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Multiliteracies for Collaborative Learning Environments

Event Cycle 7

Rhetorical literacy

Week 4: Oct 3-Oct 9, 2005

Event Cycle 7: Thursday, Oct 6 to Oct 8, 2005
Critical literacy

From Selber (2004) p. 147: Parameters of a rhetorical approach to computer literacy

Parameters Qualities of a rhetorically literate student
A rhetorically literate student ...
Persuasion understands that persuasion permeates interface design contexts in both implicit and explicit ways and that it always involves larger structures and forces (e.g. use contexts, ideology).
Deliberation understands that interface design problems are ill-defined problems whose solutions are representational arrangements that have been arrived at through various deliberative activities
Reflection articulates his or her interface design knowledge at a conscious level and subjects their actions and practices to critical assessment.
Social action sees interface design as a form of social versus technical action.

Rae Roberts has contributed some thoughts on this event ...

At the beginning of the chapter, Selber refers to J. Johnson-Eilola's distinction between the production paradigm and the connection paradigm to writing. The production paradigm, he explains, looks for a writing end product that fits a certain prescribed structure.

To me, this type of writing is easy to fit into a standard rubric for grading. How often have I bemoaned a 'perfect' writing that under my own rubric should get high marks but was devoid of substance? In other words, it didn't say anything. On the other hand I had papers which were poorly written but which, were powerful in their message and ability to connect with the reader. J. Johnson-Eilola would refer to this as part of the connection paradigm of writing. This is something that you just can't get at as easily with a rubric.

The discussion continues with a likening of this to technology as taught/required by teachers. He states that it is often a repeat of the production paradigm which, they have brought into their use of technology in the classroom. Reference was made to requiring creation of web pages which had a specific number of items that needed to be included such as images, links, etc., but again, were often devoid of substance. They were not a tool of communication. This certainly harkens back to our discussion of collaboration and moving away from the thinking of technology as a solo activity between the student and the computer.

I began to think about an experiment that I have been doing on Blackboard. For those of you who are not familiar with Blackboard it is system that is somewhat similar to D2L.

I use it with all of my graduate classes for teachers. One of the ways I use it is the discussion function similar to D2L. I have questions that I post and they respond or, I have tried having them create the questions and having other students respond. I had all sorts of rules about length, number of responses, referencing each other and the reading materials for the class etc. I would personally respond directly to each student (but not post it on the Blackboard site) and would give them a little 'grade' for their posting that consisted of U-, U,U+. I never was fully satisfied with their responses, finding many that met all of the requirements but were empty. This past summer in my teaching methods class, I left all of the 'rules' but did not respond to any of the comments nor give overt grades. I found that the quality of the responses greatly increased and became much more collaborative. Students expressed a high degree of satisfaction with it as a learning activity. This semester in my language assessment class, I left out the rules, grades everything. Well, I have a regular wildfire on my hands. The quality of the collaborative discussions going on is very high. People are responding to each other, helping each other, bringing in readings from the Internet and other sources to add to the discussions, they are adding their own questions and they are responding with a higher frequency than I would have required. Once I stepped back out their way and dropped the 'production paradigm' model and made way for the 'communication paradigm' model, the professional collaboration and learning began.

MaryJane Danan has contributed her synopsis of this chapter, as follows

Thanks to Rae and Dr. Daisy < > for getting us started on this one! I will attempt to add my spin on it, too. By the way, I just have to say, "I love this book!" -- I was a bit apprehensive at first, but it is quite engrossing because I can see so many connections to what we are doing in this course and have done in other courses in this certificate program. Also, I like what Selber and others have to say in that it relates to ways in which we might better design our courses as well as connecting to the current social conditions in the world around us.

By asking us to do a synopsis or to somehow interpret the chapters in Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, Vance is leading us to try out "the connection paradigm": which "values the negotiation of contexts, the ability to 'write with fragments'". (p. 135) In this approach writers focus on reorganizing and representing existing (and equally intertextualized) texts - their own included- in ways that are meaningful to a specific audience." (135) This is in contrast to the production paradigm: "to produce thoroughly original text, one in which our own (if intertextualized) ideas and words are the anchor of the discourse" (135)

In this chapter on Rhetorical Literacy, Selber encourages us to reconsider what a text or author is in the online world, what it means to read and write online (persuasion? computer as hypertext media), what we think we are doing when we read and write online (deliberation), what we may actually be doing when we read and write online (reflection), and how we may unknowingly be asserting influence (or making power moves) when we read and write online (social action), and much, much more!

