Midterm Project Proposal: Python for Beginners

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Posted on 22 Mar 2013 01:17


The Writing for Engineers (Section L) midterm project requires that we, the students, research a discourse community that interests us. In class, we have been reading and discussing several writings that describe what characteristics make up a discourse community. These definitions vary according to author, notably between that of John Swales and James Paul Gee. In Swales’ book Genre Analysis, he outlines six defining characteristics of a discourse community:

  1. Strives toward a collective goal
  2. Has a means of communicative exchange between members
  3. Members offer and receive information through the community’s means of communication
  4. Employs at least one genre that contributes toward the group’s goal
  5. Has developed it’s own terminology not generally known outside the community
  6. Enough members must have a substantial amount of pertinent knowledge.

Gee’s description of a discourse community is much looser and stresses them as groups of people with whom to identify with, making up who you are. The interpretations of what a discourse community entails is by no means limited to these two descriptions; therefore, it is important to take into account the ambiguity of the subject at hand.
Learning about discourse communities provides us with information on how they operate. This knowledge can be applied to our own experiences within a discourse community by facilitating our own upward social mobility and strengthening our confidence in how we participate. Involvement in discourse communities is necessary for people to network with others who hold a high position in society or learn from those who are more experienced in the field we pursue. Knowing how a discourse community works can put the researcher at an advantage within the group because she is more familiar with how information can be obtained or given and who is best to ask for that information.

The discourse community that I have chosen to analyze is an online group called Python for Beginners associated with the website Codeacademy.com. I feel that this group can appropriately be labeled a discourse community in terms of Swales’ definition, but not Gee’s. It’s goal is to further the members’ knowledge in python coding. The members communicate via forum using genres such as discussion entries and comments to ask for help or assist those who want to learn. The discussions use lexis that are particular to python-users, and would most likely not be understood by someone unfamiliar with programming. Members who ask for help, receive assistance from more experiences users. According to Gee’s definition, a member must be fluent in communicating in the discourse community. However, as this group is intended for beginners, many members may not be familiar with coding terminology. Gee may interpret this group as an intermediate stage that can transition some people from a previously acquired discourse community (English language user, online communicator) to another discourse community (python programmer).

Project Plan

The approach that I will take to study the Python for Beginners group will entail becoming a member myself and using my own experiences as a case study. I chose to research this particular group because I’ve wanted to learn how to code, but the only previous experience I have had was cursory instruction to python. I will begin my research by reading through the discussions in the forum. There are many posts in which members provide their code and ask for others to comment any improvements. In order to effectively analyze the discourse within this community, I need to understand what the members say in the forum. I will do the exercises provided by Codeacademy and by the group so I can learn how to code as well as get familiar with the syntax and vocabulary of the python coding language. By involving myself in member practices, I hope to become an “insider” of the group and eventually contribute my own ideas to the forum or ask for assistance. In my case study, I will also be able to assess the success of the group in how well it accomplishes its goal to make members competent python programmers. I plan to interview at least one of the members of the group, possibly one who is still learning how to code and one who had mastered the basics of python. I will ask them what kind of exercises or method of learning helped them the most in learning how to code, the role the group played in furthering their knowledge of python, and the quality of the feedback they received when they asked a question in the group discussions. Using their responses, I can compare my experience with theirs in learning python and how Python for Beginners contributed to their knowledge.

Review of Qualifications and Costs/Challenges

This discourse community does not demand its members to donate their time and resources toward its goal. It is completely voluntary and is open to anyone who is willing to try. There are no qualifications to begin learning, except for the implicit interest that members have when they take up an activity of their own volition. Indulging in my own interest will help me become a more active contributor in the group and bolster my limited education using python. If I do struggle with the tasks in the group and need in-person assistance, I know people who are literate in programming languages who are accessible to help me. As I don’t personally know anyone in the group, it may be difficult to find someone to interview because people are often wary of having private conversations with strangers online.

Benefits and Conclusion

Researching this discourse community will help me get familiar with a field that will most likely become very useful later in my career as a mechanical engineer. My research can be used by others to see how to best use the group as an educational source in learning python. By knowing how the group functions, people will have an easier time getting the information they need from the group because they know the best ways to communicate with the members. With higher quality information, learning python will become a less demanding process.

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