Literacy Practices

Download the Literacy Practices Assignment guidelines (.pdf)

Due: September 8, 10:00 PM

Submission: Post to your blog, using the title “Analysis of Literacy Practices”

General Assignment

In The Atlantic of July 2008, Nicholas Carr wrote a controversial article titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In it, he writes:

 I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle […].

[A] recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

Clearly, this “sea change,” should it be happening has an effect upon our literacy practices, which, in turn, has an effect on how we read, research, and write, which are basic practices of English studies. For our second short assignment, I’d like you to document your own practices and compare those to the practices Carr describes.

Procedure for the Assignment

Assume that I have asked you to write a research paper one of the following texts:1

How would you go about writing this paper?

In a well-developed blog post (graduate students should go “above and beyond”), describe to me the specific steps you would take in researching this paper. Include all the actions you would perform, how you would find and gather material, what mediums you would use (paper and pencil, keyboard, visiting the library, online databases, books, etc.), the time you use and the search terms you use as well. You do not have to write the actual paper – just go through the process of researching it.

As a conclusion to this paper, compare your research process to the process Carr describes above. Are you the kind of researcher he describes? And what implications does your research process have for the kinds of literary study (and/or writing and/or teaching) you intend to do?

  1. While we will read all or part of these texts during the semester, you need not read them for this assignment.
  2. The version of “Lobsters” linked to here is the first chapter of Stross’ post-singularity novel Accelerando. I believe the text here is slightly different from the original story as published in the June 2001 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

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