“So my computer literacy journey…”: Re-creating and Re-thinking Technological Literacy Experience through Narrative

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State UP


Contemporary writing teachers who integrate technology into their pedagogy know that they cannot make assumptions about their students’ technological literacies. They know they cannot assume—as Marc Prensky did in 2001—that traditionally-aged college students are “digital natives” who possess a natural facility with technology developed through lifelong immersion in it (2). And yet, and yet…technology is becoming an invisible bedrock in college education: students are expected to access class materials, compose assignments, and communicate with each other and with instructors using computer technology. And even though these "basic" technology skills are rarely taught explicitly in college, traditionally-aged college students seem, for the most part, to do fine without such instruction. This suggests that these students enter college with a history of computer use that gives them a set of technological literacies perhaps not as extensive or ubiquitous as Prensky imagined, but an array of functional technology skills nonetheless. How, where, and when did they develop this familiarity with computers? What do college students' histories of computer use look like? And if students' previous experiences with technology lay important groundwork for these basic proficiencies, can teachers draw on students’ pre-existing skills to do a better job of teaching the more sophisticated technical, critical, and rhetorically-based technological literacies that many writing instructors want to impart?

As Cynthia Selfe explains, technological literacy narratives offer teachers the opportunity to begin answering these questions, “to find out what literacy practices and values—both in new media and in more conventional media—the students are bringing with them to composition classrooms” (“Students Who Teach Us” 59). Numerous other composition scholars—including Wendy Bishop, Susan Kirtley, Shirley Rose, and Judith Lapadat, to name a few—argue for the importance of paying attention to the literacy experiences with which students enter the classroom, and many teachers have embraced versions of the literacy narrative project Selfe and others advocate as a way to learn more about students’ literacy backgrounds and skills. These narratives have proven useful for both research and teaching purposes, guiding students to better understand their reading and writing experiences and preparing them to develop these skills through explicit writing and literacy instruction. An important further move, however, can be made by using the literacy narratives from a class—as well as from sources like the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN)—as common texts for analysis and reflection. Examining technological literacy narratives comparatively in the context of a class can help students attend to how their experiences compare to the experiences of others. This process has the potential to encourage students to think critically about how factors like race, class, gender, region, and educational policy intersect with the individual efforts of parents, teachers, mentors, and the narrators themselves to shape their experiences with and relationships to technology.


H. Lewis Ulman
Scott Lloyd DeWitt
Cynthia L. Selfe