Electronic Literature Pedagogy: A Questionable Approach
by: Chris Mott
WHY SHOULD I TEACH ELECTRONIC LITERATURE?
The first reason to teach electronic literature is practical: digital media are the most rapidly growing forms of communication, and they will only grow in their influence and pervasiveness. Most of our students are fairly skillful with electronic technology, but as we all know, skill is not literacy. Literacy includes the ability not only to perform in a given medium, but to think in and beyond that medium, to be able to critique and extend the medium. The unprecedented growth and ubiquity (soon computers will be more common in homes than TVs) of electronic technology demands an enlightened, an educated and responsible use of the media. Further, many teachers find themselves attempting to improve their students’ understanding of academic discourse by bridging the gap between the academic world and the world of popular culture. Electronic technology is the dominant medium for popular culture. Electronic games, itunes, YouTube, and Facebook are here to stay. More than that, these electronic modes of communication add to the intensity of information exchange. Of course, our students run some risks in this intensified information environment. They might first become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information they must process--although we have heard from some cognitive scientists that this generation of students has adapted cognitively by processing information more quickly, if more superficially (more on deep- versus hyper-attention later). In addition, the information comes to students without any obvious distinction in quality. We’ve all heard the anecdotes about how quickly unsubstantiated rumors spread as facts on the internet. We also know that students have a difficult time discerning good from bad online sources for term papers (some schools have even prohibited students from using Wikipedia in their papers). Surely, we in the humanities who have taught critical literacy all along are the best equipped to shoulder the responsibility of helping our students not only to understand and use, but to evaluate and create in and through electronic media. In What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (NY: Palgrave, 2004), James Paul Gee argues that interactive media (in this case, video games) allow for much deeper understanding of characterization than the old dynamic of identification because they better mimic the mutlilayered information fields our students walk through everyday. In addition, digital texts help promote a broader literacy; the old print literacy is necessary but not adequate for the complex semiotic environment our students must learn to read (19). Finally, digital media offers a richer learning experience because of their very multiplicity: multimedia appeals to multiple learning styles. From a literary standpoint, electronic literature poses the greatest challenge to the canon in the last thirty years. Indeed, electronic literature is the future of literature. Its possibilities are every bit as exciting as the work produced in Paris in the 1920s and at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in the 1960s. To fully realize this potential, our students need to learn the generic conventions, aesthetic criteria, and cultural contexts that define the New Media. Interactivity, for example, is a radical break from print literature and makes of the reader/player a co-author, or co-producer, if you will. Thus, the role of the “critic” will change greatly from the one who approaches a text from the outside to one who “plays” it from the inside. Criticism will take on a more performative role, and students are already assuming this role in their day-to-day semiotic activities. HOW CAN I HELP MY STUDENTS WHO ARE FRUSTRATED OR CONFUSED BY ELECTRONIC LITERATURE? We might find solace in the old adage that any true learning hurts, and we can help our students by remembering that we have...
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