Monday, December 3, 2007

Week 4: December 3-9, Knowledge of Conventions

As we enter the final two weeks of class and begin focusing on the section of the WPA outcomes labeled, "Knowledge of Conventions," I wanted to return to a notion I introduced in discussing the "Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing" section.

Let's talk some more about the notion of discourse communities. As you may remember, a discourse community is a group which shares a discourse or conversation in common. In a post on the critical thinking section, I mentioned discourse communities share topics or a focus for their conversation, and they share interpretative rubrics, that is, ways of reading and making sense of their topics. I used the academic discipline of history as an example, but any profession and discipline could have worked as well.

Part of the what discourse communities share in common are a set of expectations about the genres (or, kinds of communication) in which the conversation will take place. As part of their shared expectations about genre, they share ideas about what kinds of evidence can be used to back up claims. They share notions about the format and content of the various genres they will use to talk with one another. They share common ideas about how one another will be addressed, how power will be acknowledged, and about voice, tone, and which words are appropriate. Discourse communities usually share a common jargon as well.

Our class is a member of the UAT discourse community, the discourse community governing the American university, and the discourse community governing civil, public discourse. Remember at the beginning of class when I asked you to call me "Steve" or "Dr. Steve"? Remember how a few of you felt uncomfortable with such a familiar form of address? Think for a moment about why they felt this discomfort? One reason is that you're used to the set of conventions which govern student/professor interaction at UAT and in the American university system. Traditionally, professors insist their titles be used. Some actively work the authority given them by the system, and some gain a huge ego boost by having their status acknowledged. The upshot is that many of you know a lot about professors as an audience, and the practice I was asking you to adopt was foreign to your expectations of what is "right" or conventional in student/professor interaction.

As we begin the discussion of your knowledge of what is conventional in writing and speaking to different audiences, I want you to think about the number of discourse communities of which you are a member. What aspects of how your community interacts and communicates are unique? What aspects are shared with other communities? It's this notion of conventions we'll discuss this week.

Finally, as you begin to draft the different sections of your portfolio, I want you thinking about how you acquire information about how a genre works and how the genre works within a specific discourse community.

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