On Authenticity and Access

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.

J. Degan

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “On Authenticity and Access

  1. sunyprof

    Jerry, I agree with much of what you say here, and you raise very interesting and, as always, important questions.

    When you ask: “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 discourses not portable? Who are the “truly literate” and why do students need to behave like them?” you have my full attention of course.

    There are students who will be disadvantaged by their spotty (or in school only) access to digital technologies. One of the wisest things Prof. Zhao said to us when we heard his lecture is that we all need “to become politicians” for just this reason.

    Please take a look at this eschoolnews headline/article from today’s newsletter. The article presents polling that suggests that the “vast majority of U.S. voters believe students are ill-equipped to compete in the global learning environment, and that schools must incorporate 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self-direction, and computer and technology skills into the curriculum.”

    So aside from political action (local, state and federal) what do we do about those disadvantaged kids? First, they have always been disadvantaged in ways no one has cared very much about–a simple example of that is their not having taxpayer purchased books to take home to read.

    Does anyone think it’s a coincidence that we readily defend a bankrupt pedagogy, a practice we know does not produce the desired results and even has a negative impact — that is, reading the books we believe kids must read and we must teach–out loud in class rather than requiring students to read daily/nightly outside of class time–in districts where we do not have enough books for all kids?

    That can’t be a coincidence. We’ve accommodated the “disadvantage” and even give some credence to it–the “won’t, don’t, can’t” construction of adolescent readers in many middle and high schools.

    Our not providing adequate technologies for learning in the 21st century in our schools/communities is a national shame right now…with many far more “disadvantaged” countries around the world doing better than we are at this.

    So I think we must forge on with expectations that expect students to use these tools because to not is to simply fail altogether to develop a pedagogy of promise (Beers) and possibility (Steve a la many others).

    Your asking “who are the truly literate?” And “why do students have to behave like them?” recalls Gee on literacy. W/out secondary Discourses our students cannot negotiate demands for them that are increasing, not decreasing, in a flat world.

    Digital technology has become (I was about to say is fast becoming–but that construction gives the impression that we’re still “deciding” about the direction in which our culture has moved in the last decade especially) one of the most significant Secondary Discourses our students need to possess as literate subjects in every aspect of their adult lives.

    To return to the point you make about authentic and inauthentic literacy practices–I will only say here that both print and digital literacy are important of course and both “port” pretty well for all of us. But for adolescents right now the world is primarily a digital one.

    They are simply more comfortable online and, importantly, more engaged. I saw it yet again this morning in an urban high school classroom when the laptops were rolled out. Cyberspace IS the space where much of the world’s business is now being conducted. We need to meet our students there. And yes the class blog is still the “class” blog but the different landscape for discussion and the potential (and this is why I would have an open blog) to bring in other voices makes it for me a more authentic literacy form for kids. Note what Will’s kids did in their dialogue with Sue Monk Kidd when they read “The Secret Life of Bees.”

    IF we can capitalize on ANY interest kids bring to our classrooms in their native familiarity with digital spaces/technologies, it will pay dividends for both us and them.

    I’m interested in your final “next step that we’re working toward.” What do you mean by that? I do think you’re referring in your “all tools” reference to kids’ varying cultural and language experiences/competencies. Ok, I’ve run out of time…I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue. I hope other voices weigh in here…KES

  2. jexter1

    I found this article very intriguing, as well as Professor Stearns’ response. Blogging is the new form of literary discourse and reader response. Instead of immediate handwritten responses within the classroom, students are asked to continue and develop their thoughts beyond the 1 to 2 period block in high school and college. Blogging allows for conversation that the shy student(s) in the classroom may not feel confident enough to hold in the middle of class. Blogging also refreshes the students’ memories of what has been read and discusses throughout the week, after other distractions have taken place. It is apparent that educators must now know how to use technology in the classroom, so why not begin with a simple task like blogging?

    In retrospect, who are we to assume that all students have access to computers and the internet? Although the number is small, there are still families without a computer &/or the internet. There needs to be an opportunity at school for such students to complete their assigned blogging. It would be unfair and discriminating to leave computer/internet access to the responsibility of the students during out-of-school hours (at least while in middle and high school). Once in college, then it becomes the responsibility and requirement of the student to find a computer with an internet connection.

