Achieving Functional Literacy: An Insight on Computer’s Function in Composition Classrooms (Reading Response 2)

Selber mentions the nature of literacy and computer literacy while illustrating the functional side of computer literacy. To discuss how the use of computers will affect communication, Selber traces the history of how literacy is defined or understood with a focus on how functional literacy is formed(1-6). The debates of whether or not literacy should be neutral or socially embedded is seen by Selber as not a problem because the neutral side of literacy does not necessarily exclude its social side, and more importantly, what we need is to ensure that our students can be qualified in their working environments. What he is concerned is how we manage, teaching, and assess writing in a digital environment, especially how students’ performance should be enhanced. For this purpose, he proposed five important parameters for us to consider:”educational goals, social conventions, specialized discourses, management activities and technological impasses(6).”

By making ourselves and our students “empowered users” or “functional literate users”(7), we are unbecoming the “computer-mediated users”(7) whose hands and minds will be trapped from time to time by the hows and whys of technology that block us to further our goals. To become functional literate, we will have to be aware of our computers competence, the unexplored areas of different softwares, and so on. This means we have to let our students understand that there are a lot of things that requires human brain and hard work, such as grammar knowledge and ethical issues in writing, and that we are still unaware of a lot of useful features of our own softwares(9). The website he mentions here and the insight to encourage the individual interest of students is promising to composition instruction in that such a pedagogical way allows students to explore their own writing and research in a creative fashion. Personalize a bookmark and make it public gives students a space to integrate social conventions and their language carriers(10).

Talking about social conventions, I agree with Selber’s view that ” technology does not create a social vacuum”(11) despite the internet’s success in bringing forth an explosion of information and an unprecedented sharing of knowledge. Social conventions influence online conversations and the perception of an online space determines “whether or not people will use certain online spaces socially”(13) because people will discern in which cases they have are going to entertain or to be serious. The working settings, external contexts, group purposes, and participant characteristics in a writing classroom are the same with in real social context(13), therefore, the classroom is a small society where social conventions are expressed by different groups of students through different normative behaviors. This is true because we face students from different countries, regions, and cities where the social conventions vary from time to time.

As we are dealing with social conventions in a digital environment in our classroom, some guidelines should be helpful for students when they either email or MOO something they want. Issues concerning etiquette such as capitalization, the writing styles, and so on should be taught to students as starting point in their online writing process(14). However, to avoid the overly political engaged tendency of social conventions, Selber suggests to help students not only aware of social conventions, but also capable of critically analyze discourses that they are interested in. I think Selber gradually moves to the issues of race, gender, and the power of privileged cultures when he gives an example of what we should not do we encounter students who are not from our cultural community, no matter it is a national culture or a regional one, or even only a culture of different social status. Thus, our functionally literate students should be able to negotiate between and among discourses. To achieve this, we have to be able to design literacy technologies that will enable different rhetorics for cross-discourse communication(16).

While referring to the has-to-be situation of new media literacy, Selber laments, the same as what Selfe has been lamenting on the lack of attention and awareness of new media’s capability in improving students’ writing and communicative skills(17-18). He proposed several pedagogical methods to improve this situation, including how to use softwares to do visual rhetoric and special discourses and make group presentations on different discourses. All these help students to know the softwares better and to remind students that computer enables different practices from a vast sea of sources and communities, rather than just focus on the technological difficulties computer brings to their life .

Another aspect of Selber’s pedagogical advice is to do management activities which embrace passwords, file back-up, documents deleting, and so on on a computer either with or without internet access(19-23).  Selber considers such activities as critical because they engage students in social judgements, critical thinking of their own production and consumption. The he talks about how a functionally literate student can resolve technological impasses confidently and strategically. Whereas learning oriented and performance oriented differ in their goal of English classes, Selber prefers to combine the two orientations(24-28). Functional literacy, in Selber’s view is a social issue despite that many other scholars agree the value-free concept of literacy as related to one’s economic development(28). More importantly, functional literacy should not be tied solely with pedagogical method because it is only one dimension of computer literacies(29). I agree with his argument here because I can see that Dr. Hock’s course is one of such that not only render us functional literacy, but also other critical literacies.


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