Sunday, February 15, 2015

Information Highway Drucker

If I had a single assumption about this course confirmed upon receiving the syllabus, it’s that we are going to be exploring not only content and form, but the relationship between the two as well. After all, English teachers in the year 2015 have to figure out how to convey the time-tested curriculum via new modes of expression, how to encourage digital literacy while steering students away from the pitfalls, and, perhaps, how to jettison those aspects of ELA that are rendered obsolete by the new forms at hand. English teachers, in short, are no longer granted the realm of “Reading and Writing” as a refuge – we have to explore beyond.

Where are we going? Well, Johanna Drucker’s “Image, Interpretation, and Interface” gives us a map for navigating the world of visual forms of knowledge.

Despite describing itself as a mere “overview of approaches to formal principles of visual communication [which] only skims the surface of a rich history,” this chapter is incredibly dense (53). With so much of visual communication’s history being outlined, I sometimes found myself lost while pondering modern implications. So in the hopes of getting a discussion going, this post is going to outline just some of the ideas and questions that came to me while reading – hopefully you can help me make sense of my fragmented thoughts. Moreover, I’d love to see what points – large and small – I’ve missed!

The Visual Bias
Drucker makes great work of describing the biases summoned by visual representation. On the one hand, vision was long privileged as the most trustworthy of the senses, the one most capable of leading to genuine revelation: “What could be seen could be known, and knowledge and sight had a reliable connection even if visual means of representing that knowledge were taken for granted rather than studied in their own right” (21). Perhaps it is when those modes of creating images aren’t scrutinized that they are seen as most authentic – such seems to be the case when Drucker cites Roland Barthes’ believe that photographs are images without codes (22).

With that being said, there is plenty of bias working against visual language.

According to Rene Thom, knowledge could only be communicated via mathematical notation or written language, as “[v]isual codes are notoriously unstable, too imprecise to communicate knowledge with certainty” (23). From one angle, this assertion seems to be tantamount to  skepticism against that maxim that “Seeing is believing.” If this is the case, then it is a healthy bit of credulity to brandish, since science is a big fan of letting us know that there’s more than meets the eye.

Heck, the uber-popular INVISIBILIA podcast is dedicated to investigating all of the “invisible things” that influence our lives. (Side-note: I haven’t listened to the newest episode yet, but it might be useful for us since it is about the ways in which human behavior is changing due to computers.)

Anyways, there is also something troubling about Thom’s notion that knowledge has to be confined to math or writing. Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of such hypertextual times, but I’m baffled by this assertion. Knowledge is either math or writing? Not some combination of the two? Or maybe even another medium? What about smashing together a whole bunch of media? What about something as simple as comic books, which combine images and words?

Is Scott McCloud (referenced by Drucker on page 45) not dropping some knowledge here?

The Teacher Bias
As outlined by Drucker, the ubiquity of visual language has not managed to dispel anxieties about it. For instance, the high school students of 2015 are – thanks to digital technologies and social media – absolutely surrounded  by screens. As such, these students have come to understand the world, think about themselves, and create in terms of the user interfaces manipulated via the screens. As such, we have to figure out new methods of engagement.

In other words, what does it mean to “teach” a “book” in the year 2015?

Drucker makes a salient point when reminding us that “Web environments force cognitive processing across disparate and often unconnected areas of experience and representation. They frequently require multi-modal processing of varied media” (47). Again, what does this mean for an English teacher trying to guide students through a classic, such as Hamlet? How does said instructor present as many media-forms as possible?

Reading and watching a film adaptation and taking a field to see a live performance? Somehow, it feels like Shakespeare himself would shake his head from beyond the grave, whispering “Shall I direct thee to a student’s blog?”

In my own practice, I’ve tried to ride the techno-wave by using WebQuests and group-annotation sites and Google classroom and blogs. But somehow, perhaps because I know the students are always two steps ahead, even these seem a bit stale.

Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the visually-based interfaces serve as our students’ sort of status quo for cognition. The question at hand is how to engage them in enough was to make them to first use it and then manipulate it.

Helping Students Understand, Not Just Use
It seems that Drucker’s chapter is invested in the idea that systems are often used before being studied. As such, the user adopts certain behaviors and proclivities without really understanding why. Consequently, what is genuine innovation is hardly noticed at all: “Architectural styles…were imitated over and over, and became so conventional that the initial innovation in graphic presentation came to be taken for granted” (25).

