Dialogue in education

Discussion classes are vital to support students' acquisition of subject expertise and jargon, and to engage in academic discourse, both verbal and written. However, opportunities for discussion between students and tutors are reliant on the balance of teaching methods (lectures, practicals, seminars and so on) used, and class size, both of which vary between disciplines and institutions. Practical guides and overviews of small-group teaching abound, providing tutors with guidelines for managing and supporting their students to learn collaboratively and in groups (e.g. Brookfield and Preskill 1999; Jaques 2000, now in its third edition).

A major part of students fitting into their department is their ability to participate in academic discourse. Smeby (1996) uses Kyvik's division of academic language into codified and literary language. The former is seen in hard and applied sciences (e.g. maths, and also music), and students are introduced to this formally. They need to have a good grasp of the language in order to communicate in their discipline. By contrast, in humanities and social sciences, academic language is more literate, and although formal, the rules of style and expression are rarely directly transmitted to students. Although very broad categories, Kyvik's division of academic language can be utilised to explain differences in educational objectives across disciplines.

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Last updated: Wed Aug 21 2002

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