Book: The College Writing Toolkit
Chapter: 11. Academic Discourse Community Mini-Ethnography
In his account, “Academic Discourse Mini-Ethnography,” of the academic ethnography project he developed for first-year and second year composition courses, Dan Melzer takes a social constructivist stance regarding students’ negotiation of and admission to the discourse communities and disciplines represented in colleges and universities. He maintains that the main goals of composition courses are two-fold: (1) to introduce students to the academic discourse communities that they are about to join and (2) to help them consider how academic discourses connect and conflict with their personal discourse communities and “self-sponsored literacies.” His solution is to ask the students to investigate as ethnographers the academic discourse communities that they aspire to join and to present their findings from texts, interviews, and surveys through class presentations and a final report. Melzer offers key pointers for success in a “complex and demanding” project: linking the assignment to a wider curriculum, giving it enough time, and providing a basis for deep understanding through reading and discussing model ethnographies. Melzer’s comments serve as a useful reminder that although activities can be adapted to a variety of teaching situations, there are usually practical constraints on such adaptations; and a transplanted activity needs to be fully integrated with the intended outcomes of a wider program of study in order to thrive.