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Learning to Communicate: Bakhtin's Theory

Instructional designers and distance educators are realizing the importance of interaction of some kind between learners and between learners and instructors (Shearer 278). While interactive discussions of biology topics or mathematical theories online benefit a course by providing a classroom atmosphere, it may be that interaction is even more important in a composition course because of the nature of communication.

Russian theorist M.M. Bakhtin explored the elements of communication in his essay The Problem with Speech Genres. According to Bakhtin, one of the elements essential to authentic communication is an audience, or what he calls an addressee (95). The speaker must have a need to be understood by the addressee as well as a need to receive a response from the addressee. Thus, communication becomes an interactive event where each participant takes part as both addressor and addressee to move, share, and mold information.

For most students their audience is the instructor; someone with whom the communication can be very limited because of the power relationship between the two. Because the instructor provides a grade, the authenticity of the communication system is slightly compromised. Students are more likely to look at writing as a kind of exam rather than a method of communication. During class discussions the students use verbal communication to communicate with the instructor, missing the opportunity to learn written communication of a similar nature.
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