CCCC 2006 Review: M20 Info-Ecology, Info-Architecture: Growing and Designing Rhetoric for Critical Technography

CCCC 2006 Review—Will Hochman’s review of the session that I keep referring back to has just become an incredible help to me. I’m stuck trying to figure out sustainability for this silly presentation and was googling around. Thank you, Will :)

Another Try (without the pictures, so it may not make sense)

This may seem stupid, but I’m putting it down nonetheless. It’s just the start. And it’s better with the pictures, but I’m not positive enough about what I’m doing to add them yet.

Don’t Think of the Technologies:
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This all began on Cindy and Dickie Selfe’s porch in Houghton. There was a copy of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant lying on the kitchen table, and because I was supposed to be writing something else altogether, I picked up their book, went out to a comfy chair on the porch, and started reading.

Gracie did her best to keep me on track, but I found the book interesting and finished a chapter to two before going back to what I was supposed to be writing. What I found most interesting about the book was the way that the discussion of Democratic and Republican values could be extended to the challenges that educators face in the classroom.

Lakoff uses the metaphor of the government as a parent, tracing the idea back to the founding fathers, and describes how the values underlying political positions amount to a parents’ attitude toward children, who by the extension of the metaphor are children.

Republicans follow a strict father model, according to Lakoff. In this model, government takes the role of the father, knowing right from wrong, and making decisions that reward those who are self-reliant, those “whose prosperity reveals their discipline and hence their capacity for morality” (9). The citizens in this model, metaphorically the children, “are born bad, in the sense that they want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore, they have to be made good” (7).

Democrats, on the other hand, follow a nurturant parent model, believing that “children are born good and can be made better. The world can be made a better place, and our job is to work on that. The parents’ job is to nurture their children and to raise their children to be nurturers of others” (12).

Republicans, Lakoff explains, win voter support because they focus on a strong, moral stance—on “family values”—from a position of patriarchal authority. Democrats, on the other hand, focus on issues rather than the underlying values, according to Lakoff. He explains in the book’s Preface:

If the Democrats are to win in the future, the party must present a clear moral vision to the country—a moral vision common to all progressives. It cannot present a laundry list of programs. It must present a moral alternative, one more traditionally American, one that lies behind everything Americans are proud of. (xvi)

It’s not that Republicans do not address the same issues that Democrats do.
It’s a question of framing, of how Republicans frame the discussion of those issues so that it falls in line with the traditional family values that they project while Democrats are more likely to talk about the issues themselves independently.

Now what does this have to do with education? Plenty, especially when you consider that the strict father model has led to standardized testing and No Child Left Behind legislation as a way to reward those who are hard-working and self-reliant, and punish those who do not achieve. For those of us who work with digital technologies in the classroom, the issue surrounds the way that our work is generally defined, the ways that our work in education is framed.

There are many ways that we identify what we teach in English language arts, composition, and literature classrooms:

  • media literacy
  • visual literacy
  • film literacy
  • technology literacy
  • multimodal literacy
  • technological literacy
  • game literacy [???]
  • out-of-school literacy
  • adult literacy
  • computer literacy
  • multimedia literacy
  • cultural literacy
  • information literacy
  • adolescent literacy
  • young adult literacy
  • new literacy
  • multiliteracies
  • content area literacy [???]
  • early literacy [???]
  • emergent literacy [???]

And for us, the differences between these terms are meaningful and significant. The challenge is that they are often meaningful and significant ONLY to us. To the many people we encounter outside our discipline, these words can be confusing. How well does the average family member understand the difference between technological literacy, computer literacy, and multimodal literacy? For that matter, would our colleagues who spend more time with literature be able to explain such terms?

What we have here, friends, is a laundry list. The areas we teach end up broken out in so many ways that the underlying values become hidden and the meaning is lost. General audiences assume the most basic definitions, and the work that we really do is lost.