Later in the chapter, Drucker suggests that this same jaded attitude toward architecture can be found across other forms of graphic language. She writes that “These properties come to seem self-evident as a result, and the assumption that they inhere in a graphical object goes unquestioned” (39).

This might be reductive on my part, but this seems to speak to the fact that although many students are proficient bloggers and social media members, they do not truly understand the power at their fingertips. I have had many exchanges with students who can seemingly instantaneously switch between Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram, but are baffled by the prospect of uploading a file. I know this is a bit tangential on my part, but I worry that the students are too tapped into the digital realm, eyes glued to the screen per se, to recognize what they can really do with it!


Well, there’s my attempt to take a few hacks at the redwood at this Drucker’s “Image, Interpretation, and Interface” – any and all feedback will be appreciated!


  1. Allen,

    Thank you for your post, especially for your outline of the key points that Drucker makes in Image, Interpretation and Interface. It seems strange to consider that “vision was given the highest priority in the hierarchy of senses among the Ancients;” a belief that perhaps serves as the original “I read it on the internet, so it must be true.” It seems that we now live on the opposite end of the spectrum where almost everything we see must be questioned, thanks in part to the internet and modern technology. But it’s finding a balance between the two that is the real challenge. How do we teach our students to question what occurs across images, rather than simply within them, in an attempt to find what Roland Barthes refers to as the “third meaning,” without compromising their own authority? In other words, how do we prepare them to sort through the overwhelming amount of misinformation that lies at their fingertips without damaging their curiosity? I agree with your assertion that “although many students are proficient bloggers and social media members, they do not truly understand the power at their fingertips.” So how we do help them to use these tools to their advantage, when we’re still trying to get the hang of them ourselves?

    DeVoss notes that the digital revolution “isn't about the tools, but rather how the tools are used” (20). Incorporating technology into the classroom is a matter of funding, but catering the tools to certain students, using them to enhance our student’s writing rather than as an alternate means of communication, is a much bigger challenge. I agree that sometimes our attempts at this are a little stale, and the students (usually) are ahead of us when it comes to technology, but introducing students to various forms of technology is still a solid start. By using multi-media in our lessons and embracing interactive storytelling we are exposing them to a whole new world of interpretation. Students who may have never enjoyed reading might enjoy the graphic affects that can be used when they create their own story with the use of multi-media. Still, it’s not enough to use these tools just for the sake of using them- so I feel like I keep thinking in circles about these complex questions that require a lot of thought, research and practice in order to be answered. This is when I usually get frustrated and Google pictures of puppies to make myself feel better.

    I sometimes feel like my grandmother (no offense, Nana) when I try to understand technology, and I worry that my lack of knowledge and tendency to get frustrated with it will hinder me in my teaching. So how can I effectively use these tools without spending all my free time testing them out for myself? Although access to instruction probably isn't hard to get; after all, there are probably thousands of online communities and discussion boards geared towards teaching teachers how to use technology (note the irony in that statement) it’s overwhelming to think that “by making a host of individual tasks easier, computers have dramatically expanded options for writers and have probably made writing, and learning to write, more complex” (DeVoss 21). We have technology at my work that’s designed to make our duties easier, but none of us have time to figure out how to use the technology, so we end up getting comfortable using it as an outlet to input information, rather than a tool to help us with our work.

  2. Allen, great post. I think you pull out three points from Drucker that are certainly worth investigating.

    I have to agree that Rene Thom’s assertion is a little unbelievable but Drucker does benefit from using his views in order to help us understand how complex it really is to develop a language for graphesis. As Drucker moves towards the humanistic approach, she is showing how others, with yes, possible biased views, have attempted to develop a language to reveal more about knowledge forms. Drucker does an excellent job assessing the bias when she says later in the section, “For a humanistic approach, these (defining classes of graphical forms) have to be defined as rhetorical arguments produced as a result of making, a poetics of graphical form, not in the reductive or abstract logics of Boolean algebra” (54). Do we think Drucker will later take into account forms like the graphic novel or will she not consider them?

