I spent the last two afternoons in a workshop for professors who are thinking of teaching Carleton’s new first year seminars next year, so I’m now well steeped in thoughts about first year students. And the more I think about it, the more I think that my main goal for first year students is for them to understand the far-reaching impact and usefulness of understanding the concept of communities of inquiry.
Think about it. If you know who you’re talking with in this vast thing we call “scholarly communication,” it helps you make appropriate choices about everything from topic to citation style to rhetorical style. It reinforces the idea that you’re contributing something to a conversation rather than just parroting back a set of facts. It allows you to evaluate sources and arguments (none of which are inherently “good” or “bad” regardless of context). It helps you know which words are meaningful and therefore ripe for use as search terms. And perhaps most important, it helps you decide what you’ll need to back up with evidence in the first place. After all, only the things that count as odd or new or controversial within your community need explicit backing up, and these things can change radically from community to community. The omnipresent pieces of your community’s world rarely need explanation.