Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Seeing the Invisible

Consider how the issues Banks and Walton raise can be viewed through the lens of Selfe and Grabill.

Walton argues that the history of Black folks in the U.S. vis-à-vis (White-controlled) technology has been one of exclusion/alienation at best, and subjugation at worst. Banks notes more or less the same thing, but then describes a Black social-networking site in which designers and users combat typical (White-centered) notions of website construction and interaction. Selfe and Grabill establish the statistical social realities that govern what Walton and Banks are talking about: that U.S. technology use varies predictably with socioeconomic status and racism. Viewed through this lens, Banks’s account of BlackPlanet offers a particularly meaningful strategy of resistance to the Net’s dominant participants and their participating methods.

Eesh – can you tell I was struggling with that? Now lemme move on to some stuff in Selfe that I found particularly compelling.

Selfe’s article knocked me over – and I look forward to reading it again more closely – because it hit me where I live. Of the two camps of composition teachers – those who use computers in their classes and those who don’t – I definitely fall into the former, and until now, I’ve maintained a certain degree of smugness about it. I’m young. And hip. And tech-savvy. And willing to try new techie shit whenever possible. I thought this was enough until now. Selfe proves me wrong. Both groups are “meaningless camps,” she writes, “Both groups feel virtuous about their choices, and both manage to lose sight of the real issue. Computer-using teachers instruct students in how to use technology – but, all too often, they neglect to teach students how to pay critical attention to the issues generated by technology use” (108). Issues that, as all of the readings here have pointed out, are deeply embedded within issues of justice.

I realized that I have indeed committed this sin: I demand that my students type stuff, I hold class in the AML, I use WebCT/SharePoint/Writing Studio to hold my files and my students’ portfolios and the occasional discussion board. I get annoyed when this stuff doesn’t work – when students can’t get around the site, or when they have formatting trouble, or when the site doesn’t do what I think it should do – but I’ve never spent any time analyzing the significance of these problems with my students. I haven’t paid critical attention to the technology I’ve been using. I’ve let it get invisible.

The immediate question for me now is: how do I start doing this in my 402 class this semester? As I was reading Selfe, I thought about how critical study of technology in a technical communication class seems so important that I should make it a several-week unit. Yet I’ve already planned my units out. It seems, then, that I’ll have to work it in here and there. Any suggestions, anyone?

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