    As for the teacher perspective, I think most of us in the class feel the frustration and have the same questions you do: What forms do we teach and how? Just as Drucker is asking us to see and take different rhetorical approaches to knowledge forms, I believe that we must take a different rhetorical approach towards the tasks/activities that we develop for our students. Devoss et al. also feel that a similar approach needs to be taken by saying “…writing instruction must equip students with the tools, skills, and strategies not just to produce documents…but also to produce documents appropriate for global and dispersed reach of the Web. This change requires a large-scale shift in the rhetorical situations students are asked to write within…” (39).

    I feel like this could be seen in a project, using your Hamlet question, asking students to show the world what we can learn about the human condition by studying Hamlet, or maybe how to better understand why people do the things they do. The result could be a synthesis of videos, theatre, psychological articles, and yes, the actual play, that show others some possible answers to these questions, or other questions – I’m sure there are better! The product could be in the form of a video shared with other students or the whole world, it depends on what audience you choose to have your students writing for, maybe future students. Either way, there is a lot of prewriting that would go into a project like this and it would take a lot of time to form sound arguments based on many sources that range many modalities. I feel that students will recognize what they can do with their technology once they see other’s reactions to their work. While this is only scratching the surface, I’m sure that we will learn from DeVoss and co. (and each other) what we can do to help students realize how they can use their technology to widen their perspectives and potentially help other people understand the world a bit better.

  3. I'm delighted that you dug into Drucker, Allen, who I agree is a bit dense. In fact, all of you may be wondering why Drucker is on the syllabus at all, since she is an art historian. When I last taught this course, I realized that our vocabulary for analyzing visual representation is impoverished, at least within English studies. So when I discovered "Graphesis," I found it to be the best book on this subject. As we proceed in this course, you will see that "design" will be an important element for digital analysis and production.

    And Jennifer, I agree that the learning curve for "tech tools" is often too steep to climb, which is why I believe in a "baby-step" approach. In other words, if you decide to use a blog for the first time, set the bar low, focus just on textual production and even a minimal participation requirement. This course is a bit more accelerated than baby-speed, but I hope it offers the opportunity to experiment with some of these tools, mostly to assess your future investment in them.

    Lastly, Brian, as for your discussion of Devoss et al (building upon Jennifer's comments), I think that their emphasis on the "public" nature of digital writing addresses one of our greatest challenges. It's very easy to limit our work to success within school contexts, but I think our students are becomingly increasingly dissatisfied (for good reason) with this limited (and sometimes irrelevant) context. We shouldn't give up our teaching of the academic essay, but we need to extend our audience for student writing to include other more public or workplace audiences.

  4. Allen,

    Drucker can be tough, I very much appreciate the generative observations / questions.

    I was similarly troubled by Thom's assertion that "knowledge could only be communicated using one of two modes of expression: mathematical notation and written language" (23). I think I agree with Drucker's assessment of his motivation here -- if I'm understudying her correctly when she says: "Humanistic visual knowledge was bracketed out of his account with particularly good reason: its methods threaten the very foundations of epistemological stability and mathematical certainly that alight with empirical tenants" (23). So, I think she is saying that the methods of humanistic visual knowledge seem to undermine illusions of epistemological stability and mathematical certainty.

    It seems that math (and often science) are ascribed with a kind of purity of reason, as if they exist in a commonsense way outside of culture and ideology. Drucker's response to Thom prompted me to think about how mathematics, too, is a representational language dependent on a whole matrix of concepts which were developed (and did not simply exist) in a variety of cultural and historical contexts. Anyhow, it's interesting to think about how we seem to think about these as more stable and less interpretive than humanistic knowledge, this seems like a fallacy to me.

    Though I agree that Drucker can be dense, I so appreciate the thoughtful and appealing format and design elements of her book -- she's really made an effort to have the form reflect the content. Devoss et. al is proving a little bit more difficult for me to "dig" into. A lot of chapters 1 and 2 seemed to read like definitions and summary without a ton of practical applications and examples. In some ways I feel like I'm sort of skating on the surface of those chapters -- perhaps because the very form doesn't seem to connect with the nature of the content. Or perhaps its only the first two chapters and they are more general! OR perhaps I am an overstimulated product of my digital age, incapable of intimate engagement, (as Nicholas Carr might suggest!)

