Discussion and Interaction in the Academic Community
Carolyn G. Madden and Theresa N. Rohlck (1997)
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xiii + 135
ISBN 0-472-08290-6 (paper)
US $16.95; UK £13.95
The academic communities that Discussion and Interaction in the Academic Community introduces to ESL and EFL undergraduate and graduate students include those of peers, classmates, professors, teaching assistants, and advisors. Fifty-one lessons aim to make these students' communication more effective; their contexts range from informal discussions, interviews, surveys, messages, and opinion exchange to presenting data, giving directions, asking for clarification, and answering. Madden and Rohlck's text sets out to develop a sense of belonging to these communities and to give students of various disciplines practice in activities in which they will continue to engage.
Part of the Michigan Series in English for Academic and Professional Purposes, the text represents the work of the English Language Institute, where the authors teach academic writing for undergraduates, writing for academic purposes, language and communication, and an international graduate student instructor seminar and practicum (http://www.lsa.umich.edu/eli/curriculum.html ). Madden and Rohlck have wide experience in assisting ESL students in the world of U. S. academia.
The text is divided into three units, each presenting sequenced lessons; as the authors state, however, students and instructors will need to supplement it with their discipline-specific texts (p. xii). A separate collection of instructors' notes is also available, but this was not reviewed. All lessons, presented as worksheets, are clearly defined and designed.
Unit 1 incorporates 20 activities, each aiming to set the groundwork for "Interacting in the Academic Community." The worksheets include an information questionnaire for the individual student, a lesson on the culture of the campus, and drills that aim to help students listen actively; they also clarify the function of interruptions in dialogs. One task requires that each student interview a professor or teaching assistant about students' office hour use (p. 28, Academic Life Survey). The data can be tabulated later, and thus students will have gathered valuable information on whether professors expect their students to visit them, and how an [-1-] appointment should be made with them. This is one of the most authentic activities presented.
Unit 2, "Participating in the Academic Community," further broadens the field where students interact: the 17 activities assist them in expressing and eliciting opinions in discussions, exchanging opinions, and organizing discussions. The emphasis shifts to the active role of the students, especially in the lessons and homework assignments that invite them to bring selected articles to class and build such skills as observing a time limit in leading a discussion, preparing useful handouts and effective opening remarks, checking whether participants follow a presentation, reminding students to be flexible with their plans, and concluding with meaningful remarks.
I have but one critical remark about the content of this unit. The authors lead the users to believe that the unit will "develop [their] repertoire" (p. 45) of idioms and phrases frequently used by participants in academic discussions. I am afraid that quite a few of the phrases listed are not especially relevant to most undergraduate and graduate students this book targets: "It seems to me (that) . . ." (p. 47), "I don't know," "Right/That's right," "Exactly/That's true," "I think so, too . . ." (p. 48), "Probably you're right," and "You're wrong," (p. 49) are some of the phrases given in the lesson on "Giving and Getting Opinion." One would think readers would already have acquired the use of these basic expressions.
Unit 3 contains 14 activities, dealing with "Presenting Data in the Academic Community." The objective of the tasks here is to build skills in being explicit, interpreting and presenting figures and charts, and asking and answering questions after a presentation. While most instructions and contexts are well defined, some of the activities appear confusing. The chart description tasks (pp. 95-103), for example, could have received more attention. There seem to be just too many tables, flow charts and other figures here. Since tutors in a course on academic communication will complement this unit with discipline-specific content, less could have meant more, focusing on the larger issues of interpretation skills.
Overall, however, Discussion and Interaction in the Academic Community is a valuable collection of teaching and learning tips and procedures. A rich resource for the new arrival on the academic scene, its many tasks will assist individual, pair, and group work, and will not only increase awareness of the need for interactive skills but eventually develop them as well. As a university tutor in Hungary, I am planning to test the authors' claim that the book may help develop "programs within a university context abroad where the goal is to provide students with the skills and ability to participate in exchanges, discussions, and seminars in academic English" (p. xii). With its clear definitions and logical [-2-] sequencing, the text may well be exploited outside U. S. academic communities.
Janus Pannonius University, Pécs, Hungary
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