Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Power to the e-people

The highlight for me this week was surely Marilyn Cooper's "Postmodern Possibilities in Electronic Conversations." In addition to it offering some relevant insights to my profession as a college instructor who uses email with frequency with my students (I hadn't really thought about email's function/what it allows that classroom interaction can't), it also drew on deeper themes of power and the postmodern identity that seemed impressive to me. The simple pedagogical advice was strong enough on its own, but the links to Foucault and power really rounded it out and turned it into a smart, sound argument.

Like I said, I had never really analyzed the role email plays between my students and me, but while reading Cooper I found myself nodding and underlying the parts that discussed how email opens up avenues (discourse-wise and otherwise) that the constraints and formalities of the classroom do not welcome, no matter how "liberatory" we try to make it. I loved the idea that students feel less monitored or judged in that e-space... that even if they know a teacher will be looking at their words with scrutiny, they also know "the gaze" won't be looking so much at grammar or punctuation, but rather critical thinking and absorbtion of class material. In short, electronic conversations, according to Cooper, liberate students, and knowing how shy/anxiety-ridden/intimidated students get in the classroom, makes me want to use email even more in order to offer students a place where those concerns aren't as intense or present, and the "universal rules" of SAE aren't governing their every move.

As Cooper puts it, "Most simply put, the transition involves a shift from the notion of knowledge as the apprehension of universal truth and its transparent representation in language by rational and unified individuals to the notion of knowledge as the construction in language of partial and temporary truths by multiple and internally contradictory individuals (143). If this is true, then are the possibilities of our static, "pure" (Bizzell) discourse changing in the classroom (i.e. making ways for alternative discourses) likely? I certainly hope so. Maybe someday soon our "rules" will give way to, and more accurately reflect, the multiple literacies that our diverse students bring with them to class.

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