  5. Allen, thanks for summarizing and outlining the main ideas of this chapter! I have to say that it’s quite a tough task for a non-native speaker like me to explicitly understand this difficult book with the continuous disturbance of new and professional words (Prof. Mueller mentioned above that it’s intended to enlarge our vocabulary for analyzing visual representation). But your elaboration, to some extent, helps me find a way out.

    The main argument I’d like to make here is about the questions you raised in the first part “The Visual Bias”. I have the same questions as you when I came across Rene Thom’s statement about ways of communicating knowledge. I believe what Thom wanted to say is that the communication of knowledge should be based on expressions which are stable and governed by rules. As far as I’m concerned, mathematics and language are not specifically referred to the two subjects; instead, they are two general criteria that can roughly cover almost all the subjects, like the division of science and liberal arts. Mathematics includes all the subjects concerning numbers and calculation, like physics, chemistry, etc., while language encompasses subjects relying on written texts like history and politics. The reason why Thom made such an assertion is because the codes of theirs are not ambiguous thus can serve as a carrier to communicate knowledge. On the contrary, “[u]nlike language, which has a grammar, or mathematics, which operates on explicit protocols, visual images are not governed by principles in which a finite set of components is combined in accord with stable, fixed, and finite rules” (Drucker 24). Drucker gives a fine explanation about Thom’s statement, yet points out the defects in his argument by saying that “graphical representation has encoded and communicated knowledge for centuries” (24), and gives the example of architecture. Therefore, we may give our assent to Thom’s insight that knowledge should only be communicated through the media that have particular rules, and at the same time pay more attention to the graphical representation, which was once misunderstood by Thom. However, I haven’t got a clear answer about why “mathematical notation” and “written language” could only remain in an “either-or” relation and could not be combined. I guess maybe it’s because their rules might conflict with each other thus make the meaning ambiguous or hard to interpret? Maybe we can discuss the question in class.

    In addition, I think in order to fix the teacher’s position in the classroom of the technological era, the most urgent matter to settle is where the dominance goes to. Whether should the classroom be teacher-dominance or technology-dominance? Should technology be a compensation for teaching or should teachers be the living robots to show how technology is used? I dare not give a definite answer, but I seem to be held in a myth that since technology is created by human beings, it should never fully replace human work. Therefore I suppose technology can and should take up no more than 50% percent of the class time, and teachers, or we should say teachers and students in such a collaborative learning context, should still play the dominant role. Instructions from teachers and communication with teachers are necessary and indispensable.

    I have to admit that I’m a little afraid of technology and I share similar feeling with Jennifer in that “my lack of knowledge and tendency to get frustrated with it will hinder me in my teaching”. Hope I can get more exposure to technology in this course and build confidence in teaching with it.

  6. Allen-

    Thank you for contextualizing this chapter and making a little more clear some of the more difficult concepts Drucker is trying to get across in it.

    In relation to her providing readers with a kind of history of the ways in which we try to decode textual information, I found Drucker's inclusion of McCloud's book fascinating both in the fact that it is so relatively new a text and in the way that it connects the visual medium of comics to the visual medium of film/video. A lot of what McCloud tackle sin his book works not only with what you see in his visual medium, but also what is left out and why.It's through this that I see a kind of tangential association with the concepts Thom notes, specifically in regards to how we graphically represent mathematics. These are complex and complicated things whether what we aren't showing on the page then becomes just as important as what we are showing on the page, and both what is on and off the page becomes as informatively crucial to a final outcome, solution, or in the case of McCloud and even writing in general, interpretation.

    Drucker's chapter seems to serve, as dense as I also found it, as a history for the way in which we try to conceptualize and make this visual data more in line with the rules we've grown accustomed to with more "scientific" modes of representations. I guess my questions in this method arise then in how we try to contextualize this information. Mathematics can be mathematics, can not the visual contextualization of language be something different while conveying the important information it needs to convey? I think part of what Drucker tries to do in her explanation is to say that experts who kind of tried to mash these things together that aren't meant to be or have no direct context to each other fail to further those explanations along to a certain extent.