As an example, let’s focus the list on those literacy areas that have to do with digital technology in some way. Cindy Selfe explains:

The prevailing cultural understanding of [technological literacy] as simple competence with computers serves to misdirect the energy put into the national project to expand technological literacy—limiting the effectiveness of literacy instruction as it occurs within schools and homes in this country and hindering efforts to formulate increasingly complex and robust accounts of technological literacy.
(xx, Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century)

The reason for this misdirection of energy, if we apply Lakoff’s explanation of the ways that values frame the ways that people interpret what they encounter, is that the explicit nature of technological literacy (or whichever term you prefer) distracts from the underlying educational goals.

As Lakoff might say, we need to know our own values and reframe the debate based on those values, not on others’ conception of what we do. For most of us, what we value in our teaching is the ways that we encourage students to expand their literacy abilities by exploring the various digital technologies available to them—a collection of resources that can include computers, camcorders, audio recorders, handheld game systems, cell phones, and PDAs.

or something like that…

This stupid presentation

Regardless of whether I end up in Lubbock, and more on those roadblocks later, I have to come up with this presentation for the session; but the damned thing is making me crazy. I can’t figure out what the hell I’m trying to say. Maybe I’m in that stupid place that we all end up in when we have a title/abstract that made sense months ago but now doesn’t make sense anymore.

So where am I? This is the abstract:

“Don’t Think of the Technologies: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”
George Lakoff in Don’t Think of an Elephant, suggests that we need to know our own values and reframe debates based on those values, not on others’ conception of what we do. This presentation describes the values embedded within NCTE’s successful and popular ReadWriteThink website and the practices that grow out of such values. ReadWriteThink is based on the premise that sustainable digital environments must focus not on the technologies themselves, but on the literacies and pedagogies they support. Accordingly, when people ask how to use software to teach, they are in turn asked how they already teach—or aspire to teach. The advice they receive then emphasizes how technologies can support their current or future practice.

Okay, I can use the "Don’t Think of the Technologies" part of the title; that
really is the point. We have to focus on the literacy instruction, not the technologies
that we’re using as part of the instruction. Sure "the medium is the message,"
but we need to foreground on the message part. And naturally we talk about
how the medium shapes the message and vice-versa. But if asked what we teach,
we focus on the message, the communication, rather than the medium, whatever
it may be—it’s always some technology.

So right, I can deal with the pre-colonic. The post-colonic though. Sigh. Okay,
"Know Your Values" works too. Our values lead us to focus on the literacy
interaction, the message. Moreover, they focus our attention on whether and how
the technologies fit the literacy interaction in question. Our values are what
ends up focusing our efforts on the discrepancies among definitions of technology
in education. As dear Cindy explained:

The prevailing cultural understanding of [technological literacy] as simple competence
with computers
serves to misdirect the energy put into the national
project to expand technological literacy—limiting the effectiveness
of literacy instruction as it occurs within schools and homes in this country
and hindering efforts to formulate increasingly complex and robust accounts
of technological literacy. (xx, Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First
Century
)

Not only do we consider how these differences affect our teaching,but we
also ask students to pay attention to how these definitions shape their
interactions with the world around them. It’s oppositional in a way—to
focus on the ways that technology in education goes beyond simple "competence
with computers" we are better off focusing on the educational goals and
allowing the technology part of the equation to slip into place naturally.
It can be simpler to expand technological literacy by taking the focus
off the technology and attending to the literacy. That all feels okay to
me. I can come up with something that relates to that part of the title.

Where I run into the biggest trouble is the "Frame the Debate" part of
the title. What debate was I imagining that anyone needed to frame? To
be honest, I can’t tell you. I’m not sure who exactly it is that I’m debating.
I guess the debate is over how we talk about technology in education; but
who am I trying to convince of that position? Darned if I know. Maybe the
point is that it’s not a debate for us so much as the conversation. If
the "prevailing cultural understanding of [technological literacy] as simple competence
with computers
"—and I believe that it still is—then we
need to talk about technologies in education in ways that focus on the
cultural values that are in line with our own values. When we talk about
digital technology in the English language arts, composition, or literature
classroom, too often what others here is a discussion of competence with
those technologies rather than significant literacy education. There are many
ways that we talk about and identify what we teach:

  • orality [but I think this one can’t be included if it’s to make sense?
    hmm… I dunno]
  • media literacy
  • visual literacy
  • film literacy
  • technology literacy
  • multimodal literacy
  • technological literacy
  • game literacy [???]
  • out-of-school literacy
  • adult literacy
  • computer literacy
  • multimedia literacy
  • cultural literacy
  • information literacy
  • adolescent literacy
  • young adult literacy
  • new literacy
  • multiliteracies
  • content area literacy [???]
  • early literacy [???]
  • emergent literacy [???]
  • aural literacy [???]

