[ Section One ]
Technological Literacy Defined
In this section, I will examine current definitions of technological literacy and explore ways in which the term has been couched within the discourse of power in the classroom, assumptions which add to a teacher's fears about including technology in the classroom. Reinking's (2002) notion that technology has helped to bring about a shift in worldview is central to a discussion of the current research climate surrounding technological literacy. According to Reinking (2002), technologically mediated texts "expand the boundaries of freedom and control in accessing textual information....and change the pragmatics of written communication" (p. 449). Purves (1998) viewed the changes brought by technology as introducing an inclusion of anarchy, authority, community, idolatry, and network (p. 211) into traditional paradigms of literacy. But Reinking's (2002) definition of technological literacy in Literacy in America situated it beneath the canopy of post-typographic studies. The consequence of defining technological literacy within this epistemology means that current research in the field stresses technology's sociocultural impact. A post-typographic world is one in which significant changes have taken place in the definition of literacy, and which calls for an increased attention to the sociocultural consequences of an increased use of "non-print, particularly digital, forms of reading and writing" (p. 448). Reinking likened the shift in worldview offered by a post-typographic world to the similar shifts brought about by postindustrial and postmodern paradigms, and stressed the transformative nature of the change, the shift in worldview away from previously established literacy practices and toward a new literacy paradigm (Reinking, 2002).
Although Reinking couched his language positively, and focused more upon transformation than upon the power struggle between old definitions of text and new ones, he still conveyed the sense that technological literacy presents a challenge to established classroom teaching practices. Bruce (2004) further developed this idea by pointing out that established classroom practices can no longer adequately account for a world "defined by video, the world wide web, cell phones, wearable computers, and instant messaging" (p. 3). Researchers such as Lankshear and Knobel (2003) have even speculated that teaching in the post-typographic world requires an entirely new curriculum and pedagogy, because a school's current epistemological approach to learning is "made obsolete by the intense digitization of daily life" (p. 155).
[ Section Two | Back to
This perspective, that the onset of technological literacy warrants a whole new pedagogy, is emphasized by Lewis and Finders's (2002) qualitative study involving preservice teachers and new literacies. Lewis and Finders contrasted preservice teachers' views of technology with the views of adolescents in their classrooms. The adolescents and teachers were all immersed in the technologies of a post-typographic world, but although adolescents accepted and adapted to change, the teachers resisted altering their pedagogy to reflect this change. Although Lewis and Finders concluded that teachers must begin to include new literacies in classrooms so that adolescents can apply critical perspectives to the technologies that surrounded them, teacher training in these technologies is still lacking.
Lewis and Finders's study also situated technological literacy, and the new pedagogy called for by researchers, within discursive regimes of power. Lewis and Finders concluded that preservice teachers' concerns about allowing technology into classrooms had to do with teachers' insecurities about losing power and control over the class. Rather than embracing a new pedagogy for their classroom that could include technological literacy, these teachers rejected any change that would threaten their power in the classroom:
In short, when pre-service teachers were cast as students of critical media studies, they found the cultural work valuable and engaging, but when they were asked to consider critical media studies from the perspective of a teacher, they found the work filled with controversies, inaccessible, and for the most part inappropriate....They spoke of their direct need as young teachers to widen, not bridge, the experiential and knowledge gap between themselves and their students. To widen the gap, they needed either to declare popular culture off limits or to force fit it into the traditional paradigm of English education. (pp. 110-111)
This discussion of classroom power dynamics leads to the question: why does technological literacy seem so threatening? In the case of their study, the teachers' attitudes could be explained as the insecurity of fledgling teachers who are coping with situations that might threaten the "gap" of formality between themselves and their students; however, the dynamic introduced by the researchers' treatment of the term "technological literacy" itself is important. Technological literacy inspired fear in these preservice teachers because of its very definition as a device that alters worldviews and shifts classroom pedagogy. Technological literacy is not defined in such a way that it keeps preservice teachers' fears at bay by maintaining status-quo and order in the classroom. Technological literacy is even couched by Purves (1998) as "anarchic." And this form of anarchy threatens a teacher's classroom authority because it "values a different ordering, not one that is completely nihilistic nor individualistic, but one that tolerates and even celebrates diversity and co-equality" (Purves, 1998, p. 202).
Purves noted that the range of textual choices offered by technology is unlimited by modality--the audio, visual and textual modalities can combine in any iteration to produce documents. He also mentioned that the subject matter of the text is virtually unlimited. According to Purves, an internet-wired classroom can introduce topics that are without any of the traditional boundaries placed upon appropriate classroom material. He observed that the very structure of the internet is anarchic: "There may be rigid rules for signing on...but once on, there is freedom to browse, surf, stay in one area, or leave. The architecture of these vast networks and their principles is not immediately apparent, so that the whole appears anarchic" (p. 203).
While teachers' concerns about maintaining classroom power is a topic for rich discussion in itself, a further question is raised: why is classroom power tied so intimately to the use of technology? If the central concern of teachers is to maintain power in a classroom, the anarchy inherent in Purves's definition of technological texts poses an immediate threat to their control. In fact, Lewis and Finders described that preservice teachers recognized a leveling and "co-equalizing" aspect to technology in the classroom, a challenge to power that lead to an unwillingness to include technological literacy in their lessons. Teachers were unwilling to share their personal knowledge of the internet with their students because "They felt a need to create firm boundaries between their private pleasure and their professional authority" (p. 111). I posit that this threat to classroom control impedes the adoption of technology in the classroom.
