Title Page | Overview | Documents | Surveys | Exercises
Clips | Profiles | Results | Reflections | References
@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
Copyright, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy applicable to this site.

Serving Socially

(drafted for future use as a result of class experience)

see some examples

The serve, as the first step in discussion, is the most important step.  The five eyes can help you think about what to put into a serve to foster a variety of perspectives, but you also need to think about how to do a serve to foster conversation.

If the art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going, then you must write conversationally, you must write socially.

That is not always the way we are normally trained to write formal essays.

In the kind of formal essay writing you normally do in college, your goal is to prove a point to others and reach closure.  On the more informal discussion board, however, you are exploring a topic with others and defering closure as long as you can.  In an essay very often your specific purpose is to distinguish views you already hold from others, but on the discussion board ideally you are building your views with others.

Remember that our metaphor for the discussion board is a game of non-competitive racquetball or tennis.

Since discussion board writing and essay writing are different activities, you might need to be conscious of what usual writing habits and ways of thinking should be modified when you serve.  It is not always appropriate, for instance, to think of discussion board posts, especially the serve, as a mini-essay.

The purpose of a serve:

The purpose of a serve is to "kick off" thinking, to "initiate" thinking, to 'trigger" thinking, to "gather" thinking, to "collect" thinking, to "stimulate" thinking.  The serve, then, must not be simply a static end-product of your thinking, but it must trigger a dynamic process of thinking in others.

Thus, in your serve you might propose a subject not as a conclusion but as a question, as a problem, as a mystery, as a puzzle, as a tentative assertion, as something needing support, as an issue needing consideration, as a source of "wonder," as containing something needing to be discovered.

Your role as a server:

Your job as a server is to be a discussion leader and then, later, a discussion manager, not the almighty wizard or omniscient oracle on the topic.  Ideally, your attitude should be less here's-how-it-is or here's-what-I-think than here's-what-we-together-should-think-about.

Your role is to "start," to "prompt," to "direct," to "invite," to "initiate," to "incorporate," to "facilitate," to "reach out," to "energize," to "engage."

For instance, even if your mind is made up on a topic, you don't have to say all you know or believe all at once in the serve.  You can save something, hold something back for later.  You should see yourself as giving others opportunity and "space" to contribute.   You should present yourself as open and receptive to the views of others.

If you don't mind mixing the racquetball metaphor a bit, you might think of yourself as baiting a hook, then trolling for information, and seeing what "hits" your line.

Things to be conscious of when serving:

  • imagine yourself starting a flow of information, not walled in a box, a compartment, or cell
  • your serve should not be free-standing, modular, detachable from the discussion board
  • it should have visible marks of audience connection
  • you can test your adhesiveness to your audience by seeing if you can write a response to your own serve
  • you might begin with some sort of rhetorical "crook of the finger" that invites engagement
  • in developing your serve the golden rule might be "tentativeness is next to godliness"
  • thus, do not expect, with Walt Whitman, that "every atom of me belongs as well to you"
  • if you knew the answer to a question, for instance, there would be no need to discuss it
  • you might end with some sort of rhetorical "open door" facing your responders
  • it might help to think figuratively of ending your serve with ellipses ( . . .) rather than a period
  • ultimately, think of your serve not as a work of art to be admired at a distance but as the work of an artisan to be used in the closest of quarters