Selber – Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Selber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Stuart Selber distinguished this text on computer literacy in a digital age by approaching the subject from a humanities perspective instead of a technical one. He contended that college English teachers need to take a postcritical stance toward computer literacy in which they understand that computers in education are inevitable and need to help their students develop a critical consciousness regarding digital technology and computer literacy.

“In sum, if teachers fail to adopt a postcritical stance, thus leaving technology design and education to those outside of the field, it is entirely probable that students will have a much more difficult time understanding computers in critical, contextual, and historical ways; that technology designs, informed by pedagogical and cultural values not our own, will define and redefine literacy practices in ways that are less than desirable; and that computer literacy initiatives will simply serve to perpetuate rather than alleviate existing social inequities.” (12)

The three components of his multiliteracy approach include functional literacy, critical literacy and rhetorical literacy. All three of these literacies are necessary because while functional and critical literacies are necessary to help students utilize and understand these technologies within their contexts, the rhetorical aspect of interfaces also need requires attention, according to Selber: “… students who are rhetorical literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action” (140).

Selber outlined specific parameters for each of the three literacies, but cautioned readers/ educators that his program should not be taken as a rigid prescription, but as a suggestive guide. His table of the conceptual landscape of a computer multiliteracies program provides a clear summary of how the literacies work in relation to one another and their objectives:

Functional Literacy views computers as tools (metaphor), students as users of technology (subject position) to achieve effective employment (objective)

Critical Literacy views computers as cultural artifacts (metaphor) and students as questioners of technology (subject position) to achieve informed critique (objective)

Rhetorical Literacy views computers as hypertextual media (metaphor) and students as producers of technology  (subject position) to achieve reflective praxis (objective)

Selber essentially argued that Neil Postman was right: technological education is not a “technical” subject, but one of the humanities.

“Humanists often have estranged or uncomfortable relationships with technology, yet neither indifference nor paralysis are acceptable options nowadays. In fact, an important role for English departments is to help position human-computer interaction as essentially a social problem, one that involves values, interpretation, contingency, persuasion, communication, deliberation, and more.” (235)


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