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Soun no-won will kare ow U spel oar punkchew

I STRUGGLED into the lift clutching all the week's tabloids. "Terrible newspaper," said my travelling companion eyeing one masthead on the top of the pile. "Don't know why anyone would read it . . ."

Had there been world enough and time I could have explained. The tabloids were to be used as a trigger for my English and Communication class. I would make use of the tabloids in the afternoon, too, when they would be studied by my journalism class, not to judge, but to analyse and identify a discourse. Their initial response is always predictable - that this is not "good" writing or "literature".

Making value judgments - literaturenot literature - is what they've previously been trained to do. Once they get past such value judgments and start analysing discourse they produce some very interesting work.

Our world is built on such dichotomies: goodbad, rightwrong, acceptableunacceptable, malefemale, daynight, passfail. Such classification is essentially paternalistic and rigid. And safe.

Thank goodness, then, that our world is changing and that such walls are crumbling. The feminist in me applauds the diversity of our changing world, and welcomes the fluidity that is replacing the rigid templates we've tended to rely on.

The comments by Professor Bob Ladd that university students often feel inhibited in tutorials because of their Scottish accents have been contested, but should surprise no one. There's a long history behind those inhibitions which is built on similar divisions of rightwrong, acceptableunacceptable.

I remember being pleased as Punch at getting full marks at primary school for an exercise which involved excising "Scotticisms" from a piece of text. Yes, I know much good work has gone on since then to promote a sense of pride in a Scottish cultural identity and accent, but Professor Ladd's experience over 15 years cannot be ignored.

In further education, we have less of a problem with the variety of accents than with the beliefs and expctations of students - usually a "can docan't do" template. We are experiencing a steep learning curve in the delivery of English and Communication. Within our vocational programmes, we once built on a clear division between functional English and literary study. Many of our students felt comfortable with this: some chose to take only a Communication module, and avoid Introduction to Literature or Literature 1. That option is not open to my English and Communication students.

The Higher Still programme offers a more fluid approach, but for now they are wary, and at the merest whiff of figurative language they become uneasy. Finding the right approach, building up their confidence, is vital.

We need to ensure vocational second-chance and that our many adult returner students are not disadvantaged. I am hugely optimistic about the opportunities Higher Still affords in English and Communication. But we need to be creative in our thinking about content and delivery.

A discussion this week with my HNC Journalism 1 students centred on opportunities in electronic media. Jamie foresaw a time when spelling and punctuation would not matter. "I used to get e-mails from my mate and it used to annoy me incredibly that he didn't correct spelling, didn't use capital letters or punctuation. He just rapped them out. Now, I just kind of accept it as being part of the way the web is."

Perhaps the web itself is a metaphor for the breakdown of the old dichotomies, for the fluidity of communication in the future. If so, it's a future which will challenge educationists. What do we want our students to learn? What skills do they need?

We can probably do worse than remember the foundations on which further education has stood and flourished in a changing and sometimes hostile climate. We exist to build in our students confidence, flexibility, and an unshakable belief in the concept of lifelong learning.

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in mediacommunication at Dundee College.

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