Kevin Eric Depew

The rhetorical process of digital subjectivities: Case studies of international teaching assistants negotiating identity with digital media

Kevin Eric Depew

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2003; pp: 310
  • Advisor: Sullivan, Patricia
  • Source: DAI-A 65/03, p. 915, Sep 2004
  • Subjects: Language, Rhetoric And Composition (0681); Education, Bilingual And Multicultural (0282); Education, Technology (0710)
  • ProQuest Document Number:
  • ISBN: 0-496-71448-9
  • UMI Number: AAT 3124140

Abstract:

    In the absence of an articulated process for composing one’s digital subjectivity, scholars have relied on corporate and artistic tropes to support their arguments about various technologies’ egalitarian potential. By using these tropes, these scholars actually undermine their goals of empowering users, especially marked individuals, because they reify unreasonable expectations. As an alternative to these tropes, three heuristics have been developed as a possible foundation for computer users’ digital subjectivity composing process: (1) having knowledge of the social ideology, (2) having knowledge of computer use and conventions, (3) understanding how the ideological design of the technology prescribes users’ subjectivity. The viability of these heuristics is examined in the context of English Composition courses taught in computer-mediated classrooms by international teaching assistants (ITAs). To test this viability I posed the questions: (1) why do ITAs need compensatory strategies to manage the rhetorical situation of the classroom? (2) what effect does computer technologies have on this rhetorical situation? and (3) what appropriate technological practices should ITAs use to manage the American classroom? As a means of giving the ITA participants agency in the epistemological process–something that has absent from many studies about ITAs–the study has been designed using postcritical research methods. This data collection includes: (1) interviews with the ITAs, (2) observations of the classroom (or rhetorical context), (3) collection of public documents (i.e., web pages, emails, PowerPoint presentations, online conferencing transcripts) shared between the ITAs and their students, and (4)  questionnaires designed to learn how the student audience responded to their ITAs. From this study we learn that not all ITAs need compensatory strategies and this need is not entirely predictable. Furthermore, the technology, rather than empowering the instructors, became another factor that affected how their audience perceived them. As a result, the first two heuristics (i.e., social knowledge and technological knowledge) proved to be viable. Although participants’ digital subjectivity composing process did not include the third heuristic (i.e., reading the ideological design of the technology), we should still consider exploring the effects of this strategy in future studies.