the metaphors of class discussion

Information Architecture began in earnest this past Monday with the discussion of Lakoff and Johnson’s seminal Metaphors We Live By. Lead by Joe Sabatini’s discussion questions, and informed by student responses to the reading posted at the IAOC Blog, students began to think about the nature of language, how it shapes meaning, and the social aspects of its construction. In graduate classes I tend to let the students talk for the first 30 – 40 minutes, listening as they work their way through a text’s main ideas. When I feel the discussion moving to far from the text or an important point has been glossed over I will interject.

My goal for the class was for students to see the how many metaphors we use and come across on a daily basis. I thought I would show students a sample New York Times article and had lined up one of several Super Bowl videos.

But as discussion progressed I realized all the examples I needed were coming from the students’ mouths. So, I got up and began transcribing the metaphors I could catch and wrote them on the board:

What a range of concept metaphors displayed. For example, we have (my concept names might not be completely accurate):

  • ONLINE SPACES AS CONTAINERS: I posted on Twitter
  • LANGUAGE AS LIVING: Dead language
  • CONVERSATION AS A JOURNEY: derailing a conversation; get conversation back on track; where do we go from here?

I was hoping that by putting the metaphors on the board we could begin to talk about our unconscious use of metaphor and how they begin to structure meaning in our lives. But the opposite happened. Students became so utterly self-conscious about their language that they stopped engaging in conversation (CONVERSATION AS SUBSTANCE) altogether. Never in my history of teaching had I witnessed a full class simultaneously reflect on the words they had just spoke and think so carefully about what the words they might eventually speak. That reflection froze the conversation (CONVERSATION AS SUBSTANCE). In the end there was silence.

I’m still not sure what to make of all if it—if the reflection was a good thing or if I my actions made them too self-conscious of their own language. I tend to err on the side of reflection being good and that any reflection on language is doubly good. We’ll see what happens when I bring all this up in class on Monday.

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