Presentation Abstract

Cultural Contact and Conflict: Teaching Argumentation through International Internet Conferencing

In The Rhetoric of Reason James Crosswrite argues that, rhetorically conceived, all written argumentation is built upon a "communicative process" (51), a series of speech acts between a claimant and a critical interlocutor (81). It is generated in a combination of tolerant, exploratory dialog and a performance of both non-violent conflict and non-violent conflict resolution. As Crosswhite sees it, therefore, the notions of invention as the discovery of knowledge and the discovery of claims and reasons are fundamentally intertwined. Moreover, he maintains, the social function of invention and argumentative development-- the creation of shared knowledge and the potential for resolved conflict-- stands as one of the important and still undervalued elements of the writing process. Thus he concludes that we must focus our composition pedagogy, far more than we have done before, on the discursive relationship between claimant and interlocutor.

This theoretical principle might not seem a radical one, especially to those who teach with electronic conferencing. However, the rhetorical importance that Crosswhite lends to the role of interlocutor ought to -- once taken seriously -- make the cultural relationship between claimant and interlocutor and the integration of discursive 'conflict' into the writing process far more fully conceived pedagogically by the CA instructor than these things usually are. Most electronic conferencing is shaped by an institutionally determined rather than pedagogically selected range of students, and, because they are not rooted in any clear methodology,smost conference transcripts end up having only a vague relationship to student drafts.

In our presentation, we will discuss how we have tried to create a virtual space that would correct both of these problems. It is a distance learning environment specifically designed to confront students with different ideologies, through direct dialog and debate with their peers in different nations, as well as designed to provide a methodology that would help these students take their explorations and confrontations into their formal arguments.

We have called this space Cultural Contact and over the last two years it has served as a month long distance education site for quite distinct courses in quite distant locations: Ohio, Sweden and, during this Spring, South Korea. Through this site, using both the World Wide Web and electronic mail, students are assigned readings intended to highlight cultural differences in political ideology, cultural assumptions and argumentative stylistics. They then choose to join a virtual discussion group on a particular issue of debate, and finally-- by working in small project groups-- they are expected to discover from discussion transcripts the issues, claims, counterclaims, reasons, counter-reasons and calls for justification that make up the beginnings of a cross-culturally informed argumentative essay. We do not ask that the students come to agree on a single argument -- to renounce their differences -- but rather to agree on a common set argumentative loci, a shared outline of where their reasonable differences lie.

In our presentation we intend to relate the development of our distance education methodologies, the practical problems of linking together different courses on different schedules with different institutionally imposed goals as well as the challenges of managing student debate and project work from very distant locations and different time zones. Ultimately we hope to present a theoretically informed examination of our experience trying to close the distances between discussion and argument, claimant and interlocutor, culture and culture.

Author: Michael Davis
Second Author: Albert Rouzie

Category: Distance education

Target Audience: Intermediate

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