Critical Reflection #5
Lanham, R.A. (1993). The Extraordinary Convergence: Democracy, Technology, Theory, and the University Curriculum (Chapter 4, pp. 101-119). The Electronic Word. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

October 16, 1997

In this week’s article, Lanham (1993) talks about the need for a re-emergence of systemic thinking in our approach to education. He presents a good argument detailing how departmentalization restricts and inhibits creative, encompassing thinking. In response, a more integrated infrastructure is proposed : one whose focus is on educational humanism across the subject areas - an infrastructure which generates a foundation upon which a liberal arts education (and I would propose any education) can be built. Is it possible that traditional literacy could be replaced by technological literacy as a base for our social construct? I would suggest that it depends on how we utilize technology.

A current debate in technological education is whether schools with limited computer resources should be organized to include computers in a lab setting, or in classrooms. If we approach this problem from a systemic angle, it becomes clear that computers should be situated in a classroom where they will be viewed as resources available for all subjects and inquiries. Computers effectively integrated into classrooms by competent and visionary teachers and administrators could empower and motivate the learner to far greater levels than previously possible with text-based literacy.  A lab setting degrades the technology to a lowly, individual subject devoid of any interdisciplinary connections - directly contrary to Lanham’s (1993) vision. If a new, technology-based literacy is to incorporate itself into education, it needs to be accepted by those who will implement it - teachers.

If society changes the rules, the classrooms will need to follow. In what ways would a technology-based literacy differ from a traditional text-based literacy? This new literacy requires being able to understand and interact with media of all forms, to make meaning with not only print, but also sound and images. It requires parallel thinking in addition to linear thought. It grows from creativity as well as logic. Literacy, at the most basic level, involves constructing meaning from symbols we call letters. What if we expand the repertoire of symbols to include sights and sounds others than the alphabet (e.g. an underlined object in a hypertext document indicates a link to a related piece of information)?  Technology is transforming how we view the world. As a result, it is altering students’ perceptions of their roles in society - it has given them more power to effect change. Just as the Gutenberg press enabled large-scale distribution of written words to ordinary citizens who then learned to read, so too can technology provide an equally massive transformation in the way information is created, distributed, and interpreted.

In conclusion, I believe that it is possible to have a social construct built upon technological literacy which is not dependant upon written text. Technological literacy includes text-based literacy as a subset of this new, emerging reality.