Why I teach digital literacy

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This past weekend, I gave a presentation with Susan Miller-Cochran at the Southeast Missouri State University blended learning conference on critically adopting technology in a hybrid writing classroom. The presentation was well-received and I’ve even gotten some follow-up correspondence based on our discussion. But what I want to talk about here, though, is an idea that came up in a conversation I had after our presentation with some of the those in attendance.

One of the comments made raised the issue of, “Yes, technology is there, but – why should I be teaching it in my course? A student getting an education at a university should be capable of using those tools of his/her own accord, not through me teaching it.” There are a few assumptions here: that course time should be solely focused on course content, not skill development; that if a faculty member learned on his/her own time, the student should be capable of doing so too; and that students these days are “digital natives” and probably know a lot of this anyway. I think the first two could be easily countered, so I’d like to focus on the last, and more complex idea – the one of “digital natives” in the university system.

Many educators question the assertion that students now are “digital natives,” that they grew up with this technology and thus are well-versed in it and can use it in ways that educators and/or older generations cannot. A recent post on Digital Media and Learning Central debunks four key myths in the “digital native” discussion: that digital natives are always young, that they were “born digital,” that they live digital lives (and thus have a hard time living/communicating without a screen or device) and that being connected = being digital. The best point made is that being a digital native means being more than having access – it means being able to critique, evaluate, produce, amplify, respond, and so much more. And this is what educators are not seeing students do with their access.

Case in point: a critical component of digital literacy is sifting through an evaluating the content that is produced on a daily basis and can potentially be used in research and writing. There’s much out there on the web that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A good example of a lack of critique came in a debate about technology in education in my PhD class a few weeks ago. In playing an anti-technology role, a student cited from The John William Pope Foundation’s website. The point made drew immediate laughter and dismissal, with a quick reference made to the real mission of the organization and its founder. However, that brief comment also raised a more important issue. Much content on the web is disguised as something it is not, and without having students participate in analysis and critique of sites, we miss an important opportunity to teach them that not everything on the web is genuine, truthful, worthwhile, or credible for citing. (And this Pope Foundation example may be as good as any).

Using word processors is another simple example from my own experience. After teaching students how to use our LMS (Moodle), a word processor is the next tool that I focus on in the class, showing them how to use rulers, change styles, create a hanging indent, save as a different file type, and insert comments. I generally have one or two students every semester who know how to insert a comment, but for every other student, it’s magic, and all of them need time to get the hang of using the rulers and styles. Another critical literacy for word processors? Naming files. That’s more of a rhetorical literacy for technology – how do you name a file so that your instructor knows it’s yours amongst the 22 others in the queue? How do you name it so that you know which project it is when you go back to revise? We need to teach students not only to use the tools adeptly, but also to think critically and rhetorically about how and why they are using them (and this isn’t a new idea; it comes from Stuart Selber several years ago).

Being native in a language means having fluency, and we’d all agree that simply having access to a language everyday does not equal having fluency – so why do we conflate this idea when it comes to technology? We must for now call our students something other than digital natives. Digitally naive (while catchy) doesn’t seem all that appropriate. Must we call them anything? My parents’ and grandparents’ generations were literacy natives, but I don’t think anybody called them that. If we don’t label them as digital anything, then we may be more apt to think of them simply as students we have to teach and prepare for the world that awaits them, and all of the skill sets that they need to do well when they get there.

My Techno-Teaching Philosophy

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This week, for my CRD 704 core class, Technology and Pedagogy in Communication Arts, I created a techno-teaching philosophy to present to the class. Our guidelines were basically to create a teaching philosophy using some kind of technology. I ended up using several different software programs, online freeware, and hyperlinks in my finished product: Adobe Indesign, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Fireworks, Adobe Acrobat, Glogster, WordPress, and Apple’s Pages to create my techno-teaching philosophy infographic.

I’ll include a small image of the file here, with a link to my online portfolio where the infographic is actually posted. I encourage you to check out the full-size view, complete with all of the embedded links that help to explain many of the graphics. What follows is the brief written description of the infographic that I’ve included as an accompaniment to the visual representation of my teaching philosophy. I welcome any feedback that you have. Hope you enjoy!


For a full size view, click here
Teaching is a major part of my identity as a scholar; indeed, it is a major part of the reason why I have chosen this profession. The same commitment that I have to the scholarship of rhetoric propels my teaching. This infographic represents key points of my teaching in the academy. 