This concern with the place of technological literacy within the power dynamic of the classroom becomes the focus of the next discussion.
Technological Literacy and the Discourse of Power
I have begun to explore how researchers have defined technological literacy as situated within the discourse of power dynamics in the classroom. This section will discuss power as it relates to changing definitions of literacy. I will show that much in the same way that defining oral literacy as opposed to mainstream literacy ultimately raises questions of the power of dominant discourses in the classroom, defining technological literacy as a category apart from mainstream literacy helps to foster negative teacher attitudes toward technology in the classroom. I suggest that refusing to define technological literacy as separate from mainstream literacy will enable teachers to better accept technology the classroom.
Discussions of power within the realm of literacy, according to Collins and Blot (2003), are inevitable. In Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power and Identity, Collins and Blot built the argument that texts are tools of various political agendas. Written texts are especially useful as the tool by which the dominant discourse (such as the discourse of colonial governments) disenfranchises subordinate discourses (such as colonized peoples). Societies that have oral but not written texts are prone to being reconceived by written texts. The central assumption of a written "literacy thesis" privileged "[written] literacy [as it] underpins the uniqueness of the West and the superiority of Western minds" (p. 6). In the discourse of the literacy thesis, societies without written literacy are presented in text as uncivilized, unadvanced, lacking in the achievements of the dominant culture.
On the other hand, written literacy has gifted the dominant culture with many superior abilities, including the capability to distinguish between myth and "real" history, distinguish between opinion and truth, and think critically about traditions, which of course leads to "individuation and democratic social forms" (p. 15). Why does a dominant culture justify its preferential treatment of written literacy over oral literacy? Collins and Blot posited that this privileging is a means by which the dominant culture can construct reasonable and "scientific" justifications for why it is dominant. In order to support this claim, Collins and Blot noted that the dominant culture is forced to build a clear division between oral and written literacy. The two kinds of literacy are not allowed to intermingle, because the colonized culture might then be able to challenge a basic foundation of the power of the dominant culture.
Sociocultural models of literacy research have shown the need to break down the division between these terms, however, because the study of a society's written literacy necessitates the study its of oral literacy. Collins and Blot questioned the division that Finnegan (1976) constructed between oral and written literacy: "what might distinguish oral poetry and oral literature from written poetry and literature? According to Finnegan, it is that they are performed. This, of course, begs the questions: what counts as performance? What is the nature of performance? And what difference(s) does it make that poetry and literature are performed rather than written?" (p. 50). They answered these questions via de Certeau's notion that the terms "written language" and "oral language" cannot be strictly defined, but change based upon a "historically variable relationship" (p. 92).
This analysis of literacy, power, and the construction of definitions of literacy can be extended to my discussion of the definition of technological literacy. Researchers such as Bruce (1998) and Lankshear and Knobel (2003) have defined technological literacy as a new form of literacy necessitating a "revolution" in the field, and have maintained that a transformation in classroom pedagogy must occur to fully inculcate technological literacy into mainstream classroom discourse. Classroom discourse, in this case, means the "traditional" discourses of print and aural literacy. But to expand upon questions posited by Collins and Blot in their discussion of oral and written literacy, must technological literacy be defined as distinct from literacy as a whole? Just as orality remains the undefined and lesser known complement to written literacy, so too can the mode of technological literacy function as a lesser known complement to classroom literacy. Like oral literacy, technological literacy can be construed as a complementary term, which indicates that "one term or concept is the necessary counterpart to the other, adding that often-mysterious extra that the better known or more fully represented somehow lacks. As complementary terms, 'the definition of one presupposes that the other remains undefined' (de Certeau, p. 133)" (p. 30).
Constructed as its own distinct form of literacy, orality becomes subsumed by the privileged literacy of writing; by the very nature of the way in which technological literacy has been defined, above, it is clear that this new mode of literacy has been treated in much the same manner as orality. Collins and Blot argued that because literacy is a tool used to fuel the power of the dominant discourse, any alternative literacy to the mainstream would be subjected to this division-through-definition. Because researchers have constructed definitions for technological literacy as "anarchic," "challenging," and otherwise menacing to the traditional literacy of the classroom, it becomes a discourse that can both threaten existing power structures and be subsumed by them. If technological literacy is considered as other than one of many multimodal tools to promote classroom literacy, it can be excluded from teaching practices or cautiously included, but the choice rests in the hand of a dominant discourse.
In their analyses of technological literacy, Purves (1998), Bruce (2004), Reinking (2002) and other theorists all used language that constructed the discourse of technological literacy as separate from and threatening to traditional literacy. By situating technological literacy within the larger definition of post-typographic literacy, Reinking (2002) surmised that it is part of "significant changes in what comprises literacy and its sociocultural consequences" (p. 448). This revolutionary language is carried on by Bruce (2004), who posited that "new technologies ... challenge the educational system" (p. 3), and Purves (1998) who maintained that the very nature of the modality is anarchic. Although attempting to bring about the inclusion of technological literacy into the classroom, the very language used to define and describe technological literacy places it instantly in opposition to traditional classroom practices. Instead of allowing the tool of technology to be incorporated into traditional practices as another mode among existing modes, the rhetoric surrounding technological literacy inspires fear at worst--as exemplified by the preservice teachers in Lewis and Finders's study (2002)--and a complete change in classroom practices at best.