"...encourages writers to function as designers of spatialized literacy environments." (136) Selber begins by analyzing the conventional assignment of designing a Website which he compares to the 5-paragraph essay assignment. He shows how it can be presented in a structured and closed way, and then how it can be presented in a very open "write about anything" way. He doesn't really champion either approach but cautions us that adherence to traditional notions of rhetoric "limit the manner in which online texts are conceptualized and understood". (137) He says we need to redefine rhetoric in the coming together of literacy and technology. For example, it might include speed, use of visuals, use of space, use of e-mail, and other elements not traditionally considered in rhetoric.

Selber states, "This chapter assumes that one facet of a computer multiliteracy program should prepare students to be authors of twenty- first century texts that in some measure defy the established purview of English departments." (139) He discusses at length "interface" and important considerations in its design. He uses Michael Heim's definition here:

"Interface denotes a contact point where software links the human user to computer processes. This is the mysterious, nonmaterial point where electronic signals become information. It is our interaction with software that creates an interface. Interface means the human being is wired up. Conversely, technology incorporates humans." (141)

Selber explains interface design comes from the study of how to improve the ways people relate to computers: human-computer interaction (HCI). HCI has been a focus in the area of computer science since the 1950s and Selber traces the improvements that have been made in making the human-computer interaction progressively more "user-friendly". I was especially interested in his reference to Beth Kolko's work which expands the idea of HCI to HCHI (human- computer-human interaction). "Kolko is interested in approaches that not only acknowledge the existence of others online but see the human- human relationship as the primary relationship around which the interface design practices should revolve." (142) [Think Webheads!]

Selber also traces the changes that have occurred in audience, genre, and context which have moved interface design more than before into the area of writing and communication teachers [which is one reason why we need to think about all this]. He references Kolko again saying, "If shifts in genre and audience have turned computer science outward and toward the business of humanists, so too has the realization that human-computer interfaces incorporate not only multiple users, as Kolko notes, but their social settings as well". And with this comes "an attention to usability"; do these interface designs work in the real world settings of real people? He ends this section by saying, "...the competencies such new realities call for are largely rhetorical in nature." (144)

"Rhetoric has become indispensable because computer design problems must always be contextualized in social terms." (145) He cites the works of Boyarski and Buchanan who "...turn to rhetoric for insight into what orients computer users and encourages them to act-or not to act-in specific situations" when HCI cannot explain it all. They say, "HCI is like a persuasive speech."

Selber then outlines his notion of what it means to possess rhetorical literacy presenting four parameters:

In his discussion of persuasion in interfaces, he refers to the work of captology [never heard of it!] "the study of computers as persuasive technologies...Captologists are interested in the planned effects of computers, so they focus exclusively on those systems that attempt to modify behaviors in explicit ways (Fogg). Technologies on the Internet that would engage captologists include Websites that promote safe sex, educate voters, and calculate the benefits of individual retirement accounts." (146) Selber likes the work of captologists on the classical perspective of persuasion (premeditated), but wants to know more about the unintentional effects of interfaces as in the symbolist perspective. Finally, he asks us to consider the institutional perspective of persuasion which is based on cultural values, shared myths, and power structures.

"In short, persuasion permeates technological contexts in both obvious and not so obvious ways, yet those who are rhetorically literate, who understand that persuasion always involves larger structures and forces, will be in a unique position to design agreeable and worthwhile interfaces." (150) He provides some helpful real world examples of exercises he has Ss in his classes do to get at these various perspectives as well as exercises he uses to focus on the other parameters.

Selber describes deliberation as the process of finding the best solution for a given problem and presents the notion of "tame" and "wicked" problems. We most often deal with the "wicked" type that have no one solution and may never be completely solved--that paper that is never finished. [the online course that is never finished because there is always more to discuss.] "...interface designers should strive to help users understand all of the possibilities of a system, not one, ostensibly true interpretation of it." (155)

Selber considers reflection to be closely related to deliberation "because reflective practices invite students to become researchers of their own activities in order to improve their performance." (156) He highlights the frequent lack of carryover from theory to practice for students. "While schools treat professional knowledge as inherently stable, actual situations of practice (interface design included) tend to be marked by instability, uncertainty, and contingency." (158)

To encourage reflection on practice, he refers to Kottkamp's 5 strategies:

  1. "Foregrounding the recursive aspects of the composing process" (159) [what does this mean?]
  2. using various types of journals
  3. assigning case studies to highlight the multiple options inherent in real settings
  4. capturing literacy events
  5. asking students to use metaphors and metaphorical stories to help describe and make sense of activities and experiences.

Reflection strategies can support reflection-in-action (formative) or reflection- on-action (summative) both of which Schon believes are valuable.