  7. Like everyone, I want to thank you for an excellent post.

    Drucker was very interesting, and while I generally agree with his view on teaching graphics, I slightly disagree with his approach. I agree largely with Theresa, who pointed to Thom’s claim that “mathematical notion and written language” are the only way of revealing knowledge (23). The idea that language represents an exact idea recorded by the author, to be picked up by the reader without any need for interpretation on the part of the reader, is one that will be refuted by any follower of reader-response. In fact, the rejection of this idea dates much earlier, as it is this very issue that Socrates—though in different terms—is concerned with when he rejects the value of writing. His fear is that a reader, unable to communicate directly with the author, will incorrectly understand an idea by misinterpreting a text. If such an idea is accepted, then the conclusion should not be that graphics, like texts, can provide predictable response, but that graphics are open to interpretation just as language and mathematics are, and therefore represent form of communication that has a valid use in education.

    As for the question of not just using, but teaching such technology in a composition class, it seems clear that any professional or academic direction that a student goes in will require proficiency in these technologies. The romance of the author sitting, in solitude, at a typewriter is so powerful that the image endures, even generations after such a way of writing has lost all relevance. This is supported by the myth that writing has been performed the way it should be done, rather than being done that way out of the limitations of technology. Writing is now primarily done on platforms that are multimedia, and that encourage collaboration and dialogue. This will only increase. Despite the desires of compositionists to teach writing the way they learned it, or think it should be taught, writing must be taught in ways that reflect the actual, and evolving, needs of the field. This means both teaching students technical skills (how to upload a file), and how to write for different genres/platforms.

  8. Drucker took a lot more time to “unpack” than DeVoss- but both texts do address an important idea of integrating visuals (or technology) into the classroom. DeVoss makes an important point about having teachers educate their students on how to use technology appropriately and recognizes that it is often difficult for teachers to figure out how to bring technology into the classroom that enhances their curriculum rather than distracts from it. As most people learn sometime in Middle or High School; seeing is not believing. Sometimes our eyes play tricks on us or we are visually deceived (think a magic trick) and therefore just because we see something we can not take it for a surface truth, but rather we must “unpack it” and conceptually examine it to see if there is something underlying this phenomenon.

    As most students also learn in high school knowledge can be presented in various forms, not just math or writing. You can demonstrate the truths of a chemical reaction (in science) but actually using manipulatives and performing the reaction- not just by referencing a periodic table and writing out the reaction. Math and writing are sometimes the easiest way to illustrate knowledge, but are not the only way by any means. As we read in Drucker- art is another way to present knowledge. As is becoming more common in public schools sometimes students in history class (or any class) are able to act out a scene or a mock trial or debate to demonstrate their knowledge of a subject- so again math and writing are not the only forms of knowledge.

    So what does this mean for teachers? Well teachers not only need to integrate technology into the classroom but they need to differentiate instruction so that students are able to demonstrate their knowledge in other ways than simply writing or math. But, since writing and math are the most common and oftentimes most effective way to demonstrate knowledge, teachers must also integrate technology to strengthen student skills in these modes of communications. I think webquests and simulations are good ways of integrating technology into an ELA classroom and have students employ critical thinking and analytical skills in approaching a text. PowerPoint, smart boards, iclickers, or even showing movies or song clips to enhance understanding of foreshadowing are all useful ways of embedding technology into an ELA class and curriculum.

  9. Here is a bit of my own efforts to incorporate technology into the classroom, which I hope may help you "visualize" how students can and do utilize technology. Regardless of my cynical post from last week (I really did try to be optimistic and somewhat of an opportunist, but I do not think that registered), I have made efforts to get to students to engage with the technology we have access to, and I have had mixed results. I am currently a teacher as a long-term substitute (from Dec. until end of June) and I found that the teacher I am covering for did use some technology, but primarily to post resources for students and parents online (such as assignment sheets, calendar, et cetera), but did not use the different programs available, such as blogs, forums, assignment submission, surveys, et cetera. I have worked for the past month or so to familiarize myself with all of these options so that I could incorporate them into the course. Unfortunately, the district does not allow for public social media outlets (such as Twitter or Google's Blogger) so I have to work within the boundaries of what I am allowed to use. The students can use the programs after a brief walk through of the platform, however they are not overly enthusiastic about using the online programs just yet. I figured creating assignments that uses Twitter's 140 characters limit (I think that's the limit) where they can post them through the forums section of the school's program would be right up their alley, and for the most part this type of assignment received a great response, but when I asked them to post a lengthier response all of them expressed that they "could just do the Twitter assignment again and that would be straight to the point, rather than having to write more." Alas, I think anytime you tell the students to write a formal assignment they will be inclined to grumble and complain!

