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Learning to Become a Professional in a Textually-Mediated World

A Text-Oriented Study of Placement Practices


Ken Lau

The book presents a text-based study of discourse practices in placement, a hybrid zone which re-contextualises academic knowledge and professional practices. Using Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice as the overarching theoretical framework, the study investigates how novices learn to write like their professional counterparts. By collecting texts completed in various placement contexts and in-depth qualitative interviews with informants, the study features a multi-dimensional approach to the analysis of discourse practices in terms of text construction and text consumption. The issues of genre, feedback, identity and role associated with placement learning are brought into focus.


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1. Rethinking Learning 13


13 1 Rethinking Learning A vignette after dinner Eight of us gathered around the table: we inquired about the recipes for vari- ous dishes, shared the experience of juggling among work, family and study, recalling the ‘daunting’ yet fruitful experience of having the PhD confirmation panel, teased about a ‘reminder’ t-shirt printed with the name of a street in Ja- pan (the one who wore it lived there and it was bought by his wife!)… After all, I learn. (July 2005) The vignette above highlights some of the main events at a dinner party organised and attended by a group of graduate students pursuing a PhD degree in Applied Linguistics at the same university in the United Kingdom. At the end of the vignette the dinner guest claimed that he had learnt something from the party, yet the episode depicted stark contrasts with a traditional learning scene. Broadly speaking, there are five learning events involved in the vignette, namely, learn- ing the recipes for dishes, learning time management, learning about a critical moment and stage in the PhD study, learning about a street located in Japan and learning that a classmate has a ‘thoughtful’ wife. If we compare these learning events with those that we have in schools (particularly in the old days), several distinct differences can be identified. Firstly, the setting within which learning takes place is different. Learning in schools is always institutionalised and takes place in a formal setting: desks and chairs are lined up neatly; a...

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