The Mantra

"The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going"

Discussion board writing is relatively new. My assumption was that the students would not be very familiar with it, would not have practiced it all that much, had never been formally taught how to write in that space, had never used it so much as they would in my course -- and that they would simply write there in the same manner as they wrote their formal essays.

But my working assumption also was that writing on the discussion board is at least somewhat different than writing formal essays and therefore that at least some previous writing principles, practices, and strategies might not apply. For one thing, it seemed to me, in a very real sense the mainly argumentative and persuasive essay writing we teach is meant to shut off discussion. Most often we teach students to write essays in which they prove a thesis, in which they conclude conclusively. In the ideal world, all readers could do at the end of a successful well-wrought essay is nod in affirmation, compelled by an inexorable train of argument. That is precisely not what the kind of writing on the discussion board I wanted students to do is all about.

I felt I needed a mantra and a metaphor to help combat ingrained habits and naturalized thinking about how to write.

Furthermore, I felt I needed a mantra and a metaphor because our culture values, practices, and rewards closure and competition -- winning! -- precisely what should be suspended in discussion.

My mantra and a tentative metaphor came from an unlikely place, the Kama Sutra. There I read:

"The art of lovers is to prolong the pleasure."

And by a curious alchemy born of academic need, that invitation to sustained sensuality became:

"The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going."

I tell the students that this is our mantra. I write that line on as many course documents as I can. I say it in class as many times as I can find an excuse to. When I pass the students on campus, I give them the first part of the line and demand that they fill out the rest. I want this line blazened on the brains of my posters. I want no doubt as to what their purpose on the discussion board is.

"The art of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going"

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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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