I have chosen to present my techno-teaching philosophy in an infographic format to reflect some key components of my scholarly and teaching identity: to feature my interests in new media, design, and visual rhetoric; to visually represent myself as a cheerful, upbeat person; and to demonstrate that I stay informed of current trends (one of which is currently the use of an infographic to represent data and other information). Infographics feature carefully selected research and data, presented in a highly-organized but visually-pleasing format, in order for the audience to draw a larger conclusion about the featured topic. My argument with this presentation is that it echoes my teaching style: thoughtfully constructed lesson plans, presented in a way that is provoking and fun for students by relating to their interests, which allow them to draw larger conclusions about the topic as a whole that we are discussing. 


My teaching philosophy infographic is divided into three main sections: who and what I teach, my scholarly grounding in teaching, and evidence of teaching excellence. This presentation shows a trajectory of planning, implementation, and results, a reflection of how I approach assessment of my teaching. 

I begin with the audience for my instruction, “digital natives,” who while they may have grown up using a computer cannot be assumed to understand technology as those in my graduate program understand it. Here I can bring to my students a level of critical thinking and technological competence that will benefit their own use in years to come. I also use technology, social media, and digital media as a konoi topoi, or common topic, to spark discussion or use as an example. 

Knowing my audience also means recognizing not only what they want to learn, but how they want to learn. I teach both face-to-face and hybrid classes, knowing the growing trend in higher education of students take at least one of their courses in blended format. I’ve also linked this statistic to my web resource, The WPA’s Guide to the Hybrid Writing Classroom, to demonstrate my work in the scholarship of teaching and learning. 

The central portion of my infographic represents my scholarly grounding for teaching. As a rhetorically-trained scholar, I build my courses around principles of rhetoric that will most benefit students both while in school and once they begin their careers. I emphasize the rhetorical canons – invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery – and the rhetorical triangle, incorporating related topics of genre and the rhetorical appeals as we explore a wide range of texts, including written, visual, oral, digital, and multi-modal. This approach demonstrates a valuing of the foundational scholarship in the field while at the same time letting students realize that these key concepts can still be applied to the work and the technology they have today. 

I end with a demonstration of my teaching excellence. While in graduate school, I have endeavored to acquire many skills and listen to many excellent teachers to improve my own instruction. I’ve completed the Certificate of Accomplishment in Teaching, and next fall, will be doing the Preparing the Professoriate program. My commitment to teaching is recognized by both my students and my department, as evidenced by my evaluations and TA of the Year award. 


From this infographic, it should be clear that my teaching is dynamic, disciplinarily cutting edge, and demanding, all while being grounded in scholarship and principles of effective pedagogy. This multi-modal infographic has allowed me to expand my understanding of what a teaching philosophy can be and to better represent my personal approach to teaching.

Goals for 2011

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Happy New Year! This is my first post from my new laptop – the Macbook Pro that I’d asked for for Christmas – and to follow the theme that the blogs in my Reader have done this week, I’m writing a “kick-off” post for the new year. I am not one who makes resolutions: instead of constantly trying to do something better, I identify goals that I am working toward. I’ve also read other bloggers who say that a public proclamation of goals motivates them to accomplish what they’ve set out to do.

Without further ado, here’s what I’d like to do academically in 2011 (and how I might do it):

  1. Join the conversation more. Starting to blog and activating a Twitter account were two ways in 2010 that I entered the conversation as an academic, but thus far I don’t think I’ve used either very effectively to dialogue with others in the field. My conversations have been pretty one-sided, so my goal is to begin legitimate conversations with other digital rhetoric and environmental communication scholars online. To start, I will not only continue with my blog, but I will more actively seek out those of others, read, and comment when I have a question or something to say. I’ll keep “listening” on Twitter, but will plan to jump in when I have a question or something to say. In short, I’ll converse less in my corner and more out in the open with others. I’ll need a bit of help with this: the best way to find great blogs, I think, is through others. Please feel free to share your blog or someone else’s that you follow so that I can, too.
  2. Go to more conferences. I’ve stuck mostly to regional conferences thus far, quite honestly due to a lack of confidence. I need to get over this and start branching out! So, I’m going to seriously consider the conference calls that come my way and send in abstracts to the larger, national conferences. This is the status quo for academia, so I really need to step it up here if I’m going to cut it in the field (or, that’s at least how graduate school makes it seems. Feel free to correct me here).
  3. Submit an article or two for publication. Originally my goal was to get something published, but that timeline might be too tight. So I’m setting the bar low (ha!) and going with just submission. Is it better to accomplish a lesser feat, but actually cross it off the list, than to aim high and not get there? I guess I’ll see.
  4. Continue to get involved in the CRDM department. I realize that service is an important part of any vitae, but I join committees, help with workshops, and offer leadership for a greater reason: I actually want to be an admin one day. Every aspect of the department and field that I can learn about, I think, can help me in the future as I begin to reach for leadership positions in a departments. I hope this isn’t too much of “putting the cart before the horse” (ie. planning to be a dean before I even get a teaching job!), but I hope that by making connections, I’ll be better prepared to jump into a position that fewer and fewer professors/academics are interested in pursuing.

