Wahlstrom, Billie J. “Teaching and Learning Communities: Locating Literacy, Agency, and Authority in a Digital Domain.” Computers and Technical Communication: Pedagogical and Programmatic Perspectives. Ed. Selber, Stuart A. Greenwich, CT: Ablex, 1997. 129-48. Print.
- W. acknowledges the importance of TC at the particular moment because its subject matter is located at the center of the “communication/technology” nexus of our age. In other words, technology and communications are transforming our world and TC is the disciplinary home of that context (129). But, as W. notes, often TC instructors merely teach skill sets instead of teaching ethics and responsibility in digital realms. While functional literacies are important, W. argues that for students to be “fully competent communicators” they need to be educated in digital ethics literacy.
- W. traces TC’s history back to an Aristotelian pedagogy centrally concerned with clear conveyance of effective messages with the available resources. As such, the lineage of TC is fairly functionalist. According to W. this results in a TC curriculum that emphasizes the production of various genres (130).
- According to W., if the students in our classes fail to understand the linkages between technological change and cultural change then they also lack the “literacy of agency” (131). In this sense, if they don’t understand the linkages between technological change and cultural change then they are doomed to be technological determinists who fail to find sites of intervention, sites of transformation that could create a different world.
- W. claims that an “ecological approach” is necessary to teach the literacy of agency. In other words, W. wants to consider technologies are “artifacts of culture” or “tools” (in the AT sense). Because technologies are artifacts of culture they can be analyzed and critiqued for the kinds of relationships they create: relationships with governments, corporations, and the concentrations of power. Also, if students use the ecological perspective they can look to other historical technological changes to identify how technology and culture interact in periods of rapid technological-literal-textual transformation. [1. When W. says he wants students to have access and know the history of technological and cultural change he means he wants students to understand the transformation from orality to literacy to electracy (and the attendant changes in knowledge as present and dynamic to knowledge as reified and institutionalized to knowledge as a little bit of both – also understandings of the transformations in authority from dialogic to monolithic/property to distributed).]
- W. rehashes some of the popular arguments (Bolter, Landow, Lanham) about how the computer interface reestablishes some semblance of the speaker-listener / writer-reader to literate practices (135-6) before noting that teachers and administrators of TC need to “build discourse communities in the digital age that will provide the context in which robust and disciplined discourse can flourish” (136). For W. this is only possible through the development of a sense of agency or “being able to make meaningful and ethical change in the world” (136).
- W. complicates the traditional TC articulation of agency as unnecessary because he wants to trouble the idea that TC’ers are merely conduits of information or relayers of technical knowledge; rather, TC’ers must exert agency to create discourse communities of like-minded, engaged TC’ers who are interested in exerting their influence for ethico-political ends. He calls this link the link between “literacy and freedom.” For W., this perspective – the idea that literacy is linked with freedom, democracy and responsibility to act on behalf of those without access – is new in TC.
- How does W. claim we should do this? First we should expose students to the myriad ways that TC is enmeshed in systems of government, science, business, technology, and power. Second, our pedagogies must move beyond merely “collaborative” teaching toward community-building in online spaces [1. I’m trying this right now in my Summer WRT205 online class. We’ll see how it goes.]. A central key to success in these arenas of community is the recognition that, at its heart, our “authority lies in what is common and widely shared” (Tuman 1992, 86 – qtd. in Selber 140).
- In the end of the article W. dreams of the “cyborg teacher and the avatar classroom” or, basically, SecondLife as classroom interface. Pretty fun!