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Rhetorical space of language

How can we persuade students to engage in asynchronous social interaction. In this article, Professor Hughes outlines some ideas.
Photograph of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.
© University of Nottingham

In this step, we explore ways of motivating students to engage in online discussions and debates by drawing on the work of the French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard (1993), and the practices of social media companies such as Facebook. The argument is that we might be able to persuade students to participate in written social interaction through the promise of what Baudrillard refers to as ‘symbolic gifts’ such as participation.

You can see how this might work in the rhetorical strategy I use in my own teaching in the example below, in which I offer students a number of ‘symbolic gifts’ such as protection from abuse and commodification, freedom of expression, knowledge and skills, personal connections, language, and improved assessment performance as part of my efforts to persuade them to engage.

It’s also worth noting how the use here of ‘us’ and ‘we’ pronouns adds to the sense of intimacy as does the use of humour in the tongue-in-cheek reference to the commodification of personal data by social media companies.

Discussion forum activity description

  • As part of learning on this module you are required to take part in weekly debates in the online discussion forum.
  • The forum is moderated to ensure that contributions remain on topic and may be deleted if found to be disrespectful in any way.
  • Unlike in the case of other social forums we might name, we will neither sell your personal information, browsing history, or attention to advertisers nor auction your valuable content to the highest bidder.
  • Instead, we provide you with a valuable opportunity to articulate your thoughts in an environment of mutual respect and learn from each other by sharing ideas, insights and experiences.
  • Not only can you use the forum for learning, but also to establish and maintain connections with us, your tutors, and your classmates during the course of the academic year. *For those of you for whom English is not your first language, the forum provides opportunities for regular reading practice and to develop your skills in academic writing. *The knowledge and understanding you gain of the module content and critical thinking skills you develop through regular participation in the debates, will stand you in excellent stead for the end of module exam.

What do you think of the rhetorical strategy presented here? Could it help to motivate your students to contribute to the discussion? Are there any dangers associated with the use of humour in communication with students? Use ‘comments’ below to share your perspective.

© University of Nottingham
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