Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time --><--Space

I am intrigued by the idea of articulation as an alternative way of thinking about what we do as teachers. Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola write in Blinded by the Letter that

“…this involves, then not just thinking that we should pass along discrete sets of skills to others—or pretending that those discrete sets of skills are all that it takes to have a different life. There are certainly skills needed for connecting and reconnecting information—but the relationships to communication technologies we are describing now and here ask, in necessary addition, for a shared and discussed, ongoing, reconception of the space and time we use together and in which we find (and can construct) information and ourselves.

This reconception is thus not about handing down skills to others who are not where we are, but about figuring out how we all are where we are, and about how we all participate in making these spaces and the various selves we find here.” (italics added; Selfe, Passions Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies 366)

Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola counter the banking method of teaching with a social constructivistic proposal for revitalizing the ways we know and teach, privileging communication over the traditional idea of literacy as mastery of skills. Literacy, as an over-arching term that encompasses many different subsets—reading, writing, math, technology, etc.—has traditionally been preferred, possibly because educators who are mandated to assess student learning can more easily measure definable tasks and configurations of those tasks. Moreover, the “‘literacy myth’” (attributed to separate writings by Harvey J. Graff and Ruth Finnegan) is a “belief that literacy will bring us” suffrage, a place in dominant culture, or acceptance in traditionally privileged communities like academia (353). Communication, in the form of articulation, requires rethinking assessment to uncover learning not easily isolated. (This is where Guba and Lincoln’s fourth generation evaluation, particularly the recursivity of hermeneutic dialectics, could be applied.)

In a way, resistance to Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s alternative of articulation, as opposed to literacy, could be compared to the resistance to forward-moving writing technologies discussed by Dennis Baron in From Pencils to Pixels. Why change longstanding practices? Why integrate new ways of doing/thinking when the old ways still work (or sorta work)? For example, Douglas Hesse argues that we should retain longstanding essayistic literacy at the same time as new writing technologies make possible listserv “essays,” hypertexts, and other forms of computer-generated writing and communication. He asks whether a discussion thread could be presented as an essay: “Would the result be recognizable as an essay? Even suspending the interesting issues of style and voice, the main quality that threads-as-essays lack is shape and closure” (44). However, Montaigne does not necessarily give shape to his essays nor provide closure to the reader in his chrono-logic (Paul Heilker) approach.

  1. The most interesting discussion presented in Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola’s article, for me personally, is the idea that “time and space collapsing into each other” (363). What purposes are served through this? How are physically distant place brought close and virtual spaces collapsed (leading “to the idea that real spaces are likewise”)? (364)
  2. Do we want to promote the space-time compression mentioned in this article? What can we envision happening in the future as this becomes universal?
  3. A question for me to follow up on: How would Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Soja, and Michel Foucault perceive this postmodern view of collapsed space-time?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Eks (x) Lifeworlds

I know a little about multiplestwo of my nine children are twins. They shared the same womb, the same birth date (born 3 minutes apart), the same crib (for a week), the same feeding times, the same stroller. They began swimming lessons and kindergarten together. Despite the shared environment, the twins are very different. They share the same parents but not the same chromosomes: they are fraternal—a boy-girl set. The boy weighed 8 lbs. 2 oz. at birth; the girl was 5 lbs. 12 oz.—almost 2 ½ pounds difference. The boy was brunette; the girl blond. The boy cried a lot and needed adult attention; the girl was quiet, watching everyone and everything around her, attracting everyone’s delighted attention. They developed their own twin language: he was slow learning to speak English; she began talking at the appropriate developmental time and spoke for him, further delaying his speech. He watched birds and buses and trucks; she watched faces. Together they formed a unit, twins, which required a metalanguage to discuss the differences between single- and double-births.

The twins, in a simplistic way, resembled multiliteracies in that multivalent bonds formed between the two babies, the family, other people, and the environments in which we lived. As The New London Group writes in A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, “The challenge is to make space available so that different lifeworlds can flourish, to create spaces for community life where local and specific meanings can be made” (16). The twins needed to explore individuality within the community they inhabited in order to establish separate and viable identities. The multivalent quality resulting from interaction among different communities shows “their boundaries [became] more evidently complex and overlapping” (17). Moreover, neither was “a member of a singular community,” and each negotiated “multiple discourse of identity and multiple discourses of recognition” (17). The twins needed proficiency in inhabiting their individual lifeworlds (17). In other words, they needed a teacher or two or more, and the first one on the scene is usually the mother.

