More technology and pedagogy

Posted: June 3, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Originally, the last entry was going to include all four sources (those two and these two). But it ended up taking so long to talk about those two that these got bumped. I have no idea why I’m telling you this.

The first article I’m looking at here is Jeff Rice’s Cyborgography: A pedagogy of the Home Page. The article is mostly about the establishment of identity online, specifically through the use of a home page. Rice quotes Jakob Nielsen (2002) when he says “if the homepage doesn’t communicate what users can do and why they should care about the website, you might as well not have a website at all” (62). And Nielsen here makes a good point: if someone comes to a page and has no idea what they can do, they’ll leave. Without knowledge of what a site is for, it may as well ot be there.

Rice confesses to us that he has a homepage, and that it’s not very clear. He uses it to establish his view on his courses for the semester, and he intentionally leaves some links unlabelled, other hidden in images, and uses various techniques to force his students to actually explore his page (62-63.). It may look like this is hypocracy, but as Rice points out, “on my home page, I don’t present myself to my audience in clear way. I leave my page as a place of ambiguity. If my home page narrates who I am, I am not making its purpose very clear” (63). It helps to know that Rice teaches HTML programming, and that he makes the website purposefully ambiguous to provide his students with learning opportunities.

It is this use of homepages for education that Rice calls cyborgography, which he says “situates student writing in terms of new technology and the cyborgian legacy associated with such developments” (65). In other words, the combination of the internet and other technology changes the way students learn, and must change the way teachers teach. The term cyborg refers to something that is part human and part machine; given that, his wording makes a bit more sense.

When it comes to the question of how it works, Rice says that “cyborgography works from the question of what comprises identity in the digital age by redirecting focus from the state of being human toward the act of writing. In turn, the cyborg serves as a familiar model for the writing practice I want to develop, a practice that recognizes the hybrid identities we assume when writing in technology-rich environments” (65). So Rice is looking for a way identity online can be constructed, and how that affects and models writing practices. He’s developing a way to teach writing that takes online identity and its construction into account.

He does this by having students write autobiographies (cyborg+autobiography=cyborgography). Online identity must be created, and by investigating how that works, the students can take ownership of their work and their writing. Rice tells us that “the student writer understands what technology is through her usage of a word processor for writing, her likely ownership of or access to a computer, and her experience surfing the web at some point … Yet how to create self-expression with technology remains an alien task” (68). Which means that even though students at the time of this article’s writing (2005) had a lot of access to the internet, even though they spent time on the computer as well as time using word processing (and hence writing), putting the two together to express themselves and create their own online identity is something they still have a problem with.

Helping students with this is not an easy task. As Rice points out, “the home page cannot mean uploading a traditional essay or using only print standards” (71). Online writing is not just Writing Online; much more is involved. “In cyborgography, writers invent a new, coded self by transgressing expectations of both writing and technology. In turn … cyborgography locates writing not in the familiar form of the essay, but in the still, fairly unfamilia form of new media” (71). Writers need to break from what used to be the norm, to understand that writing is a multimedia operation, and that there are new media involved that need to be contended to. Online writing requires both moving beyond the writing and moving beyond the technology.

Thankfully, that does not mean that every writer needs to be an expert in both. Rice assures us that “the importance of code … need not be hindered by an inability to write code” (72). Which is good; because while I know a little bit about HTML, if I tried to make a website like the one you’re looking at, I’d have no real idea where to start. But, as Rice is no doubt aware, there are programs out that that allow us to use the code written by others to incorporate technology into writing.

This method of learning to write is, for the most part, new and unfamiliar, which Rice likes. As he points out, “The benefit of working in an unfamiliar way, and of producing unfamiliar rhetorics, is that we create increased opportunities to allow what we discover to lead to the invention of new practices” (73). By being forced to blaze our own trails, we are that much more likely to discover new and better ways to do whatever it is we’re doing (in this case, writing).

Next I look to Michael A. Peters and his article Technologising [sic] Pedagogy: The Internet, Nihilism, and Phenomenology of Learning, from 2003. This one appealed to me by title alone. I mean, look at those buzz words: Internet, Pedagogy, Nihilism, Phenomenology… all interesting stuff. And Peters does not disappoint. He brings in the work of Hegel, Heidegger,  Marx, Dewey, Foucault; the list goes on and on.

Let’s start with Heiddegger. Peters quotes him (1977) as saying “Techbology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where alethia, truth, happens” (2). Assuming this is true, what he’s saying is that we learn more and more about the world the more technology we have. This makes sense to me; the history of science seems to support it. Even when more questions are raised than answered, technology still shows us more than we could see before (including showing us what we didn’t know we couldn’t see).

But technology is not always good. As Peters writes, “technology is the source of most of the difficulties that advanced societies face” (3) mainly by removing the ability to protest the social change which is happening so much faster because of that technology. This is all still Heideggerian stuff. “For Heidegger, modern technology is the culmination of Western metaphysics, which alters our mode of being and cannot be simply overcome by a deliberate effort of the will” (4). So technology is so powerful a force that it can’t be simply stopped. This is not to say that technology has overpowered everything else (no need for Frankenstein Syndrome), just that it has changed the way the world works.

Peters moves from here to Foucault, who of course followed both Heidegger and Nietzsche. Peters says that for Foucault, “there are no universal necessities in human nature, but only different technologies through which the subject is created or by which (s)he creats him or herself” (4). So there is nothing that everyone needs, just different technologies we use when we make ourselves. Not sure how accurate that is in the real world, but combining it with the ideas in Rice’s work above, it makes sense: different people use different technologies to create their online identities. There is no one way that everyone must do it. Some people create Facebook accounts. Others Twitter. Some create online identity through webcomics, dating services, e-mail, blogs like this one, or any number of other methods. And, of course, most people use more than one of these methods.

The reason all this internet stuff is so impactful is that the internet is more than just a new thing. As Peters quotes from Dreyfus (2001), “The Internet is not just a new technological innovation; it is a new type of technological innovation; one that brings out the very essence of technology” (6). The internet is a new world to play in, a new area to develop. It in itself is more than just a technology. Homepages are one type of technology. Blogs are another. Flashgames, another still. Even those three have subcategories. This is why the Internet is such a difficult subject to study: there’s so damned much of it.

The identities that we create online are important, but dangerous, because of the loss of embodiment they create. The body, according to thinkers like Dreyfus and Merleau-Ponty, are the core of what we are, of how we interact with reality. Without a body, we’d have no way of experiencing the world (7). Unfortunately, while I would love to argue against this, it seems unfair. Dreyfus wrote in these opinions primarily in the eighties and nineties; Merlea-Ponty died in 1961. Neither of them could see the kinds of technology we have today, and neither of them could understand just how much of an identity we can form online. I’d argue that they are embodied, and getting more so. People playing World of Warcraft spend hours on the appearance, the body, of their characters, even when such things have no effect on the game itself. Similarly, the decoration on any home page is a way of embodying oneself in an online identity. Isn’t it?

As for what all this has to do with pedagogy, I have to point back up at Rice. Online identity is an important part of life now, and its establishment is a rich area of learning possibility. The pedagogy of it all comes from how we answer the concerns of Heidegger, Foucault, and the rest. It’s how we answer the question at the end of the last paragraph. We investigate whether or not we can ’embody’ ourselves online, and if we can, how we do it.

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