    As I look over what I have written, I see that I learn towards the support of blogging, but with a few reservations. Blogging would strengthen students’ writing skills, argumentative and persuasive writing, as well as communication with one another. I haven’t even touched upon the enhancement of their typing and computer skills once they enter blogging! However, when in a middle or high school, the school should offer computer time for those that are less fortunate.

    ~Jessica

  3. jmdegan

    A few thoughts:

    So if we are teaching discourses to students who lack the means to access those discourses, what success do we expect to have? Can students only be successful if they are “in” the secondary discourse? How can we be politically active in narrowing the gap between students who lack access if we’re contributing to that gap (by relocating our discourses online- where their access is limited)?

    Because “they have always been disadvantaged in ways no one has cared very much about” we should do what? Nothing? Hope for political action or a closing of the economic gap (which is growing, not narrowing, in our global economy), but continue our process without regard for the disadvantage some students experience? Isn’t that creating different modes of instruction for students based on class? How is this a just solution? And I’m not suggesting that we not use this technology, I want to caution us against redefining literacy in a narrow, digitally centered way, irrespective of the problems that will persist for the time being.

    “Cyberspace IS the space where much of the world’s business is now being conducted,” but what about playing Super Mario II (a la the post on the laptop program at Liverpool) makes students prepared for conducting the world’s business?

    How is the blog more authentic? More authentic than what? Isn’t any literacy that allows students to explore and reflect on their own textual identities authentic? Is the presence of the author an authenticating presence? And what do you do about the security issue, which is still an essential issue at the secondary level?

    I wonder also about that next step (it’s a quote from Kajder- I guess I should have cited). I think Kajder was referring to how we should be working toward newer, emerging technologies. I think it should be directed to a revitalization in the way we teach literacy- and not only in the direction of digital literacy. I want to take out the assumption that authentic audiences only emerge online, where community is diffused and anonymous as well as diverse and immediate. I think that the classroom is the site of an authentic audience if it behaves that way. You won’t find anyone more opposed to the kind of “bankrupt pedagogy” Dr. Stearns describes. I just don’t think that the only way to disrupt that bankrupt pedagogy is through digital literacy (it is ONE way).

    Teaching Shakespeare doesn’t have to involve seven weeks of read-alouds- and the fact that that is how many teachers teach Shakespeare indicates the necessity to change the pedagogy, not the text. Shakespeare, I believe (and I might very well be wrong, but I tend to doubt that is even possible), when taught by a passionate, creative teacher is still the most engaging mind we can access in our language. But there are a lot of conditions there (including, I might be wrong). Now if you’re not passionate about Shakespeare, fine. There’s nothing wrong with that; and you probably won’t be a great Shakespearean. I’ll never be a great blogger; I’ll never be a technological savant. But let’s not say students “can’t, won’t, don’t” just because it’s not a literacy they are constantly exposed to. Constant exposure and enormous popularity doesn’t make literacies valuable.

    We should encourage students to allow their “native familiarity” with technology to inform their literacy; but we shouldn’t expect that at the expense of other student’s infamiliarity or inability to access technologies.

    J. Degan

  4. sunyprof

    Jerry,

    I am responding in my own paragraphs after yous in quotation marks.

    A few thoughts:

    So if we are teaching discourses to students who lack the means to access those discourses, what success do we expect to have? Can students only be successful if they are “in” the secondary discourse? How can we be politically active in narrowing the gap between students who lack access if we’re contributing to that gap (by relocating our discourses online- where their access is limited)?

    “I don’t suggest we are teaching Secondary Discourses to students who don’t have the means to access them—they do and they must—in schools. That’s my point. I’m not understanding your question about students “only be[ing] successful if they are ‘in’ the secondary discourse? Can you clarify?

    And WE haven’t relocated powerful Discourses online—we are responding to the cultural shift to a digitally-driven literacy. We need to be politically active in our determination to provide access. But we haven’t done so well with the books—will we do better with access to technology? In some places we are/will; in others surely not.”

    Because “they have always been disadvantaged in ways no one has cared very much about” we should do what? Nothing?

