I posted this to my 506 blog, but I thought it had some bearing on the work we’ve been doing in this class.
I want to focus on Kajder essay to talk about two problems that I haven’t found covered fully in our readings. One is the assertion that engaging in digital literacy is an authentic (or more authentic) literacy practice. The other is the often mentioned but rarely treated “problem of access.”
Why do we consider writing on a blog a more authentic activity than, say, writing in a journal? Kajder tells us that blogs provide “an opportunity to write in an online space for an authentic audience,” which makes two assumptions: first, that “classroom” literacy is not authentic; second, that class blogs should be generally accessible. I want to talk about the second issue first. If we make class blogs accessible beyond the participants in the classroom, we have to walk a tightrope on creating a safe, secure environment. How do we define this authentic audience beyond the classroom? Is the class itself not an authentic audience?
Now, let’s discuss “classroom” literacy for a moment. Isn’t this class blog a kind of “classroom” literacy? Is it an authentic experience just because we are having it in a digital format? I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone (and to Dr. Stearns least of all) that this isn’t an area of interest for me. So what separates this experience (and that of any kind of tasked experience) from Max’s is that Max is engaged in his own project. Will that not change if we give him a task or subject to blog on? Is his reluctance going to be erased simply because we moved the structure/context of classroom literacy?
My point is that this is not an issue of using or not using technology, but an issue of how we generally structure discourse in our classroom. If we make classroom literacy a passive experience, where students read texts and answer primarily comprehension-level questions about the text, then we aren’t driving an authentic, critical literacy. If we encourage an active experience, where comprehension informs critique (a knowledge of what the text says informs an understanding of how the text is encountered), then at least we create an authentic dialogue. It can take place anywhere…defining that dialogue as occuring in one space irrespective of another (digital space v. classroom space v. personal relationship space) is limiting, not liberating. Kajder says that “students don’t raise their hands an ask about page requirements…class discussion moves instead to having something to say.” That needn’t only occur online- it (literate discussion/conversation) should be a portable, empowering skill set rather than something that is deployed only within a certain kind of structure.
That said, I also want to mention the distinct disadvantage of students who lack (or are limited in) access to computer/internet technology. This may be an increasingly small part of the population, but how can we talk about teaching for social justice if we exclude any portion of the population, especially one that is at risk for economic, cultural, and political marginalization (I think we can agree that most students who lack access are economically disadvantaged). What can we do to limit that marginalization? Even if they have access during the school day, they are being excluded from the conversation in ways that other students who have access don’t have to confront. If we locate increasingly important content online, what are the implications for students who don’t have access? How will we affect students who are already at-risk if we focus on creating digital spaces of discourses for the sake of “teach[ing] them to use the tools of the truly literate in a rapidly changing world?” Are literate discoursed not portable? Who are the “truly literate” and why do students need to behave like them?
Kajder writes that we need to “provid[e] opportunities for [students] to read deeply, think critcally, and write closely for responsive audiences that span the globe.” I agree, but we cannot forget also that audiences and communities are still local, and that we need to locate our actions there as well. I also agree, to a certain extent, that “we’re past the point where we can keep doing old things with old tools, or old things with new tools.” But I would argue that we should be doing new things with all tools. We need to be careful when we’re prizing one set of “tools” above others; we need to remind ourselves that “the literacy knowledge that htey bring into the classroom is varied and valued, and that we all have a next step that we’re working toward” even if that literacy knowledge doesn’t value what we value.