Engineering English: Challenging Students' Notions of Audience and Text Through Electronic Discourse
Much of the composition theory and research on networked writing in a classroom focuses on the displacement (or not) of the teacher's authority, negotiations of students' identities, and investigations of empowerment (or lack of it) of the student writers. We contend that computer-mediated instruction can provide opportunities for challenging students assumptions about audience and demonstrating writing as a social practice. Scholars, such as Chaim Perelman and Nan Johnson, have debated the meanings of audience, while James Berlin, Anne Berthoff, and others have examined how audiences and writers interact to make meaning through the encoding and decoding of texts. In a seminal essay on audience, Walter Ong declared that "the writer's audience is always a fiction." In most classroom situations, Ong's argument seems relevant. Problems in understanding audience aresparticularly manifested in composition classes housed within scientific disciplines--in our case, engineering. In such classes,sfaculty are often faced with recalcitrant students who are resistant to the notion of multiple audience and socially-constructed writing. We argue that James Porter's reception scene, in which the traditional distinction between rhetor and audience is refigured as a dialectical sharing of those roles, is an apt metaphor not only for a postmodern notion of audience but also for the experience of students. In an attempt to challenge engineering student's assumptions about audience and to increase their participatory knowledge of socially-situated theories of writing, we describe the results of an pilot program between engineering/Englishsstudents in two universities: The University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK and Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. We established a listserv in which students in the same discipline (Engineering), taking similar courses (Argumentative Writing) would exchange papers, comment, and collaborate on select number of writing assignments. We also required that the students communicate with each other on a personal level and share analyses of their universities respective home pages. In analyzing the collaborative writings and the listserv texts produced by the students, we contend that asynchronous electronic writing can foster students' realization that scientific texts neither reflect the production of a single, isolated author, nor do they merely record the "facts." We contend that the electronic space we established can give students a participatory understanding of the dialectical process of writing,sdemonstrating that facts and artifacts are the products of discursive acts within and among various discourse communities, and that their writing as will not report "facts," but will construct them as well.
Author: Frances S. Johnson
Second Author: Dianne Juby
Target Audience: Not Applicable
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