    “Of course I’m not suggesting we do nothing—what do you think we should do? Are you suggesting that because some kids don’t have internet access at home we shouldn’t require students to use the internet? I’m not sure what you’re suggesting? Some kids don’t have a desk on which to do their “home”work either. So does that mean we adopt the “no homework” policy some districts have adopted? How are you suggesting we’re adopting diff. modes of instruction based on class? I’m certainly not saying that at all. We have always had a class-based curriculum. And still do. If anything, in insuring that all kids have access to digital tools we’re doing something very specific toward interrupting classed positions.”

    Hope for political action or a closing of the economic gap (which is growing, not narrowing, in our global economy), but continue our process without regard for the disadvantage some students experience? Isn’t that creating different modes of instruction for students based on class? How is this a just solution? And I’m not suggesting that we not use this technology, I want to caution us against redefining literacy in a narrow, digitally centered way, irrespective of the problems that will persist for the time being.

    “Who is ‘redefining literacy in a narrow digitally centered way?’” I’m not. Is it the insistent emphasis in the literature on digital literacies, Jerry, that is making you uncomfortable? I’m not sure what you are advocating since it sounds as if it’s a return to a pre-digital classroom. I suppose that option is available to us as long as traditional pedagogies prevail in public schools, but I’m not sure why we would embrace it…”

    “Cyberspace IS the space where much of the world’s business is now being conducted,” but what about playing Super Mario II (a la the post on the laptop program at Liverpool) makes students prepared for conducting the world’s business?

    “’Everything’ I must say. It’s not enough, no, of course not, but it’s probably better and more sophisticated ‘training’ for doing what Marc Prensky says we should be doing in schools, and that is ‘teaching kids how to program machines’ than what I see in the ELA classrooms I visit.”

    How is the blog more authentic? More authentic than what? Isn’t any literacy that allows students to explore and reflect on their own textual identities authentic? Is the presence of the author an authenticating presence? And what do you do about the security issue, which is still an essential issue at the secondary level?

    “I never made the claim that a blog is more authentic because it’s a blog and not a print journal—I said it can allow for possibilities that the print journal does not. What is your belief about what authenticating literacies are? I’m not sure I understand what that phrase means to you?

    Re: security—are we having any security issues on our blog? What are we afraid of? Way way over-rated—that is the fear (is that what it is?) that what, a “stranger” will put up a blog comment that offends our students’ sensibilities? I’ve been blogging with all of my classes for almost 2 1/2 years now and there’s not been a single security ‘issue.’

    I’m afraid I don’t get this piece—I need to be shown where kids who are blogging are at risk? And at risk for/of what? I believe that the ‘security’ issue is a way teachers avoid facing the challenges opening up classroom spaces to many teachers, and anytime, anywhere learning poses.

    It’s about control. Moot point anyway, since there are many options for creating blogs that are available only to those class members and other invitees the teacher approves. In the past couple of years the security breaches in our schools seem to come from within, not without. School shootings, teachers’ who are inappropriately intimate w/their students. I’ve not read a single story about a blog that corrupted a kid—if those stories are out there it seems like we’d be reading them.

    Again, I think this concern is about something else—disguised as ‘security issues.’”

    I wonder also about that next step (it’s a quote from Kajder- I guess I should have cited). I think Kajder was referring to how we should be working toward newer, emerging technologies. I think it should be directed to a revitalization in the way we teach literacy- and not only in the direction of digital literacy. I want to take out the assumption that authentic audiences only emerge online, where community is diffused and anonymous as well as diverse and immediate. I think that the classroom is the site of an authentic audience if it behaves that way. You won’t find anyone more opposed to the kind of “bankrupt pedagogy” Dr. Stearns describes. I just don’t think that the only way to disrupt that bankrupt pedagogy is through digital literacy (it is ONE way).

    “The revitalization in the way we teach literacy IS the driving force, yes. That that revitalization takes the form, in some cases, of digital learning shouldn’t surprise us or alarm us. Its’ allowing us to have this dialogue for example. I’m not sure why you are mounting an argument FOR multiple literacy “communities.” Isn’t that a given? Do you feel that the current discourse in the field is pushing you to embrace only one definition of literacy? It sounds like it. I don’t see why an argument is needed to establish that digital literacy is only ONE way as you say to engage students. To me, that’s a given. It’s my role to insure that my students prepare to effectively engage students in digital literacy learning just as it’s my role to encourage my students to do any number of things, make any number of moves—to engage students in meaningful learning.