I really should also include a goal for my teaching, but since I’ve talked about improving my role in the classroom previously, I’ve kept the focus here on my role as a student/academic.

What do you hope to do in 2011?

Poetics vs. Politics in a Discussion of Rhetorical Pedagogy

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Yikes. Blogging took a backseat this week to reading and reviewing student rough drafts. And also to this little gem of a response to two previous readings that I did for my Rhetoric and Digital Media class, which has been slightly adapted here for the blogosphere. I’ll be back soon with something else!

In the twenty-first century, digital technologies have complicated the study and teaching of rhetoric. Multiple media forms on the internet, newly emerging genres, and a complex web of technologies and systems give rhetorical studies an ever-expanding array of subjects for study, while at the same time rendering the teaching of rhetoric in universities problematic. Scholars have begun to consider the consequences of apparently ubiquitous rhetoric and the impact on various areas of scholarship. Richard Lanham, in his latest work The Economics of Attention, argues that, in the age of information, our new scarce resource is attention, and rhetoric provides an economic model for dealing with new challenges in communication. He offers specific details about the impact of the attention economy on the university and how institutions of higher education can address these issues. Read against Lanham, Bryan Garsten does not seem to attend to academic considerations of rhetoric in Saving Persuasion, as he focuses primarily on close readings of traditional rhetorical texts as related to judgment of political issues. My response will show how each scholar addresses, whether directly or indirectly, the important questions of rhetorical pedagogy in the twenty-first century, and argues for a new online pedagogical practices based on a reading of both Lanham’s and Garsten’s advocacy of rhetoric.

The most direct discussion of rhetorical pedagogy comes from Lanham, who devotes an entire chapter, “The Audit of Virtuality,” to analyzing what he calls myths of higher education that need to be reconsidered in this attention economy. He asserts that the very technologies that have created an attention economy are those that can be used to improve educational experiences for both pupils and professors. One of the earlier myths that he addresses is the fact that universities must be brick and mortar and individuals physically (in addition to mentally) present for students to learn and for instructors to teach effectively. On the contrary, he claims, and uses the Open University in the United Kingdom to demonstrate how “the digital medium allows new mixtures of text, voice, and image that create educational programs of unprecedented power” (240). He continues to comment on the ideas that scholarly work is not so incredibly serious that we should eschew play, which encourages creativity; that administration should no longer cocoon faculty from the outside world, but instead that virtual programs would expose faculty to real world issues; and that universities are not so separate from industry and as such, comparisons can only improve their collective function. Most notably for rhetoric, though, Lanham concludes the chapter by arguing that “the new electronic field of expression” radically alters what scholars are doing and how we are doing it, primarily for the way that “it creates a different rhetoric that puts words, written and spoken, in new juxtapositions with picture and sound” (248). He notes that academic teaching methods of changed, generally for the better, though he fails to explicitly describe these new practices at this point and only moves to discuss it in his final chapter, “Revisionist Thinking.”

Garsten, however, does not address modern pedagogy as directly as Lanham, though some insightful ideas can be inferred from his discussion of judgment that occurs in his final chapter, “Persuasion and Deliberation.” He concludes his book, throughout which he does a political reading of classic rhetorical texts, by calling for a deliberative democracy; deliberative based both on argumentation and also in the sense that citizens can “purposefully consider as completely as possible within the time that we have the factors relevant to our decision, bringing to bear upon our choice whatever different sorts of knowledge and information seem relevant, including perceptual, emotional, intuitive, experiential, theoretical, and scientific knowledge” (192). Garsten explains that in doing so, citizens draw upon their faculty of judgment, and rhetors should facilitate deliberation by posing questions that allow interlocutors to “draw upon the knowledge they take from their situations and from their particular commitments” (192-3). He also considers how persuasion “will require careful study of the particular characteristics of one’s audience” (193). Garsten clearly emphasizes the role of knowledge in persuasion in these to passages, but seemingly fails to discuss how this knowledge is acquired – at least formally. He does, however, reflect on the importance of individuals informing themselves of the arguments and opinions around them, of paying attention to fellow citizens, and to gain understanding of opposing views in order to strengthen our own arguments in the public arena.

