Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blog Assignment #5: Rhetorical Literacy

Selber, Stuart A. "Rhetorical Literacy: Computers as Hypertext Media, Students as Reflective Producers of Technology." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

When I read Stuart Selber’s first chapter of Multiliteraries for a Digital Age, I was struck by his inclusion of “rhetorical literacy,” that is a literacy where students are “producers of technology” (25), as part of computer literacy. He acknowledged that scholarship on this literacy was in its earliest stages (26) – indeed, I saw him as prescient defining this literacy in 2004. A quick look into what was happening in 2004: Facebook was founded while “historians may well date the golden age of the blog from 2004—when's most searched-for definition was blog. How long can it last? Who knows?” (“10 Things We Learned About Blogs”). I was therefore curious to read what, by mere timing, was one of the earliest looks at user-generated technology and the way education should integrate the required skills.

In his rhetorical literacy chapter, Selber writes that the “broad shifts in audience, genre, and context that have helped to move this activity into the territory of writing and communication teachers” (139) mean English departments must learn what skills are needed for this type of writing and communication. “The audience for computer interfaces is no longer solely, or even primarily, other computer scientists … These changes have altered the ways interface designers must think about audiences …, genres …, and contexts … As should be evident, the competencies such new realities call for are largely rhetorical in nature” (142). English departments risk losing a voice in this new rhetoric if they do not become involved in understanding then teaching the necessary skills.

Selber defines four components of the rhetorical literacy: persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action. (147). This chapter is for educators because Selber connects his theory to praxis, offering lesson ideas for each of these categories. For example, he suggests students apply “classical, symbolist, and institutional perspectives on persuasion” (151) while analyzing an organ donation website. His lessons are geared to high school students and older based on the websites he suggests; however, his methods can be applied to websites more appropriate for younger students.

Selber’s chapter finishes with the creation of interfaces, a logical step after students practice being rhetorical users. “The research literature stresses that the creation of interfaces for hypertextual media frequently places increased demands on writers” (168), and Selber examines three metaphors for this new writing: “nonlinear text,” “modular nodes,” and “associative links”(168, 172, 176). Overall, by theorizing about human-computer interaction and applying his theories to classrooms, Selber shows educators how to help students become “reflective producers of technology” (182).

Works Cited

"10 Things We Learned About Blogs - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - Time, 19 Dec. 2004. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. .

Selber, Stuart A. "Reimagining Computer Literacy." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.


  1. My class has been having this very discussion. We have talked about why we need "multiliteracies" too and not just "literacy." What we came up with is that we need "new" terms to emphasize that there are new components to these ideas. We wondered then if we would ever be able to return to the old (and simpler) terms once people accepted that technology plays a part in them all. Will rhetoric and literacy ever be just rhetoric and literacy again?