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Multiliteracies for Collaborative Learning Environments

Event Cycle 6

Critical literacy

Week 4: Oct 3-Oct 9

Event Cycle 6: Monday, Oct 3 to Oct 5, 2004
Critical literacy

Maryanne Burgos has prepared the synopsis for this event ...

Stuart Selber’s book, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age was written “to help teachers of writing and communication develop full-scale computer literacy programs that are both effective and professionally responsible (p. xi). According to Selber, one component of such a course would be critical literacy as can be seen in the chart below.

The Conceptual Landscape of a Computer Multiliteracies Program

Category Metaphor Subject Position Objective



Computers as tools Students as users of technology Effective employment



Computers as cultural artifacts Students as questioners of technology Informed critique



Computers as hypertextual media Students as producers of technology Reflective praxis

According to Selber, “conventional [computer literacy] programs rarely dwell on social, political and economic contexts (p. 81).” Selber, however, feels that computer literacy courses should allow students to recognize and then challenge the status quo regarding issues of the distribution of power within the realm of computer use. He holds that “one ambition of teachers interested in critical approaches is to inculcate an emancipatory tenor into conventional educational practices. (p83).”

By asking students to view the computer as an artifact instead of a tool, Selber hopes to direct their attention to “the political, social and even psychological assumptions embodied in computers (p. 86).’ In order to guide students in their critique of the use of computers in university settings, he suggests viewing computers from 4 different perspectives or parameters.

From Selber (2004) p. 96: Parameters of a critical approach to computer literacy

Parameters Qualities of a critically literate student
A critically literate student ...
Design cultures scrutinizes the dominant perspectives that shape computer design cultures and their artifacts
Use contexts sees use contexts as an inseparable aspect of computers that helps to contextualize and constitute them.
Institutional forces understands the institutional forces that shape computer use
Popular representations scrutinizes representations of computers in the public imagination

Although we participants in PP 107 may or may not be the audience of professors in departments of English and Communication that Selber is referring to, his ideas regarding the social and political dimensions involved in computer  use certainly affect us and our students.  To guide our examination of the power issues involved in computer use we could use the categories that Selber sets up to reflect different types of power moves..  Perhaps we, as a group, could find some concrete examples of each type of power move either in own teaching environment or on the national or international level

Selber’s Power Moves Associated with Technological Regularization (pp. 102-103)

  1. Exclusion:  Access to the technology and its social context is denied to persons who fit into certain race, class, gender or achievement categories.
  2. Deflection- The technology provides compensatory goods or services to people in an attempt to deflect attention away from what is really going on.
  3. Differential Incorporation – The technology is constructed so that people of different social categories are incorporated into it in ways that reflect and attempt to reinforce their status.
  4. Compartmentalization – Access to the technology and its benefits is in principle open to all, but access is rigidly structured to keep some people at arm’s length.
  5. Segregation – Access to the technology and its benefits is in principle open to all, but it is so expensive or difficult to obtain that few can enjoy it.
  6. Centralization - Access to the technology and its benefits is in principle open to all, but the system is constructed so that users have little autonomy and so that significant decisions are reserved for central management.
  7. Standardization - Access to the technology and its benefits is in principle open to all, but at the price of conformity to zealously maintained system standards and rules of procedure, which diminish local autonomy and marginalize local culture.
  8. Polarization – Different versions of essentially the same artifact are created for no reason other than to reflect and to reinforce race, class, gender or achievement categories.
  9. Marginalization –Inferior versions of an artifact are expressly created for or distributed to persons within subordinate race, class, gender or achievement categories.
  10. Delegation – A technical feature of an artifact is deliberately designed to make up for presumed moral deficiencies in its users and is actively projected into the contexts of use.
  11. Disavowal – An artifact that is specifically developed for menial or poorly compensated occupations is actively avoided or rejected by those of higher status, thus reinforcing the status distinctions.

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Last updated: October 7, 2005

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