The link then that connects Lanham’s attention economy-affected university and Garsten’s self-centered instruction is the setting in which learning can occur for their intended audience: online. Lanham advocates a return to teaching rhetoric in the university, displacing science and business programs in favor of arts programs for their focus on the attention structures he argues are imperative to know for succeeding in an attention economy. The virtual classroom is an ideal setting for Lanham’s charge to take place; while science-based courses require lecture and lab space, many rhetoric-based courses can easily be conducted online. The internet would show students first-hand how websites compete for their attention and give them much fodder for discussion. Furthermore, he discusses in the final chapter how not only university students need to learn about the attention economy, but consumers as well. He uses William Lewis’ argument that “‘[c]onsumers are the only political force that can stand up to producer interests’” (qtd. in Lanham 261),  and make conscious choices every day that have political and aesthetic impacts. Too many choices, though, pose a problem for consumers, and thus Lanham claims that “training the chooser can protect and refine the freedom the market creates. . . [and] can build bridges between individual choices and understanding group behavior” (262). Essentially, he advocates not only formal training in university, but also for consumers to protect themselves from being misguided amidst the excess of information available online and for individuals to better understand the opinions and actions of others, just as Garsten does in his concluding chapter.

Each scholar’s approach to learning rhetoric online, however, would most likely look different. Garsten’s focus on political rhetoric and close reading of texts contrasts with Lanham’s advocacy of rhetoric in the university, particularly in humanities courses, and his economic approach to the issue in general. On one hand, Garsten encourages controversy to engage in judgment, and as such, a fitting exercise for deliberation may be found on public political forums, including news outlet-sponsored sites and partisan pages, that encourage participation from all citizens. Here, internet users could exercise Aristotle’s situated judgment by choosing a forum that interests them, while at the same time practicing deliberative partiality by reading and weighing arguments from the opposition when writing a response. Garsten’s approach is clearly group-oriented and relies on back and forth communication between individuals for learning and persuasion to take place. Without receiving a response to a post, or finding an opponent with which to debate, the setting is not interactive and thus would not facilitate learning by either party. He would also advocate repeated practice of debate, for “the best ideas will not always carry the day in democratic debate, and even the most attentive and skillful efforts at persuasion often fail for reasons unconnected with the merits of the cause” (211). So, the internet provides the perfect combination of opportunity and audience to exercise persuasion and hone rhetorical skills. There is an audience for everyone and essentially unlimited forums to house deliberations.

On the other hand, Lanham’s education model for rhetoric online is a more individual approach than Garsten’s, with people enrolling in virtual classes as they fit into their lives and not on a regulated semester system, “supplying knowledge when and where it is needed” (237-8). Students thus rely on their on self-motivation to learn or learn as they encounter situations that drive them to do so, and online courses result in both physical and temporal isolation of students from one another. If a student can enroll at any point during the year, regardless of the semester, basic principles such as group work or responding to peer writing would not be logistically easy to plan into the schedule, making it unlikely that students learning stems from anything but their own reading and interpretation of texts. Lanham’s model is flexible in terms of the models for study, for “the World Wide Web has. . . developed into an ever-richer community resource. The more people graze on it for their own purposes, the bigger it becomes and the greener its grass grows” (13). They could study the implications of multimedia web pages and the new ways in which web designers demand internet user attention. Also, one person’s blog posts can become the subject of another person’s study, which can be assigned reading by an instructor in his perpetual-registration virtual class, and so on. The cycle of production, and thus learning, is never-ending.

Overall, Richard Lanham and Bryan Garsten present theoretically and pragmatically different arguments in their respective works; however, each scholar’s argument has implications for learning and teaching of rhetoric in modern society. With the recent rise in networked classroom experiences and significant increase in online course materials, it will be important to read other works such as these for the pedagogical insights that they have to offer so that we may more aptly address issues of digital rhetoric for students and for our own learning.

Works Cited
Garsten, Bryan. Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U P, 2006.
Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.