With this analogy, I am also demonstrating some understanding of conversationalisation, which “involves institutionally motivated simulation of conversational language and the personae and relationships of ordinary life” (16). I am making a private metaphor public, appropriating my memories “to serve…institutional ends” (16). The New London Group says that the process “in part destroys the autonomy of private and community lifeworlds” (16). I disagree. The private cannot be severed from the community in that the community molds portions of the private and the private molds portions of the community.

What does this analogy have to do with framing my understanding of multiliteracies? Like most people, I think in metaphors, in analogies. To find a representative example that I am unlikely to forget means finding an access point into a new concept and a higher likelihood that that knowledge will be retained. But to be more explicit…

The existence of multiple forms of literacy—multiliteracies—seems more relevant to the understanding and teaching of “ways that allow [students] to participate fully in public, community and economic life” (9). Reading in isolation from other forms of literacy bears little relationship with the lifeworlds of many young adults in the 21st century. More apt is the wired vocal/aural/visual/tactile connection to multifarious electronic wizardry gadgets, computers included.

The New London Group’s statement on a theory of pedagogy clearly points to social constuctivism (30-31). Practical applications follow, with the charts and tables particularly helpful. I also appreciate the lists (Available Designs, Designing, and The Redesigned, 20; Design Elements, 25; Situated Practice, Overt Instruction, Critical Framing, and Transformed Practice, 35).

  1. Eleven years ago Lester Faigley presented his CCCC’s address (After the Revolution), and wrote: “Very simply, the Internet is not the world. Use of the Internet is even more skewed than consumption of the world’s energy resources” (39).
  2. For a long time people in the U.S. did not know or refused to acknowledge that oil consumption needed to be controlled. The 70s Arab Oil Embargo disappeared from communal memory (maybe Lois Lowry’s The Giver stored it for us). What kinds of unsustainable practices are we ignoring about Internet technology and its use that are likely to surface in coming generations?
  3. What does it mean to be computer literate (Ohmann: Literacy, Technology, and Monopoly Capital, 27)? Isn’t computer literacy really computer multiliteracies?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Conundrums and Cautions; Composition and Computers

Reading Lester Faigley’s transcripts of in-class discussions conducted online using InterChange made me think about online experiences of my own. The first is really an aggregate of online courses I completed as an undergraduate (two-thirds of my B.S Liberal Studies courses took place off campus and online, with a handful of weekend and correspondence courses in the mix). Online discussion took place asynchronously on Blackboard Discussion Boards. Teacher participation varied. At least one teacher monitored conversations and policed student interactions. At the other extreme, a teacher absented him/herself to the point that almost all students gave up on required discussions (tied to grades) by the fourth of an eleven week course. This meant that a student who wanted to complete the assignment—respond to at least one other student each week—could not complete the task. The second experience was a group project in Second Life (just two of us, Sarah and me) designed as a derive. We traveled together, communicated through written dialogue from different geographical locations (in both real and virtual worlds), and applied theories of space and place in order to gain an understanding of our virtual environment. This was a student-centered, student-driven research project, one that I hope will help me develop other such effective technological explorations.

These experiences involved discussion and students. What do my experiences say to me about teaching with computer technology in light of today’s readings?

Much of the online discussion during my undergraduate days followed the “traditional notions of education that permeate our culture at its most basic level: teachers talk, students listen; teachers’ contributions are privileged; students respond in predictable, teacher-pleasing ways” that Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe mention in The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class (35). Open-ended questions allowed students to make connections between readings, but often, especially in my scrupulously patrolled anthropology class, the questions were designed to elicit right answers, in the instructor’s view. Most of us accepted the scholarly authority of this anthropologist; however, one man refused to acknowledge any possibility that humans evolved. He began to attack other students’ viewpoints, then he attacked them as people. After a mild warning to the entire class failed to stop his forcefulness, the instructor publicly reprimanded him. I don’t know whether behind-the-scenes dialogue took place.

