October 20, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas

Advice for Approaching the Discussion Forum

The discussion forum is one of those mainstays of the online literature class, but I have yet to find a way to make it valuable for the students and tolerable for me. Students must analyze and react in written form to the literature they are reading—this seems to be an integral aspect of the online literature course. My current approach emphasizes discussion: short, focused posts and replies. Well, the students do just that—once—post and reply—the bare minimum usually at the last minutes, so no discussion actually takes place. Often, the former is done without reading anything that has come before while the latter is perfunctory and laudatory: “Good post, bruh! I thought the same thing!”

Here’s an idea: think of these discussions as a reading journal. Everyday that you read, post your thoughts about what you have read, like a reader-response. Address the text directly: identify a theme, metaphor, symbol, character, a passage that you liked or one that was confusing. Say something specific about the text—maybe relate it to your life if some way. This should be enough to get the conversation going. In fact, if you do post early, the forum could actually be a discussion rather than a last-minute class requirement.

Don’t try to say everything. You are not writing an essay, but having a conversation. When someone replies to you—reply to them. Before you post something, see if someone else has already done so. If not, maybe make a thread with the title of the text you’re writing about, or even better, make the title something specific about the text, like “Blake’s ‘London’: a Critique of Class.”

Make a habit of posting something every day you read. It doesn’t have to be extensive or too polished—in fact it should be focused. Have a lot to say, maybe two forum posts would be appropriate. You might be surprised at what you can think of if you just try to write immediately after you read a text rather than waiting until the due date. I like to read a text, then take a run or walk to think about it. When I get home, I usually have some good ideas to communicate.

Can’t think of anything to say, maybe do a bit of research. Be sure to read anything on this site that I have posted or that I linked to from the syllabus. You might be amazed at what a simple Google search can come up with. Often Wikipedia has solid overviews of many of the texts we’re looking at in class, but be careful not to plagiarize if you use some ideas from a web site. Sometimes a bit of research is the only way to get a rudimentary understanding of the text. You might find that as you research, you gain a new appreciation for a poem that you didn’t like at first.

Want to go further? Try looking for scholarly essays on Galileo, via the library. While these articles are often a bit more challenging to read, they are also written by literary scholars who have unique and critical insights into these texts. They are the experts in their field and can truly help in your understanding of all the texts we’re looking at in this course. Be sure to cite any articles that you use. This doesn't have to be formal, but let me know that you are not intending to plagiarize. I should be able to easily consult the source you’re citing.

The bottom line: read and write every day. Not only is this good practice, it will allow you to easily do well on the dreaded forum requirement in your online literature course.