And for us, the differences between these terms are meaningful and significant.
The challenge is that they are often meaningful and significant ONLY to
us. To the many people we encounter outside our discipline, these words
can be confusing. How well does the average family member understand the
difference between technological literacy, computer literacy, and multimodal
literacy? For that matter, would our colleagues who spend more time with
literature be able to explain such terms?

I guess this is all the "debate"—how we talk about our work
to the general public.

I guess my argument is that we have to focus on literacy, and expanding the
definition of literacy itself, rather than sub-dividing literacy and
adding descriptors that tap so many differing areas, we should focus on unifying
and expanding. I think. I dunno.

Hell, all that to just get through the title. So the abstract itself then.
You know I never write this way. Why the hell am I having to think things
through this way now? This is totally silly. But the abstract.

George Lakoff
in Don’t Think of an Elephant, suggests that we need to know our own values
and reframe debates based on those values, not on others’ conception
of what we do.

Surely I’ve dealt with that sentence. Next part.

This presentation describes the values embedded within NCTE’s
successful and popular ReadWriteThink website and the practices that grow
out of such values. ReadWriteThink is based on the premise that sustainable
digital environments must focus not on the technologies themselves, but on
the literacies and pedagogies they support.

Hmm. I should be able to do that part in my sleep. But the part that is problematic
for me is the "sustainable digital environments" piece. Well, the
word sustainable in particular. I don’t have a handy argument for the
reason that focusing on literacy leads to sustainability. Maybe the argument
is simply that technology in education has to go beyond simple competence
with computers. Whether we are talking to colleagues, students, families, administrators,
or the general public, the focus must be on the education that takes place
in the spaces rather than on the technologies in those spaces. It just feels
like such a wishy-washy argument. I need to read up on sustainability, but I
really don’t have much time left. Hell. I’ll come back to this, but let’s
get through the abstract. Next part…

Accordingly, when people ask
how to use software to teach, they are in turn asked how they already teach—or
aspire to teach. The advice they receive then emphasizes how technologies
can support their current or future practice.

Now I know what I said that part originally, and it sounds good, which is how
it got into the collaborative version of the abstract. I’m not totally sure
how it connects to ReadWriteThink however. It came from my rambling about
when I was at Daedalus. When teachers using the software (or thinking about
using the software) wanted to talk about how to use it in the classroom,
I always turned the conversation back to what they were already doing. Tell
me what you’re already teaching, tell me what you value pedagogically, and
I’ll tell you how to tap digital technologies. Don’t start with the technology.
Start with the pedagogical goals. But how do I connect any of that to ReadWriteThink?
No one is asking me how to do any of this for ReadWriteThink. Maybe I have
to pretend or conjecture here. I wish I could make those two sentences go
away.

I’m not sure where any of this leaves me. A lot of rambling and I still don’t
know completely what I am doing. Damn it all anyway. Maybe if I publish this
and reread, I’ll be able to figure it out. Or maybe I"ll skip the rereading
and go deal with the laundry instead. There’s just too much to do if I’m
to get in the car anytime soon. Bleh.

NCTE Web Revisions

This afternoon I’m in the second meeting on the Web revision, based on suggestions from MSU’s WIDE Research Center. So far we’re focusing primarily on getting terms defined and group roles determined. Our job for the next meeting is to go look at our areas of the Web site and come back with details on the user and action roles that people comes to the site with.

One of the things that bugs me about all of the sites that we have looked at as examples is the choice to use a lot of real estate at the top of the page for logos. I just don’t get it. Yes, you want to identify the organization, but is it worth giving up such a huge piece of the page? I don’t think so, especially for those folks working with lower resolutions. Between the tabs and menubars I have in Firefox, some of these pages end up giving at least a third of what I can see away to a big area of color with a logo. Examples: MSU, AMA, CCCC. There are ways to include the logo, still be clean and elegant, and not give up so much space.