I’ve always wondered what would have happened if the students in the class had been left to rebut, rebuke, or shun the guy in a student-centered action. In this class, “[t]he use of computers…seemed to come between [the teacher] and students, pre-empting valuable exchanges among members of the class….The use of technology in [this class], far from creating a new forum for learning, simply magnified the power differential between students and the instructor” (Hawisher and Selfe 40, 41). This was a micromanaged class in many ways, down to the prescribed vocabulary, format, deadlines, and paper topics. Not that this was bad for some, in that we did learn. As Marilyn M. Cooper writes in Postmodern Pedagogy in Electronic Conversations, “…I do not mean that teachers should tolerate inappropriate behavior in electronic or any other class conversations, but rather that teachers need to find new ways to deal with it” (160). But the technology component, the necessary medium for communication, made high demands on student receptivity to new ideas from the moment the syllabus became available, and those new ideas made strong challenges to conservative religious and political beliefs. To some extent, the software set up a panopticon with the teacher in the middle looking out at the cells (discussion threads) occupied by each student. Some students, including the man who lashed out, felt Othered. Maybe a less traditional banking approach to teaching would empower such students to voice close-held beliefs and at the same time open their minds to critically thinking about oppositional ideas. As Cooper argues, “This is not to say that teachers should not offer their own perspective or other perspectives that are not known to students, but rather that these perspectives must be clearly connected with the students’ experiences and must be offered as perspectives, not as the official or correct view” (159). To me it seems that online educators, especially, must consider Cooper’s statement. Without the face-to-face interaction of a traditional classroom, the teacher-student relationship relies entirely on the quixotic written dialogue or multi-logue.


1. I was surprised that I bristled when I read this from Hawisher/Selfe:

"Writing instructors can use networks and electronic bulletin boards as disciplinary mechanisms for observing studetns' intellectual contributions to written discussions. The institutional requirement of student evaluation contributes to this practice as instructors seek ways 'to give students credit' for conference participation....We know after all that electronic conferences are, in some ways, spaces open to public scrutiny, places where individuals with the power of control over technology can observe conversations and participants without being seen and without contributing" (42-43).

How do we, as teachers, determine when a listserv, discussion board, chat room, blog, social networking group, or any other assigned and evaluated online posting (either for a grade or for completion) crosses the line from pedagogically sound to disciplinary and inappropriate? Hawisher and Selfe write that "[w]e can, if we work at it, become learners within a community of other learners, our students" (44). This is all well and good, but how do we do it?

2. Cooper quotes Spooner saying that "in the postmodern age, the reader, not the writer, is the real tyrant: multi-tasking, channel-surfing, capricious and fickle, free to interpret, misread, manipulate, and (horrors) apply. We're all guilty; we start at the end, in the middle, we don't finish, we joyously juxtapose bits of what we read with other readings, other experiences. But the point is that this is our most natural process" (141).

Spooner describes a graduate student pretty well, perhaps scholars as a whole. I suppose this is a rhetorical question, but is it any wonder that the pedagogical underpinnings of teaching with computers should be so under-theorized, at least in the early days of its classroom application (the late 1980s and early 1990s)?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

(Un)Equal Educational Opportunity

My towns’ (three incorporated and one unincorporated communities strung together) high school had been condemned when I was in first grade. After bussing 7th through 12th graders sixteen miles away for one year (a long way, it seemed), junior high students were moved ‘home’ and the gymnasium was curtained with gigantic canvas tarps hung from ropes into large cubicles for elementary classrooms, including mine, until Christmas of my 3rd grade year. In 1968-9, I was in the ninth grade at a small junior high part of a consolidated school district and appointed to a school-community-educator committee. Our task was to join with representatives from other parts of the district in expressing what our small school needed (along with a couple of other small schools) from the district. Educators from a university moderated and guided the committee for nine months. In all that time, at twice a month meetings, we tried to define what we wanted, “equal educational opportunity.” I remember making lists, talking about why certain items appeared on the list—one of these was the return of our local high school—but our descriptions never satisfied the scholars. We wanted up-to-date books, solid buildings to replace prefabricated Quonset huts, and autonomy. We wanted a return to independence and financial self-sufficiency, a return of the pride we felt as a community that took care of its young. We were a feisty, hardworking coalmining and agricultural community, and we wanted a return to the excellence, the higher educational standards that preceded our absorption into the giant.

