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General Guidelines

Here are some basic guidelines for your discussion posts:

  • Before you post, please take the time to read what everyone else has written, so that your comments are not repeating what one of your classmates has already said. (For suggestions about how to participate effectively in the discussion, see below.)
  • Take the time to organize your thoughts before posting. You want everyone to read and understand your comments, so present them in an organized, easy-to-read manner.
  • Keep your posts focused and succinct — no more than 200 words per post — and stick to one topic at a time. If you have several ideas to bring into a discussion, create a separate post for each one.
  • Give each post a provocative and informative title (in the subject line) that reflects the main thrust of your comments. If you have trouble thinking of a title, your post may be too vague or unfocused, or you may be trying to discuss too many ideas in a single posting.
  • While you are free to express your own opinions, your arguments should always be substantiated with evidence of some sort. Ask yourself, "Why do I think this?" or "How do I know this is true?" Then include your evidence as part of your posting.
  • Avoid posts that offer little more than "I agree." Each discussion posting should offer some new content, aimed at continuing our collective exploration of the topic. Agreeing or disagreeing by itself will not add much to the discussion.
  • End with a question: in order to help your classmates continue the conversation and respond to your comments, end your posting with an open-ended question that invites their perspectives.
  • Remember that a class discussion is not a "chat." While you are welcome to communicate informally with one another as part of a discussion, "chitchat" posts (on the order of "I really loved that movie — what did you think of it?") will not be counted in evaluating your participation.
  • Clean up your text: checking your spelling and grammar, and fix the odd characters that crop up when you paste in text from a word-processing program. Think of your posts as professional communications, and ask yourself whether you would feel comfortable having a prospective employer read your messages!
  • Embed your images. One of your initial assignments is to take the tutorial on formatting discussion posts, which includes information on how to embed images. After the first module, I will expect you to embed all your images in your discussion posts, rather than posting them as attachments. This allows everyone to see the images in connection with your comments, rather having to navigate to a secondary space in order to view them.
  • Observe basic "netiquette" in your postings: keep your tone professional and courteous at all times.

How to Participate

Students — especially those just starting out in college — often struggle to figure out what is an appropriate way to participate in a classroom discussion.

  • Sometimes the struggle to participate is based on a student's not having read the required material or not having done the background work necessary for developing an informed opinion!
  • Oftentimes, however, the challenge lies in figuring out how best to jump into a conversation, once it has begun.

Assuming that you have done the necessary reading/research, how can you effectively contribute to a discussion — beyond answering the initial question(s) posed by the instructor? The basic strategy is to respond to what your classmates have written. Choose a post that contradicts or supports your own thoughts — or one that is lacking in evidence or seems to fall short in an area that is important to you. Then organize your thoughts and respond to your classmate.

Here are a few ways you might do this:

  • If you agree with your classmate, say so — and then give more detail or nuance or depth to the argument (i.e., take it a step further) and/or offer new evidence. It might sometimes be necessary to do a bit of research in order to locate relevant evidence. Examples of appropriate evidence might include:
    • personal experience (your own or someone else's)
    • relevant examples from real life (historical or current)
    • relevant examples from literary/artistic creations (novels, movies, advertising, etc.)
    • reference to the ideas of relevant experts (with appropriate citations and/or links)
  • If you disagree with another student's comments, explain why and provide evidence (i.e., a counter example) to support your position. Be careful to avoid ad hominem attacks, though: it is possible to disagree with someone's ideas without attacking him or her personally. Keep your tone professional and courteous.
  • If you think a classmate's argument is unsubstantiated (i.e., lacking adequate evidence) or confusing, you might request additional information or clarification. Be sure to be specific about what you want to know.
  • If you think a classmate's argument misses one or more key issues, point out what you think is missing and fill in the gaps with your own argument and evidence.

Here are some additional strategies for joining in a discussion:

  • Play devil's advocate (i.e., argue against your own position) and ask challenging questions of someone you actually agree with. This is a great way to explore the flaws in your own position — and to figure out how to strengthen your argument.
  • Think about implications: what new questions or problems are suggested by a position that you or someone else is taking? If you take an argument to its logical extreme, what would that mean? Speculate and then formulate your thoughts into a series of questions that invite your classmates to engage with your ideas.
  • Try out an idea of your own and then ask for feedback from your classmates. Remember that discussion is an exchange, not a lecture. It's good to take a clear position in your post, but invite your classmates to share alternative perspectives.
  • Ask one or more questions that take the discussion in a new (though not entirely unrelated) direction.

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