.  If you have trouble with the online application, please e-mail Steven Gonzales at:  sbgonz01@louisville.edu, or phone 502-852-0504.   The University of Louisville is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, and Americans with Disabilities Employer.

The person taking up this appointment will join a department of over 35 professorial faculty.  We support a strong English major and M.A.  We also offer the Ph.D. in Rhetoric in Composition, one of the oldest such programs in the country.  We admit a cohort of about 6-7 new Ph.D. students a year; recent graduates of our program have taken up professorial positions at universities such as Ohio State, University of Oklahoma, and Syracuse University.  We have an active group of faculty in rhetoric and composition, in British and American literature, and in creative writing.  There is enthusiastic interest both in the department and across the university in digital media.  As part of this position,
the administration has pledged substantial start-up funds to allow the new hire to design a new technology classroom.

Through the Thomas R. Watson endowment, the UofL English Department offers a biennial international conference in a topic related to rhetoric and composition.  (Recent conferences have focused on Narrative and Composition, Digital Media and Composition, Working English in Composition, and (in 2012) Economies of Writing.  In alternate years, we host a visiting distinguished professor of rhetoric and composition; recent Watson Professors include Cynthia Selfe, Deborah Brandt, Keith Gilyard, Marilyn Cooper, Suresh Canagarajah, Brian Street, and Ralph Cintron.  We also support the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and the Anne and William  Axton Creative Writing Reading Series.

Louisville is a vibrant city with a lively arts scene, beautiful neighborhoods, affordable housing and  great restaurants.  We welcome your interest in the department and would be happy to answer any questions about the position.

Digital Media Search Committee
Debra Journet, Chair
Bronwyn Williams
Alan Golding
Ryan Trauman

Enjoying the fast water

On the one hand, trying to sort through where the changes of digital media have left the study of literacy and rhetoric can seem daunting. The change is often so fast, occasionally so transitory, and in such volume (whether I mean the quantity of information or the level of conversation, I’m not certain) that I often feel as if I am standing hip-deep in fast water while juggling.  It seems all I can do to keep my balance, stay in one place, and keep aloft the balls I currently have in the air. As I noted when I started this blog, the press of time, work, and living a daily life as best I can, sometimes makes that balancing act all I can accomplish without diving deeper into the waters of technological and textual change.

Yet, at the same time, when I don’t focus on the speed of the water, and I take the time to get a better sense of my surroundings, I am less unsettled by what is happening around me. Of course, digital media are changing some fundamental opportunities for communicating, and those changes are, in turn, changing our conceptions of text, audience, authorship and more. Still, when it comes down to it, I don’t know that I see our essential jobs as literacy and rhetoric and writing teachers and researchers as changing. We’re still about the creation and interpretation of texts. Though it may be crass to quote myself, I’m keep coming back to the definition of literacy that I have written before:

For me literacy is connected to the way humans communicate ideas, concepts, and emotions to one another.  Humans are meaning-making creatures and we have learned to do so by creating representations of our ideas that can be interpreted by others when we are not present. I see it as important, then, to keep literacy connected to the communication of ideas through representation, whether of words, images, graphics, and so on. In this way literacy can apply to writing print on a page, arranging images and words on a webpage, or arranging images and words on film or video. Each example illustrates the arrangement of signs or symbols or images to represent ideas. For this book, my working definition of literacy, at its most basic and yet most varied, is the ability to use sign systems to compose and interpret texts that communicate ideas from one person to another.

Having this definition of literacy seems no big deal to me. Perhaps it comes from a background, academically and professional, that was not in English departments until I came back to graduate school. Or perhaps I can trace this position to having always been a movie freak and a photographer. Or maybe it is that I worked extensively with photography and audio and graphics in concert with writing during my education and (brief) professional life as a journalist. Whatever the reason, this seems to me not only to be the way literacy should be defined, now and in the past, but to point me toward what I think the purpose of literacy education (including rhetoric and writing) should be for us today. But more on that in days to come (I’m trying to learn to write shorter again, for the blog).

More to come….