    I am not so naive as to believe that writing is just an essay or short response, because I understand that when I allow students to connect their social experiences with a formal and/or creative writing assignment (such as creating poetry, memes, etc.), they can generate some interesting insights that they may not have in a lecture-type setting. I have found some success with student-generated research "extra credit opportunities" where I provide a list of topics and they can present their findings to the class in whichever format they choose (pre-approved, of course!). I think this post could go on and on and on, but I am afraid I have already bored most of you sufficiently enough to move on.

    Ultimately, what I am getting at is that when you use the technology you have on a trial and error basis, you will find sometimes things work and other times things are a flop--but you have to keep trying! In regards to how do we teach a novel in 2015 with the technology we have, I am not sure I have a fool-proof answer, but I will attempt: ask the students what they are comfortable with and what they would like to do with a particular topic, novel, movie, theme, literary time period, et cetera, and you may just find that you can work WITH them. When my students asked to watch a movie (big surprise), I asked them what type of assignment would they envision coming out of completing said movie, and I have to say that letting them talk among themselves and navigating the negotiation process yielded some interesting answers: the artists in the class wanted to draw a comic strip narrating a specific theme, the musicians in the class wanted to create a CD play-list that described the characters and the students' justifications for how those songs characterized the characters, and the others elected to do a formal paper exploring the literary period and analyzing the differences between the movie adaptation and the novel. And surprise, surprise: engagement.

  10. Forgive me for the second post, apparently my post was too long (maybe I should have just edited this, but since I took the time to write it, I want to post it). I apologize in advance if I am breaking so sort of "unspoken" rule not to post more than I should!!

    Here is the rest:

    I do want to reiterate a point others have made and something I am all too familiar with, and that is that as a teacher you have to work with the resources available to the students. Not every student has a computer (both in school and at home), not every school has iPads or Google Chrome books. Not every student has a cell phone, or, perhaps more accurately, a smart phone. Not every classroom has a smartboard, a projector, or a flat screen TV to display images. I taught at an alternative high school in Boston and the most they had access to was a Google Chrome book (cell phones and iPods/MP3 players were locked away as soon as they entered the building), but not every room had a working projector. You can have big plans (as I know I did) but you have to first assess what types of technology are available to you and then plan from there. I am not just talking about K-12 either; I know there are many college students this is also true for, so they make do with public library resources and that is sometimes restrictive in and of itself. Also, a thorough understanding of the demographics you are teaching may help you as well.

    Technology in the classroom may sound like an easy accomplishment, but technology does take time. And I try my best to incorporate technology in the classroom, but I do have to remember that a pen and piece of paper is also a form of technology, not just the computer, because, unfortunately, standardized testing has not caught up with computerized testing and I consider it a daily goal to make sure my students can write in both formats: on the screen and on the page. End the diatribe. I apologize for being so long winded. I just wanted to make sure I can reassure Allen, and others, that technology is not worrisome as I make it sound, so long as you recognize both the assets and the pitfalls of using technology!

  11. Hi all,

    So I'm going to build off Theresa's line of thought here concerning Thom. I understand that, overall, Drucker's mention of his assertion was done largely for historical context - encapsulating in a sense a justification for Graphesis by showing an exemplar of the 'traditional' school of thought's failings - but I feel to some degree this sort of railing against here is one aspect of a larger (gradual) pan-discipline ideological revolution against classical rational essentialism that reaches just about every realm of thought, so excuse me if I seem to be unjustly harping on this anecdote.
    Drucker’s summary of the reasoning behind Thom’s line of thought is that “Unlike language, which has a grammar, or mathematics, which operates on explicit protocols, visual images are not governed by principles in which a finite set of components is combined in accord with stable, fixed and finite rules” (24). Drucker then tries to pry open this exclusion by referencing instances where ‘visual images’ so in fact seem to follow this type of ordered protocol, but by doing this, Drucker (possibly unintentionally) just ends up implicitly agreeing with Thom’s assertion, that grammar and mathematics are “in accord with stable, fixed and finite rules.” This viewpoint overlooks, and indeed contradicts, the foundational tenets of Structuralism – that numbers, letters, grammar, stop signs, hieroglyphics, whatever are all socially constructed signs. And if we turn a Derridan eye to this viewpoint it immediately becomes laughable to think of something like grammar as being ‘fixed’ or ‘finite.’ Besides, to follow such a prescriptive logic borders on imperialistic anyway – the ‘right’ grammar of a language is only right by those who are able to enforce it.
    Now obviously, there’s great benefit to agreeing on some form of standardization, in the same way that there’s great benefit to having standard weights and measures – using such allows people to most clearly communicate concepts. But I think Drucker is closest to right is identifying terms as useful that have organically arisen. Signs are only useful if there is a signified at the other end, otherwise it’s babble. Such prescriptive attitudes have always been at odds with History.