    Teaching Shakespeare doesn’t have to involve seven weeks of read-alouds- and the fact that that is how many teachers teach Shakespeare indicates the necessity to change the pedagogy, not the text. Shakespeare, I believe (and I might very well be wrong, but I tend to doubt that is even possible), when taught by a passionate, creative teacher is still the most engaging mind we can access in our language. But there are a lot of conditions there (including, I might be wrong). Now if you’re not passionate about Shakespeare, fine. There’s nothing wrong with that; and you probably won’t be a great Shakespearean. I’ll never be a great blogger; I’ll never be a technological savant. But let’s not say students “can’t, won’t, don’t” just because it’s not a literacy they are constantly exposed to. Constant exposure and enormous popularity doesn’t make literacies valuable.

    “Jerry, you are a great blogger though. Isn’t that ironic!! And we’re both Shakespeare lovers—I share your passion for S’peare. I would disagree that ‘constant exposure and enormous popularity doesn’t make literacies valuable.’ Shakespeare is probably the most over-exposed writer in English and his enormous popularity is inarguable. You refute your own argument about popular culture when you reference Shakespeare.”

    We should encourage students to allow their “native familiarity” with technology to inform their literacy; but we shouldn’t expect that at the expense of other student’s infamiliarity or inability to access technologies.

    “Challenging kids to explore that with which they are unfamiliar is our job as teachers. It defines us and what we do. Period. As for access, we don’t live in a perfect world—certainly not. Kids who don’t have access, and thank God those numbers are shrinking even as I write this, are not simply going to live in some alternate universe where they can flourish without having 21st century skills and that those are, increasingly, digital skills is simply the reality right now.

    Why do we think that what, organizing classrooms around instruction we delivered a half century or even a quarter century ago, is the leveler for kids who ‘don’t have access?’ How is that going to result in their being able to play on the same field with all the kids who do have access? How would ignoring the importance of media/internet/digital, etc. literacies in our work with kids (because some don’t have access) going to advantage those kids? I don’t understand that. Do we need to be sensitive to the access issue when we begin to work w/any group of kids? Of course we do. But then we just need to get to work–with what we have–and do everything in our power to write grants, engage community resources, lobby school boards, etc. etc. to improve access for our kids.

    For years, I provided the access—it was easier in those years of course—I bought books—hundreds of books—for kids. Harder now? Yes. I can’t buy them all laptops. All wireless access. I know that. But if I’m teaching in a school (at the risk of offending a number of us, what would Erin Gruwell do?) where kids don’t have access, I am still going to have to do everything I can to expose my students to opportunities to engage a variety of teachers/audiences and to manipulate the tools necessary for them to access the read/write/think web. That wasn’t my job when I began this work 40 years ago, but it is now.” K

  5. sunyprof

    I hadn’t read Will’s blog today when I posted this last comment.

    Now that I have I want to share it. Seems to speak directly to many facets of this discussion. Note the (as of Monday night) 20 comments that follow.

    Do read and comment all you bloggers. KES

  6. jmdegan

    I realize that I’m belaboring the issue somewhat, but I want to respond to some of your points.

    Yes, I am concerned by the voracity with which claims for digital literacy as the correct literacy are being voiced in the literature we are considering this semester. Considering the positions taken by many of the theorists we have encountered this semester (in both 541 and, moreso, in 506) it seems to me that they argue that nothing short of a complete rejection of texts that exist outside of a digital space is required for students to be successful in the coming century.

    In regard to the idea that Super Mario has “everything” to do with conducting the “world’s business,” I have to disagree. What about manipulating pre-programed images in a controlled environment informs us about programming? I’ve taken the occasion to look at a demo of Halo 3. I did this because the game came up in discussion in the class I am observing. I don’t see the value. You have a limited set of possible outcomes in a graphically violent, vicarious context. Now, I want to explain the context in which it came up: students were reacting to Ron Kovic’s “friendly-fire” killing of a fellow soldier in Kubrick’s BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. The student made the “inference” it was like killing a teammate in Halo, except in the game you died. Two things concern me here: the first is that the student was so desensitized to the emotional trauma of this event; second, that the ethics of the game are so real to him that he believes they are applicable to real experiences.

