Is Medium the Message? Digital Literacy & Technical Communication Baotong Gu Georgia State University email@example.com SAMLA Conference Atlanta, November 2005
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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)
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
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)
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)
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)