Nothing came of the meetings.

My class of 29 students was split between two high schools, and we spent two hours a day on the bus to attend an overcrowded school. Twelve hundred students crammed into a building during my sophomore year. Split sessions – 7 a.m. to noon, noon to 5 p.m., and swing session, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.—challenged the kids I grew up with to keep up, to participate, and to learn to adapt to what was good for us according to the more affluent, more powerful majority.

We wanted equal educational opportunity; they wanted to redistribute the assets and tax proceeds of small appropriated districts. In the name of economic expediency, we lost our community identity, and all across the nation, similar consolidations occurred.

I see similarity in the expansion of school districts and the expansion of technological literacy. Cynthia Selfe writes about some of the dangers of inequity in Technology and Literacy: A Story about the Perils of Not Paying Attention: “In the specific case of the project to expand technological literacy, the claim is that a national program will provide all citizens equal access to an improved education and, thus, equal opportunity for upward social mobility and economic prosperity. If we pay attention to the facts surrounding the project’s instantiation, however, we can remind ourselves of the much harder lesson: in our educational system, and in the culture that this system reflects, computers continue to be distributed differentially along the related axes of race and socioeconomic status and this distribution contributes to ongoing patterns of racism and to the continuation of poverty” (Selfe 101). The disparity of spending between urban and rural schools, between predominately white and Italian/Hispanic/French ethnic groups, and between middle class and working class communities echo loudly in the technological divide Selfe describes. But for both, the powerful stand in the central core of the panopticon and assign those with little or no power to the outer circle. Selfe writes, “The people labeled as ‘illiterate’ in connection with technology – as expected – are those with the least power to effect a change in this system” (107). My community made no headway in bringing high school students home until it gained a seat on the school board, and then improvements came slowly.

For people of color, the distance from agency, let alone power, is often profound. Andrew Walton, in Technology Versus African-Americans, states: “As the world gets faster and more information-centered, it also gets meaner: disparities of wealth and power strengthen; opportunities change and often fade away” (16). This, despite the buy-in to the American dream. “Blacks,” says Walton, “are subject not only to notions of a steady rise but also to the restless ambition that seems a peculiarly American disease” (18). Is it this disease that gives rise to a need for a cyber-underground like Black World to re-create the oral tradition Smitherman catalogues—“call and response, mimicry, signifyin’, testifyin’, exaggerated language, proverbial statements, punning, spontaneity, image-making, braggadocio, indirection, and tonal semantics”? (qtd. In Walton, 79) And does an “underground” signify revolution?

Jeffrey T. Grabill argues in Utopic Visions, The Technopoor, and Public Access: Writing Technologies in a Community Literacy Program that “writing with computers in nonschool contexts is a significant area of inquiry that needs the experience and expertise of computers and composition professionals. But, work in this area demands that we confront complex issues of public access and participate in the design of writing technologies” (299). We’re back to the panopticon—who’s in the middle? Who’s isolated on the outside looking in?

When Foucault asks “why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification” (Truth and Power 113), the question of time and timing arises. Giddens has the answer, insisting that “[s]ocial activity is always constituted in three intersecting moments of difference: temporally, paradigmatically (invoking structure which is present only in its instantiation) and spatially. All social practices are situated activities in each of these senses” (Agency, Structure 54).