    Suggesting that we eliminate hw because students “don’t have desks” is hyperbolic. I didn’t have a desk. I worked on the dining room floor or on my bed; I brought my books out to the barn when I had to work the night before a test. You make due with what access you have, BUT there is a significant difference here. You can improvise not having a desk. How do you improvise not having an internet connection? Go to the library? The closest library to where I grew up is six or seven miles away. I didn’t have time nor transportation to use that facility. So there is a disadvantage.

    Re: re: security: Not a very responsible statement to make to students who are going to be working with current SAVE regulations. You teach in a radically different space with radically different expectations for students who are considered adults. You are not responsible for student’s safety when they are using your blog- which is not true for elementary/secondary teachers. So regardless of what this is “about,” it is a concern. Yes, I do believe that a dedicated class blog is a fine idea; it can allow for some students to continue holding the conversations we develop in class. But that doesn’t address the immediate “authentic audience” Kajder sees as the most worthwhile feature of blogs.

    I would suggest that there is no audience whose presence makes a conversation more authentic than another, aside from the audience chosen by a writer. That can be as broad or as narrow as possible. Access to those audiences is key, I certainly agree. But I don’t want to narrowly define authentic audiences (and many of the essays we’ve read have narrowly defined authentic audiences) as digital audiences. They can and, as often as possible, should include digital spaces, but they should also include local and (for lack of a better term) physical community. And an author’s presence might be cool, but it shouldn’t be made to affect the way a student reads. That is what I mean when I question who is an “authenticating presence.”

    Let’s make a distinction: Shakespeare’s “popularity” is largely academic, is it not? What is that popularity based on? Entertainment? Of course. The enduring mind of one of the great thinkers about the human condition? Of course. The continued attempts by some of our greatest dramatists to encounter his works in unique, significant ways? Of course. So when you say that I refute my point that “constant exposure and enormous popularity doesn’t make literacies valuable,” you are right. For Shakespeare, it’s all those things and “constant exposure and enormous popularity” that make his textual remains valuable. (And show me the student who has constant exposure to Shakespeare the way they do to YouTube or Halo 3- my point is that we cannot just accept the popularity of a text as it’s play for attention- we need to be more thorough and thoughtful than that)

    You keep suggesting that I am trying to uphold a classroom that is woefully out of date. Let me make this clear: I BELIEVE THAT WE NEED TO RETHINK HOW WE TEACH, BUT THAT IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF WHAT WE HAVE TAUGHT. I’ve not heard, nor read, a convincing argument that teaching “classic” literature is outdated- because those who make those claims seem unable (or unwilling) to recognize that it is the pedagogy that is failing students. So let’s stop talking about why teaching Shakespeare is a failed/failing enterprise; let’s rather say that teaching texts as “verbal icons” is a failed/failing enterprise. And I’m not advocating the end of technology in the class- just an end to the idea that technology is the sole (or primary) tool students need to access. It’s just A tool; and yes, Shakespeare is also A tool.

    Why do we think that making digital literacies central to (instead of a parallel opportunity within) our pedagogy is going to level class disparities, when access is limited? Can no one answer this question? I am not, and wouldn’t, suggest that we should deny access to anyone. But we should also not disadvantage students who don’t have access AT HOME. Even if students have access in school, the difference between the access that some (predominantly middle-class & up) students enjoy versus the lack of access that other (predominantly poor) students deal with is not shrinking class difference, and it may well (and I believe it is) increasing it.

    The questions I want answered:

    IS IT JUST TO DEMAND STUDENT PARTICIPATION ONLINE IF THAT STUDENT DOESN’T HAVE THE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET THAT OTHER STUDENTS HAVE?

    IS IT JUST TO PLACE STUDENTS WHO ARE ALREADY IN ONE OF THE HIGHEST RISK GROUPS FOR ACADEMIC FAILURE AT A DISTINCT DISADVANTAGE TO STUDENTS WHO HAVE A GREATER CHANCE OF SUCCESS?

    HOW ARE WE NOT PLACING THOSE STUDENTS AT A DISADVANTAGE IF WE ARE RELOCATING (and that is what many of the essays suggest) OUR PEDAGOGY ONLINE?

    J. Degan

    PS- Richardson is right- he’s lucky he can do that for his children. So am I. And schools need to do all they can do to level the playing field. But it isn’t happening yet. It takes local, not global, action to change that. Are we as adequetly preparing our students for addressing local challenges as we are global?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s