  12. Everyone’s really digging into this! Thanks to Allen for starting off such an interesting discussion. I found Drucker both dense and fascinating, picking more up on her ideas of visual language, particularly her point on comic books and their use of narrative combined with the visual. I really have to thank Allen again for summarising Drucker’s main points for us. In particular, the point of ‘helping students to understand, not just use.’ I’ve never had a technology class in my lifetime, because being fortunate enough to have access to a computer form an early age I learnt by doing such as many others. However, I did not until recently have any full understanding of how computers themselves worked and do not have any knowledge at all beyond a vague concept of what it takes to build them. While in this case I’m referring to computer hardware and software, I do believe the point still stands. This learning by doing is a superficial aspect of understanding how to use technology.

    As Allen points out, students can flick from Tumblr to Twitter to Instagram in seconds, but do not fully comprehend all of the tools at their disposal beyond the obvious advertised and most common feature. Considering how many options we have, like many others here have observed, approaching teaching with technology is doubly daunting, considering there doesn’t tend to be a universal way of learning the ins and outs of using the web and technology. A teacher in a technological classroom would have to make sure the student knows what’s expected of them as well as make sure the student knows how to apply these technological tools.

    As someone viewing these readings as someone with primarily student experience rather than teaching experience, it’s incredibly daunting. I consider myself moderately wise to the ways of the internet, but I do know those who use it like a fine tool to spread their message, share their work, and engage in discussion. The technological sphere has for me primarily been one of self-taught knowledge—not in terms of science or literature, but use—and as a result I’m still quite fixated on how exactly one could universalise the use of technology so that each student would equally benefit.

    I recall one course I had where I turned out to be the only one who had any working knowledge of Excel, the others ooh-ing and aah-ing like I’d pulled off a particularly neat trick. Predictably, I ended up doing all work that needed Excel. It’s most likely been said before, but for technology to truly be a help, there must be some balance in specific student knowledge pertaining to the technology itself.

  13. Thank you Allen for breaking this down for us!! Like many others, I found Drucker to be a bit overwhelming, as she deals in terms and concepts that are pretty far outside of my wheelhouse. However, her ideas are fascinating and clearly relevant as we explore the question of what it means to teach the English language in a time when the definitions of “reading,” “writing,” and even “language” are changing and evolving. The digital age has introduced us to (and in some cases bombarded us with) countless new forms of language and expression. Some are obviously richer than others (Facebook accounts of your morning workout don’t offer much to explore), but as teachers we increasingly need to be open to engaging with new forms of language (including visual forms) and including them in the work of analysis and interpretation that we do in an ELA classroom.

    Like Allen and a number of our other classmates, I reject Thom’s assertion that knowledge is confined to math and writing, and I think you might be hard pressed to find anyone in our generation who would agree with that statement. In many ways the shift toward accepting alternative (including visual) forms of knowledge in education is already underway - I personally had a number of English teachers throughout high school and college who included graphic novels or visual source analysis in our coursework. Which is not to say that the visual bias Drucker describes is not still present, and something that we may well confront in our work as teachers.

    As Allen pointed out, we are dealing with a student population that is constantly immersed in different forms of stimulation and information delivery. In order to fully engage them, and to prepare them for a social and professional world that is increasingly dependent on these forms, we need to find a way to incorporate them into out teaching. But of course, the key is to do so thoughtfully in ways that still emphasize rich and nuanced interpretation and expression. I think there are a number of ways that we can do this, including activities like the digital stories that are discussed in Because Writing Matters and by Joe Lambert, and that we will be attempting ourselves this week. I look forward to trying it!!


MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...