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Is Medium the Message? Digital Literacy & Technical Communication Baotong Gu Georgia State University bgu@gsu.edu SAMLA Conference Atlanta, November 2005 Defining Digital Literacy Computer Literacy Skills required to use the computer Digital/Electronic Literacy

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Is medium the message digital literacy technical communication l.jpg

Is Medium the Message? Digital Literacy & Technical Communication

Baotong Gu

Georgia State University

bgu@gsu.edu

SAMLA Conference

Atlanta, November 2005


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Defining Digital Literacy

Computer Literacy

Skills required to use the computer

Digital/Electronic Literacy

“the practices involved in reading, writing, and exchanging information in online environments as well as the values associated with such practices—social, cultural, political, educational.”

--Selfe, Cynthia and Gail E. Hawisher. (2002). "A historical look at electronic literacy: Implications for the education of technical communicators."Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 16, 3. pp. 231-276.


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Key Aspects of Digital Literacy

  • Technology is part of literacy.

  • Literacy exists within a complex cultural ecology of social, historical, and economic effects.

  • Race and class are important factors in acquiring digital literacy.

  • TC programs need to value and teach both emerging and fading literacy practices.

  • Technical communicators need to teach themselves emerging forms of electronic literacy.

  • Access to computers and to the acquisition and development of electronic literacy must be understood as a vital, multidimensional part of a larger cultural ecology.

    --Selfe and Hawisher, 2002, pp. 260-269


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Evolving Conceptualizations about the Computer

  • Romantic Notion 1: Computers would eliminate the drudgery of our work. (p. 345)

  • Romantic Notion 2: computer-based writing would improve the overall quality of student writing.

  • Realistic Perspective: computers don’t necessarily improve writing.

  • Potential: technology may provide a means to empower writers. Technology can be used “in our writing classrooms to produce ideological change, to value difference, and to transform oppressive power relations.” (p. 354)

    --Moran, Charles. (2003). "Computers and composition 1983-2002: What we have hoped for." Computers and Composition, 20, 4. pp. 343-358.


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Current Pedagogical Practice

  • Teaching writing skills (genres, rhetorical context)

  • Teaching about the profession (current practice, industry standards, etc.)

  • Teaching software applications (desktop publishing, web design, servers, databases)

  • Teaching the rhetorical use of software applications (using software effectively to serve your purposes)


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Problems with Pedagogical Practice?

  • Focus on writing and writing technology

  • Confusing means with end

    • Writing and writing technology mistaken for an end rather than a means

    • Teaching software, the medium, seen as a means

    • Literacy, the real end, getting neglected

  • Little reflection on the use of technology

  • Too much focus on technical proficiency

    --Hart-Davidson, Bill and Steve Krause. (2004). "The future of computers and writing: A multivocal textumentary." Computers and Composition, 21, 1. pp. 147-159.


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Is Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan

  • A medium, such as the Internet, creates a new human environment.

  • An environment is both a process and an action.

  • The environment, not the technology, changes the people.

  • The pre-literate era: an aural, tribal, mythic media environment

  • The print medium: a visual culture, fragmented and isolated

  • The electronic medium: a return to the tribal culture, one of total involvement

    Implications?

  • Is digital medium the message?

  • “The medium is not the message. The medium and the message is the message.” (Rice in Hart-Davidson and Krause, p. 157)


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What Now? Content Management as a Possible Solution

  • What is content management?

    • the “process of collecting, managing, and publishing information to whatever medium you need” (Boiko 2005, p. xv).

    • how information is created, stored, represented, and accessed most effectively and efficiently within any given organization.

  • What are content management systems?

    • software that “provides a platform for managing the creation, review, filing, updating, distribution, and storage of structured and unstructured content” (White 2002, p. 20)

    • Software that allows to “datatize” text, separate form from content, and make it possible to search, sort, and repurpose information on the fly


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Content Management Approach:Promises and Requirements

  • Managerial capabilities

  • Collaborative relationships

  • More balanced power between technical communicators and their managers (Sauer and Warnick)

  • A shift from creation of content to its delivery

  • The need to teach students how to analyze the technological situation and then select the most appropriate technological strategies: to discover technology’s limitations, to interrogate tool availability within and without an organization, and to articulate alternative software selections (McShane)


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Content Management Approach:New Roles of Technical Communicator

  • An epistemic perspective on technical communication

  • A re-conception of the notion of authorship and the writer/reader relationship (Erin Smith)

  • A re-conceptualization of writer’s role: from the creator of content to the manager of information

  • New roles for technical communicators: member, manager, owner, reviewer, in addition to graphic designer, code developer, content manager, and usability/accessibility expert (Kuralt and Williams)


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Content Management Approach:Challenges

  • The rhetorical choice of one data structure over another (Karl Stolley)

  • Decontextualized chunks of content and challenges to the conventional rhetorical expertise of technical communicators (Rebekka Andersen)

  • New technology transfer and localization practices

  • The potential conflict between developing “content as discrete blocks of information” and developing “text as coherent, unified passages” (Gattis)


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