The most interesting thing to those folks who might visit the NCTE site is the discussion of adopting folksonomy for all of the resources on the site as well as the ability to comment on anything that appears on the site. There’s also a goal of having remote publishers who add news and such for the site, and whose writing will go through a filter before being published. Of course, that brings up the issue of quality control for folks on staff. It’s going to be a awkward issue to work out, though it can easily be solved by demarcating visually and textually the difference between official statements and material and the shared materials posted by the general site visitors. Also discussing personalized pages, the long-discussed myNCTE pages which we have been talking about for years. Eric Crump and I discussed such things what feels like decades ago.

The hardest thing for folks to grasp seems to be the issue of action-based and role-based ways of using the site. It’s just differentiated browsing. Just as we provide different ways to learning in the classroom, we have to allow different ways to get to the same information online.

Consistency is an issue for me as well. We’re talking about designing whatever we need for action/role-based navigation, but so much is already set by the CCCC site. It’s said that CCCC is different, but it’s a real mistake to switch around branding and navigation on various parts of the same site.

Does Home Internet Access Improve Academic Achievement? | PBS

TeacherSource | learning.now . Does Home Internet Access Improve Academic Achievement? | PBS:

“Researchers noted that for the first six months of the study, Internet access appeared to have no effect on GPA. However, “Internet usage did predict GPA obtained after one year of home access.” This pattern continued through the end of the study, the researchers observing a correlation between home Internet access and higher grade points. They also correlated home access with higher standardized test scores in reading: “More time online was associated with higher reading comprehension and total reading scores.” They attributed these results to the text-heavy nature of Internet”

More likely to have a mobile, use the net, listen to radio and read papers: it’s the girl

Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | More likely to have a mobile, use the net, listen to radio and read papers: it’s the girl: “girls aged 12 to 15 are more likely than boys to have a mobile phone, use the internet, listen to the radio and read newspapers or magazines. Only when it comes to playing computer and console games do boys overtake girls.”

Columnists – StatesmanJournal.com

Columnists – StatesmanJournal.com—some interesting assumptions of the decisions that are being made and the reasons for those decisions (all w/o any info to back them up).

News from Reading Today Daily : PBS blog will examine how technology is changing education

News from Reading Today Daily : PBS blog will examine how technology is changing education:

“The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) yesterday unveiled a new blog called learning.now, which will address how new technology and Internet culture are significantly affecting the ways educators teach and children learn. Host Andy Carvin describes the new blog as being “at the crossroads of Internet culture and education.” Visit the new blog at http://www.pbs.org/learningnow.”

Researchers Find Internet Use Has Pros and Cons for Kids

Researchers Find Internet Use Has Pros and Cons for Kids—”The findings show that online interactions provide essential social support for otherwise isolated adolescents, but these online boards may also normalize and encourage self-injurious behavior and add potentially lethal behaviors to the repertoire of established adolescent self-injurers and those exploring identity options, said lead author Janis L. Whitlock of Cornell University.”

IRA Convention 2006: the prelude

I come to you this evening from the Hyatt Regency in lovely
Chicago. Tomorrow I am to attend sessions and whatnot. This evening we had a ReadWriteThink team dinner at Spiaggia, which was wonderful but so expensive. Nothing like food architecture to set off a meeting. I still don’t know how they cut the pancetta into little tiny curls for the pasta course. I would love to figure it out. It was remarkable. I wish that could have been my entire meal. Sadly, chefs do as they please.

My drive to Chicago was uneventful for the most part, except for the section when I drove by the Aurora/Joliet exit on 55 (yes, I took a very strange route, but I avoided all the construction). When my eye found the hotel that I met my father at when he was helping shut down an arsenal in Joliet, I teared up and wept in the car.

I was listening to the audio version of Don’t Think of an Elephant, which really doesn’t go well with weeping. Still there was a point in listening to the book where I thought that I might understand Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a system of reframing, and I thought that perhaps if I could just find the right freakin’ frame I wouldn’t be crying constantly when random things like a Comfort Inn in Joliet come into view.