  1. The question of access to technology for marginalized communities and individuals seems to have no concrete answer. If access is denied, the population is alienated and isolated. If access is provided, the population is marginalized as non-owners of the technology and the control of its access. We experience this problem as a binary. How can we—can we ever—resolve it?
  2. Despite living through the Clinton-Gore technology boom, I did not recognize the political manipulation that led to economic and social consequences (recovery from recession, proliferation of dotcom millionaires) and broke down when the bubble burst. The glitter of technological advances inspires similar naiveté in me and in others. I don’t believe I’m grazing alone in the field wearing blinders. Is there something more teachers can do than talk about the potential dangers of technology?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Nudging Power after a Two-Way Sprint to Third

I used to think that Foucault was difficult to read and understand and often beyond my ken. That changed when I first read his Heterotopias and then Panopticon. A third piece now joins the other two: Truth and Power, from Power/Knowledge. Although sections sometimes become dense and intellectual, Foucault tends to communicate with his able interviewers, Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino, in ways that reveal a somewhat cocky self-awareness and yet maintain a measure of transparency.

Truth and Power was transcribed in 1977, the year that the computer came of age as a mature product ready for broad distribution. Apple was incorporated that year, and Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore began mass-marketing computers. Apple II also introduced the first color graphics on a PC (http://www.computerhope.com/history/196080.htm). Foucault must have been thinking about these developments, but even if he was not, his deliberations concerning medical practices preceded today’s wired reality in a sort of sonar blip:

…[W]ith the ways of speaking and seeing, the whole ensemble of practices which served as supports for medical knowledge. These are not simply new discoveries, there is a whole new ‘regime’ in discourse and forms of knowledge. And all this happens in the space of a few years. My problem was not at all to say, ‘Voila, long live discontinuity, we are in the discontinuous and a good thing too’, but to pose the question, ‘How is it that at certain moments and in certain orders of knowledge, there are these sudden take-offs, these hastening of evolution, these transformations which fail to correspond to the calm, continuist image that is normally accredited?’ (112)

Moreover, Foucault goes on to ask “why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification? ” (113) Technological advance is one answer to that “why” question. With invention and innovation come what Giddens in Agency, Structure calls time-space intersections:

I regard as a fundamental theme of this paper, and of the whole of this book, that social theory must acknowledge, as it has not done previously, time-space intersections as essentially involved in all social existence. All social analysis must recognize (and itself takes place in) not just a double sense of differance, but a threefold one...Social activity is always constituted in three intersecting moments of difference: temporally, paradigmatically (invoking structure which is present only in its instantiation) and spatially. All social practices are situated activities in each of these senses. (54)

Giddens’ labeling of the “three intersecting moments of different” varies from that of Henri Lefebvre’s trialectics of being (spatiality, sociality, historicality; from The Production of Space) and Edward Soja’s trialectics of spatiality (lived, conceived, perceived; from Thirdspace) in that the concept of time is invoked in the three intersecting moments of difference (dare I call this the trialectics of difference?). However, feminist geographer Doreen Massey includes time in her discussion of space (Space, Place, and Gender), a topic that could stand more scrutiny.

But back to the main point now—the purpose of reading Foucault and Giddens is to find an intersection between the two, as well as other readings, that will help inform teaching with technology. Foucault’s study of truth and power suggests a strong connection:

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression. (119)

Giddens, however, says that “[i]t is not enough just to stress the need in social theory to relate the constitution and communication of meaning to normative sanctions; each of these has in turn to be linked to power transactions. This is so in the twofold sense indicated by the term duality of structure” (83). My first reaction is to call for a third, which Lukes does, but Giddens buries it in the text in overt disagreement (89-91).

Question 1: Does Giddens’ refusal to accept a third element in power transaction create an unnecessary binary—duality of structure?

Question 2: How does Gidden’s discussion of power and agency (92) compare to the same topical discussion by other authors (say, by historians such as Patricia Limerick)?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Panopticon Tech

I read Michael Foucault’s “Panopticism” from Discipline and Punish two years ago while thinking about a proposed law that would incarcerate illegal immigrants for one year before final deportation. The chapter offered a morbid historical grounding in the rise of our country’s burgeoning prison industrial complex. While reading this week, however, the assignment was to think about the chapter, along with “The Eye of Power: A Conversation with Jean-Pierre Barou and Michelle Perrot” (and Foucault), and what they have to do with teaching with technology. By the end of the fifth line of “Panopticism,” I was engrossed in an allegorical reading of digital culture—video games, internet security, and synchronous messaging, among other possibilities. This seemed too easy, too trite, but I let my mind follow the storyline and thought about issues associated with computer technology, having no doubt that the two essays were applicable to the task.

