The Messiness of Meaning Making: Examining the Affordances of the Digital Space as a Mentoring and Tutoring Space for the Acquisition of Academic Literacy
Having incorporated a digital aspect to our academic literacy course, and having monitored this over the last three years, we have come to believe that online mentoring can serve as an essential form of tutoring and mentoring. Our study is located in the field of New Literacy Studies and examines the affordances of a digital space in a first year academic literacy course in the Humanities. We focus on students’ acquisition of academic literacy, as well as critical thinking and reflexivity around a core social science concept; identity. Here, we refer to the ability to think critically and reflexively, as the ‘analytical mode’, a key driver in shaping the pedagogy of the course. In this paper, we explore the online participation of two students and how they engage with the theme of identity, not only as an academic concept but also as one intrinsically linked with how they see themselves in a diverse post-apartheid South African context. We argue that the digital space promotes a particular form of the ‘analytical mode’ as students grapple with texts and concepts on the academic literacy course. Using a qualitative case study methodology, our analysis of students’ online interaction revealed that the digital space allowed students to express themselves with a level of depth and sophistication, and to share dissident views that could not be expressed in the traditional classroom space. Furthermore, we argue that the digital space can suspend students’ urgency to agree or disagree with the arguments of authors they read. By holding students between the two positions of agreement and disagreement, we propose that the digital space becomes a space of reflexive1 discomfort which captures various moments in students’ drafting processes as they operate within the analytical mode. Therefore, we argue that the digital space, if harnessed with a particular type of mentoring philosophy and pedagogy that activates the analytical mode, can free up the traditional forms of academic mentoring and tutoring within the academy. This allows students the freedom to live with the messiness of their texts and to grapple with their conceptual understanding, and in doing so, develop their ‘authorial self’ (Clark & Ivanič , 1997).
Keywords affordances; digital space; identity; authorial voice; academic literacy; analytical mode