Revolution Lullabye

January 7, 2013

Gere, Review Essay: Making Our Brains

Gere, Anne Ruggles. “Review Essay: Making Our Brains.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 214-219.

Review of three texts:

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2012. Print.

Malabou, Catherine. What Should We Do with Our Brain? Trans Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham UP, 2008. Print.

Gere reviews three recently published books, targeted to both scholarly and popular audiences, that address the relationship between the development and functioning of the brain and emerging digital technologies.  All three texts Gere reviews rest on the assumption that the brain is plastic, not hardwired: that the brain can adapt and transform to meet shifting environmental circumstances, like the widespread adoption and use of digital tools.

Gere argues that WPAs and those in writing studies need to pay attention to this research because emerging cognitive research has implications for teaching, learning, and the assessment of writing (like machine-scored tests.)  She also contends that digital technologies don’t have to have a negative effect on teaching and learning, a claim made by many popular and scholarly texts recently published.  Instead, Gere points out (through the arguments made especially by Davidson) that WPAs and writing teachers can help students manage digital tools positively – that current cognitive research suggests that people can take a proactive, conscious approach in remaking and transforming how they think and process information.

Notable Notes

technogenesis – N. Katherine Hayles – “the idea that humans and machines are co-evolving.” (215) That evolution is happening even more rapidly with digital tools.

building “cognitive reserves” – Cathy N. Davidson – “neural pathways developed by learning” which can be used to build new pathways if the brain is injured (216).

Quotable Quotes

“Most of the books published by the popular press frame the relationship between brain plasticity and digital technologies in negative terms, and together they can serve as a caution against seeing digital technologies as the solution to any number of teaching and learning challenges” (217).

“Plasticity is sometimes erroneously equated with flexibilty, but it is important to maintain a distinctiion between the two because flexibility connotes acquiescence and adaptation while plasticity – in its developmental, modulational, and reparative manifestations – refers to transformative ability. In Malabou’s view, we need to become more self-conscious about our own roles in ‘making’ our brains, and in recognizing their transformative capacities. Sounds like an agenda for WPAs” (218).

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