The readings offer ways to think about the virtual world. Describing digital space in scientific terms is for the scientists. Instead I think about it visually as a vast nothingness filled with zeros and ones having the potential to form almost anything conceived by the designer. On a Second Life (SL) map, areas of space owned and occupied by gamers might resemble an existing feature on Earth, like Walden’s Pond. I haven’t looked to see how much space is now owned by SL users, but I imagine that the edges of occupied territory look a little like a quilt, with fathomless black spots marking spaces not yet dominated by human-controlled avatars building buildings and gardens and universities. Beyond the ragged edges is nothing. I wonder whether that nothingness is woven together with the binary system of program languages. To me it feels uninhabitable and foreboding, like Foucault’s description of a closed town—“It is a segmented, immobile, frozen space”—although individuals can roam and even fly around (“Panopticism” 195). (No quarantine in SL of which I’m aware.) Still, a touch of paranoia touched me when I wandered to the fringes, as though I might risk my “life, contagion or punishment” (195).

I wonder…has anyone made a video game from Foucault’s description of a plague-ridden town?

What if the plague was not physical but intellectual? We might rewrite one of Foucault’s statements to read: “Everyone locked up [at his computer], everyone at his [screen], answering to his name [on instant messaging] and showing himself when asked [by clicking off Appear Offline] – it is the great review of the [wired] and the [unwired].”[i] If, as Foucault writes, “Underlying disciplinary projects the image of the plague stands for all forms of confusion and disorder,” can we project the internet as the plague-filled town? Should we? Foucault goes on to write, “The plague-stricken town, traversed throughout with hierarchy, surveillance, observation, writing, the town immobilized by the functioning of an extensive power that bears in a distinct way over all individual bodies – this is the utopia of the perfectly governed city” (198). Certainly the internet is governed by hierarchies. Surveillance can be assumed, and our own software observes what we do, tells us when we foul up or are being attacked by Trojans, and what many of us do in our digital city of Internet is write.

Foucault eventually describes Bentham’s Panopticon, and along with his description of his research on the penal system, I recalled two stories. First, I think about the description I’ve heard from a family member of a maximum security cell block. If I remember correctly, the cellblock is circular and holds twelve inmates, all behind electronically locked cell doors. In the middle of the room is a circular bulletproof Plexiglas(?) cylinder, the guards’ watch room and only accessible from above. Between the cylinder and the cells is a donut-shaped no-man’s-land, used to escort one inmate at a time to the yard for one hour of exercise. My description isn’t complete, but enough so that a parallel can be made to the panopticon, with the exception that each prisoner can see the guards through the clear core wall. Second, the film Insomnia comes to mind. The Alaskan summer night, never more than dim, disorients Al Pacino in the role of a detective hunting down a murderer played by Robin Williams. In this sense, the Land of the Midnight Sun operates as a panopticon in that “[f]ull lighting and the eye of a supervisor [Pacino] capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap” (200). However, the movie plot plays with the idea of the “automatic functioning of power” in that Williams remains alert but Pacino is addled : Williams doesn't suffer from insomnia as does Pacino (201).

In “The Eye of Power” from Power/Knowledge, Foucault discusses space in terms of politics and management. If I, as a teacher, influence my students to use technology through pedagogical applications, I must consider how this use will affect their education, careers, and personal lives. I must think about ethical considerations, in other words.

Why should we read Foucault in a course about teaching with technology? Foucault writes that “‘Discipline’…is a type of power, a modality for its exercise…a technology” (215). His writing presents one theoretical approach to technology that may be helpful in forming a pedagogical viewpoint.

  1. Are the internet and computer technology “disciplinary programme[s]” and if so, do they again transform the inherent power? (“Panopticism” 205)
  2. What are the overt and covert aims of powerful technologies? How do these compare to the religious, economic, and political aims that arose between the Counter-Reformation and the July monarchy? (“Panopticism” 212)

[i] The meaning of this sentence has been altered from Foucault’s intent. See page 196 for the original.