Selber, Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Carbondale, Ill.:
Southern Illinois UP, 2004.

Selber develops a three-part framework while extending a "detailed
investigation into the nature of computer literacy programs in higher education"
(3). His motive is remedial, motivated by a problem-solution approach to many of
the striking inadequacies in computer literacy programs, which tend to be either
slap-dash or highly instrumental in their approaches. Selber begins by opening
up a some of the givens and myths related to computer technologies: computers
are all-powerful (panacea), access and equality remain issues (hypercritical),
production and efficiency imperatives drive the dehumanizing
industrial-mechanistic engine (cautionary distance).

Selber seeks to keep the three categories open and dynamic–"suggestive
rather than constraining," but he is more direct about the implications of this
framework elsewhere: "Students who are not adequately exposed to all three
literacy categories will find it difficult to participate fully and meaningfully
in technological activities" (24).

Again, his framework divides into three terms:

1. Functional: not as bad as you might at first think
Functional computer literacies are necessary; they involve educational goals,
social conventions, specialized discourses, management activities, and
technological impasses (31). Functional literacy involves a metaphor of
computers as tools (35).
Skepticism about functional/instrumental approaches to technology remain, in
part, due to the arhetorical associations of functionalism.

2. Critical
Unlike functional approaches, which posit technological neutrality, critical
approaches blend constructivism (75) and critical literacy
(consensus as "an exercise of power") (83).
Critical literacy involves a metaphor of computers as cultural artifacts
Critical literacies correlate to the following heuristics: design cultures
(106), use contexts (111), institutional forces (117), and popular
representations (technical and ethical) (125).

3. Rhetorical: "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).
Rhetorical literacy involves a metaphor of hypertextual media (166).
Rhetorically literate students will recognize the following aspects of interface
design: persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action (139).

Selber ends with a respectful call for change, one that holds in high regard
existing research while also proposing strategies for action toward
multiliteracy programs. He introduces a nested model (Bronfenbrenner-like in its
concentricity) to account for the following orders:
institutional-departmental-curricular-pedagogical-technical (185).

Terms: "postcritical stance" (8), computer competency requirements (20),
"theory and practice" (26), heuristic (27), instrumentalism (38), declarative
and procedural knowledge (43), primary and secondary discourses (97),
Pfaffenberger’s technological regularization (102), adjustment, and
reconstitution (104), captology (the study of computers as persuasive
technologies) (146), nodes (172), open/closed systems (190).

"Although much of the discussion is conceptual in nature, it provides
a framework within which teachers of writing and communication can develop
comprehensive programs that draw together functional, critical,
and rhetorical concerns in the service of social action and
change" (xii).

"In the context of computer literacy, for example, computers will be
understood primarily in instrumental terms–as systems for supporting
status quo, relatively hierarchical student-teacher relationships, or for
automating repetitive and routine tasks, or for making difficult texts and
concepts ostensibly more interesting to study" (9).

"In one way of thinking, the tool metaphor is useful for discussions of
because it can still help instill a sense of control in a world
increasingly permeated by technology" (40).

"In terms of production contexts, the artifact metaphor encourages an
attention to the political, social, and even psychological
assumptions embodied in computers as well as any unintended consequences
of their designs" (86).

"Imagined in artifactual terms, computers can be defamiliarized as
inherently cultural
in both origin and consumption. Their
disclose psychological and social preferences crafted in the
interpretive communities in which competing perspectives eventually decompose to
singularly approved designs" (95).

"But this [tool] metaphor also restricts teachers because its neutral
dimensions insist that teachers do not need to know about the design issues
associated with computing infrastructures, which are considered to be the domain
of impartial technologists" (123). ^Is there a corollary in the preference of
the artifact metaphor that, in turn, takes as insignificant the functional
knowledge of computing?

"Reflection strategies for interface design have been classified under the
rubric of usability, but reflection as a conceptual category shifts the
focus from the product (Is the interface usable?) to the process
(Is the designer reflective?) in useful ways" (160).

Related sources
Nardi, Bonnie, and Vicki O’Day. Information Ecologies: Using Technology
with Heart
. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.
Pfaffenberger, Bryan. "Technological Dramas." Science, Technology, and
Human Values
17 (1992): 282-312.
Zuboff, Shoshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine. New York: Basic,