Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Digital Rhetoric? Digital Epistemology?

I pointed out over at Vicki's that there wasn't much distinctively "digital" about the "digital literacy" (or "digital citizenship" as she also called it) skill of verifying sources. Upon reflection, I'd say it is even more dubious to call this either "literacy" or "citizenship."

Let me briefly explain why this isn't entirely pointless hair-splitting.

We're working in a period of education in the US where the focus is on the basics. So to get money and attention, everything has to be framed as a "basic skill" or a "literacy."

This generally seems harmless, but one problem is that you might start believing that some of the higher order tasks you're now calling "literacy" are as straightforward as learning the alphabet (or whatever... all the elementary teachers in the audience are now thinking about how complex basic literacy is...).

So in the case of "digital literacy" there is some danger that we begin to think of the critical analysis of texts as a simple procedural act. A roadbump on the way to writing a research paper. We may end up thinking like this:

  1. Find some sources.
  2. Determine What Is True.
  3. Write your stellar research paper.

Instead of:

  1. Find some sources.
  2. Discuss what you found and what you think of it.
  3. Gradually build up your understanding of the world.

It would be more accurate to call this stuff "digital rhetoric," or "digital epistemology," although I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for those to catch on. But if you called it that it would be less surprising that seventh graders get it wrong from time to time, that interpretation and criticism aren't the beginning but the end.

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