An important part of our course is Discussions. A great way to
do philosphy is to talk philosophy
with other intelligent, interested,
fair-minded people. One
place where online courses have an advantage over traditional classroom is in the way the Discussion fuction
allows us to discuss the topics we're studying:
- One benefit of
carrying on our discussions using the Discussions function on CULearn
is that it allows us time to consider and formulate what we want to say. In traditional classrooms, we have to be able to
formulate our thoughts on the fly. This is especially a challenge in philosophy, where the ideas are
often difficult, unfamiliar, and hard to state clearly.
- A second
advantage is that one has time to reflect on what someone else has said
before giving one's reply to it. In traditional classes, we are
forced to reply to our interlocuters more or less by giving the
first thought to come to mind. A higher quality debate can
occur if each party has time to digest the others' remarks and reflect
on them before offering one's response.
- Finally, many of us are
just intimidated by the thought of speaking in the classroom.
Some people thus choose to stay silent, while others might be nervous
while they particpate. This is not only unpleasant in itself but can make
it harder to be articulate. Online discussions avoid
Online discussions, however, can also have their drawbacks. The
biggest problem is that, for some reason, when people interact with
others online, they are often less respectful. Nice
people can turn into mean-spirited "flamethrowers" when communicating at a
computer terminal. Thus, our number one rule of conduct
during our discussions is: be respectful
It may be more challenging to do so in our course than in other courses
because it is easy to get emotional about the important moral issues
we'll be discussing. Nevertheless, make it a point to treat your
fellow discussants with the respect with which you expect
to be treated. Avoid reducing anyone to a stereotype based on the
views he or she holds. It is ok to disagree -- in fact, we better
not all agree, or we will have nothing to discuss. Just do so
Here are some further guidelines. We'll have higher quality discussions if we keep them in mind:
- In general, for any post you make, try to have just one
main point. In some cases it might be appropriate to make several
points in a single post, but the more focused our discussions are, the
better they will be. Making just one point at a time helps to
keep things focused.
- When giving your view about something, be sure also to give your reasons for holding the view. Don't just say, "I believe that ... ." Say, "I beliefs that ... because ... ."
- When replying to the post of a classmate, don't put words in
their mouth, or assume they hold views they have not espoused in the
post. Reply just to what they've written.
- If you are replying to an argument that someone has given, make sure it is clear which part of the argument you are attacking.
- Make sure your posts are relevant -- to the main topic of the thread, or to what others have said.
What I Look For In Determining Your Grade for Discussions
Discussions are worth 25% of your grade for the course. Part of
this is determined by the quantity of your participation, but quality
is more important. The following adjectives signify features that
contribute to the quality of a post:
- Clear. First
and foremore, make it completely clear to us what you are trying to
say. Don't make us struggle to interpret you.
- Accurate. Make sure what you've written accurately expresses the idea or ideas in your head. Don't say what you don't mean.
- Succinct. Avoid being too wordy. Try to express your thoughts as economically as you can, while retaining clarity.
- Relevant. Make your points relevant to what has come before -- either to the main topic or to what others have said.
- Supported. Don't just baldy assert your viewpoint -- support it with reasons. Persuade others that it might be correct.
- Thoughtful. Don't
just "shoot from the hip." Think a little bit about what you plan to
say before you say. Make sure it seems true to you, and tinker
with your words if it is not quite right before you put up the post.
If you think you can clarify a disagreement others are having, or
clarify someone else's post, that's a nice thing to do.
- Amplifying. Offering new ideas is good, but so is trying to build on and
improve upon the ideas that are already in the thread
- Engaged. Being
able to engage with others, either by disagreeing with them (and saying
why) or by agreeing with and expanding upon what they have said, will
make our discussions better.
Q: You say we will be graded on quantity. How frequently are you expecting us to contribute to discussions?
A: There is no clear answer to this question, because one can
make up for quanitity with quality. Also, some posts are much
more substantive than others. Also, in some cases, a few students
with have a lengthy back-and-forth in which one might contribute a
dozen posts. But these dozen wouldn't count for as much as
a dozen substantive posts on different topics. All that said, a
good rule of thumb is contribute at least several times per unit.
Definitely don't feel you need to participate in every single
discussion topic (indeed, it would make discussions to "crowded" if all
32 of us contributed to each one). You might aim to participate
in about every other discussion topic.
Q: Do we get credit for replying to existing threads, or only for starting a new thread?
A: You definitely get credit for reply to existing threads. I
want to encourage you not only to share your ideas on the topic itself
but also your ideas on what your classmates have said. This is
supposed to be a genuine back-and-forth discussion.