The fourth parameter for rhetorical literacy is social action. "If activism is a prominent form of social action, it is also a deep- running pedagogical current in rhetoric studies ....To understand the full force of their activities, interface designers need an expanded definition of social action, one that envelopes routine work." (163- 164) Selber presents Markus and Bjorn-Andersen's two-dimensional framework that explains 4 different types of power associated with interface design: technical, structural, conceptual, and symbolic. Selber says these 4 types of power," ... illustrate the fact that everyday activities help construct both world views and social worlds." (166) He believes the big task for teachers is to help students "see the diverse modes of social action that permeate development contexts in HCI." (166)

Finally, Selber discusses computers as hypertext media and the benefits as well as the dangers involved. He says there are three main metaphors that describe hypertext and have great implications for interface design: (nonlinear) texts, (modular) nodes [I'm still not sure I understand nodes], and (associative) links. In this section, he describes how the reader online also becomes a writer as he/she makes sense of text, and he discusses writing by rearrangement [these summaries and recaps of event cycles].

But there are pitfalls, too. "The metaphor of nonlinearity, which encourages students and teachers to associate notions of user freedom with the technology of linking texts, masks the often substantial constraints associated with navigating online information regulated by temporal and/or spatial structures and conventions." (172) "As opposed to supporting associative ways of learning, hypertext can paradoxically become a technology that unwittingly positions students in relatively passive rather than active roles." (179) "Teachers should therefore help students become critical readers of the metaphors that are commonly used to represent human-computer interfaces, a task that requires paying attention to their 'absences' as well as their 'presences' (Wood)" (182)

"Overall, this chapter insists that students who are rhetorically literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action." (140)

Some quotes from Selber's conclusion for this chapter:

It was very hard to pick and choose what to include here, but I hope you got a taste of what he had to say!

Reaction from Lilia ...

Mary Jane, I enjoyed reading your synopsis on rhetorical literacy very much. It helped me understand how I can apply Selber's ideas in my classroom. It also provoked several new questions about multiliteracies for further research and reflection as part of my professional development.

In the synopsis, you asked a question about "recursive aspects of the composing process". As far as I understand (please feel free to correct me if I am wrong), it is about a writer responding to the results of each stage of the composing process (prewriting, outlining, drafting, revising, polishing, and reflection) through self-evaluation or feedback from others. One of the other recursive aspects of the composing process is developing a written work through multiple drafts. Even the composing process as a whole might be repeated several times depending on the writer's needs in that particular essay/written work.

When I think of the rhetorical competence I think of an ability to manipulate the information according to the writing purpose or the audience needs which includes but not limited to re-arranging the original text to change/adjust the focus of the written work, synthesizing original writer's ideas and ideas of others/from other sources in a cohesive written piece, and understanding, holistically and in part, how the final result was achieved and how a different result can be achieved in other writing situations. Although I keep using the word "writing", clearly, with multiliteracies in mind, the rhetorical competence is not only about writing but a combination of things. I think an effective Website is a product of the rhetorical competence, which includes text (linear and nonlinear), hypertext, pictures, clip art, video clips, audio files, chats, forums, e-mail, page/font/animation/layout format, etc.

After I read Mary Jane's synopsis, I realized that I've never thought of social action as a part of rhetorical competence (For some reason, I feel more comfortable with the word 'competence' rather than 'literacy'.) Perhaps, it is partly because I've never thought of it as literacy, which is a broader concept than competence. I can see now, however, that when creating something that will be available to a wide audience (a Website, for example) the designer has to think of (plan for) its affect on the audience (intentional and unintentional).

Here is an example of "multimodal" persuasion in action to ridicule a chemical phobia. J (How about the icon in the corner - support DHMO mission by donating money?! Pretty creative! I wonder how many people actually did.)

Also, here are some of the things that I would like to know more about:

  1. "As opposed to supporting associative ways of learning, hypertext can paradoxically become a technology that unwittingly positions students in relatively passive rather than active roles." (179) - Why? How?
  2. What is a "tame" problem? How does understanding the concept of a "wicked" problem help users become more rhetorically literate? lilia

Events during this event cycle:
Check for other activities at this time, especially ...

Open Weekends@Knowplace. These workshops are free and require only that you come in, introduce yourself and participate.

OCT 7 - 9 **

And, as always ...

Sunday, October 9, 2005 Webheads in Action/Writing for Webheads: World friendship thru lang. learning 12:00-14:00 GMT ; meets at and goes from there. See to fathom possibilities.

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Last updated: October 7, 2005

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