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RETURNS REVISITED:
SELECTED RESPONSES AND COMMENTARY

~ breakdown and some analyses by Stephen A. Tompkins ~

1)  First, please supply some basic factual information as a base for what follows.  Did you serve each of the 3 days?  If not, why not?

As several times before, I was getting factual data here but also giving them a heads-up on their participation.

  • 12 students answered "Yes." 
  • 4 students said they posted two out of three (three said the reason for missing a serve was due to problems with the server, and one student missed the first serve because he or she hadn't finished the novel yet.)
  • 3 students said they only made one serve (one student had a strep throat, one student didn't remember why he or she missed serving, one student had server problems).
2)  How many other people were in your group?  List their names.
  • 12 groups of 4
  • 4 groups of 5
  • 3 groups of 6
3)  On each day that you served, how many returns did you get and from whom?  Be specific. For instance, "On 9/29 three of my four group members returned my serve: Tom, Sally, and Lance."  If someone did not return, did they give you a reason why?

I wanted students to identify who was not participating, but I was especially interested in whether the non-participators would do the "community-thing" and communicate with their group members, as I suggested in class. 
  • no group member was given a reason for not receiving a return.
  • several students suggested that the reason they didn't receive returns (or reasons) was because they served late, there were server problems, or group members were sick.
In the ideal world students would recognize their responsibility to at least inform their group members of the reasons for not showing, and I've got to raise consciousness about this.  What's interesting here is the unexpected way in which some servers supplied their own reasons for the the lack of returns -- as if to get the absent returners off the hook?  Ha!  Is this some strange expression of community feeling?


4)  On each of the three days, how many returns did you make to your group members?  If you did not return to everybody, explain why.  Be specific: "On 9/29 I made returns to 2 of my 4 group members.  I didn't reply to Tom because I couldn't think of a good response.  I didn't reply to Sally because she didn't serve."

The important thing I was looking for here is the reasons given for not returning.

These responses are the most meaningful:
  • "I didn;t reply to ____ becasue I didn;t think it was a substantive post, not could I really understand his overall point.  What he posted was so obvious I had trouble thinking of how to add or tie in anything else to it."
  • "I replyed to ___, but not ___.  The reason: my post sounded similar to his, and he replied to it, already saying that we were in agreement.  I figured a response to his would be redundant.  Noone else posted, so I couldn't reply to them."
  • "I didn't respond to any of the other group members because none of them served."
These reasons are pretty lame:
  • "The reason i did not reply to any other posts from my group is because i went to bed before they posted."
  • "I didnt reply to anyone because noone but _________ posted and I didn't reply to her because I went to do it after I did my post and couldn't get on to blackboard."
  • "I didn't respond to any of the other group members because none of them served."
  • "On the third day, I didn't make any replies.  I did not have internet access that day."
  • "I didn't reply to _______ because I am an idiot and was looking to reply to '______' instead of '__________', I guess I figured it out in the days that followed."
Not much to go on here, but citing problems replying to posts that are not substantive or for which there seems to be agreement points to the need for that typology of problem posts and sample ways for dealing with them that I mentioned in the previous survey.

5)  Now, please supply some information about the "Discussion Board Responding" and "Response Options" documents.  Did you refer to these documents when thinking about your returns?  If so, how much and in what way?  If not, why not?

Ha!  Are these documents having any impact?????

1)  didn't use them unintentionally:
  • "I honestly did not refer to these documents because i forgot they were there."
2)  didn't use them intentionally:
  • "I really don't like referring to the documents.  I always have an idea for a response.  I like being inspired by the person's words, not by a format document."
3)  didn't need to use them
  • "I didn't refer to these documents since I felt I was conscious of them and didn't need to go back to them."
  • "I did not refer to the discussion board responding document or the response options document. We went over these documents in class and I understood the general ideas presented in the documents.  It is getting to the point where there are so many documents to 'review' before posting that it would take too long to review and post."
4)  conscious of them, but didn't always use them:
  • "I did try to remain conscious of the documents as I responded.  However, at times it just seemed forced to attempt to mold my responses in such a way.  I was under the impression that our responses should be spontaneous, as if we were having a real-time discussion, so sometimes I would just respond quickly without giving the guidelines too much thought, I'm afraid."
5)  used them when necessary:
  • "I looked at them, but I didn;t use them as my primary source for responding.  I'm not always spontaneous in my responses, but I liek to say what enters my mind without inhibition.  When I got stuck with a post I didn;t know how to repond to, I looked at the documents for some direction to make sure my post was valuable."
6)  used them:
  • "I refered to these documents briefly before the unit with TRBC began.  The response options gave some good examples of posts to replicate."
  • "I tried to use different approaches to returning other peoples' serves, and for this I did take a peek ath the 'Discussion Board Responding' and 'Response Options' documents.  I tried to answer questions that other people had or add on to what they were trying to make a point of.  At times it was a bit difficult to disagree with a serve because the comments they were making were pretty undisputable, or because I couldn't figure out a reason why I could refute their analysis.  Overall I tried to put a little variation into my posts and respond at the highest 'degree'."

The range of responses represented in 3) - 6) feel right to me.  Students indicate their consciousness of the principles I was promoting but a range of ways in which they drew upon them.  2) keeps me aware that some people are always going to chafe under the "system" I am promulgating -- which, as I have said before, I totally understand, agree with in many ways, and worry about.  4) hits an important point with " I was under the impression that our responses should be spontaneous, as if we were having a real-time discussion."  The project has opened up a contradiction in my own thinking about this.  At first, I saw the discusssion board as spontaneous and like real-time discussion, but now I'm recognizing that more in the way of conscious thought should characterize the asynchronous space.  This student is picking up on the mixed messages I have been sending -- follow my format but be spontaneous!

6)  In general, did you sense that you were doing anything different in regard to your returns as a result of encouragement in this unit to vary your returns and to strive for higher level returns?

Always trying to see if the time spent in the meta-week had any impact!

1)  8 students indicated that they did not feel they did anything different with their responses for this unit, but, interestingly, several  indicate difference in their responses:
  • "No i really feel that i was doing the same level of work i've been doing all along because i've put a lot of thought into my posts since day 1.  this time around however, i was simply more conscious of the levels i was posting at and what exactly i was doing."
  • "Looking over my returns from this unit and the last, there isn't a noticable difference.  I varied my responses in each unit, and used different approaches.  The only think that stands out is the quality, which is a little better here.  I back up my claims a bit more this time around."
2)  11 students felt there was some difference in their posts for this unit:
  • "I asked more questions rather than just posting my opinions and reactions."
  • "U feel i put forth more of an effort to maintain a good volley this time around.  I not only responded but try to keep conversation moving."
  • "I always try to do better next time, and I think there's always room for criticism in your own work.  I tried to maintain the idea that a post should repsond to questions asked, or take a stand and argue/support that stance effectively to make the reader at least consider it legit."
  • "It helped me to see the different types of returns that I had already been using and which ones I could try to incorporate."
Almost 3/4's of the respondents seem to have responded to the cheerleading!


7-8-9)  Now, please look carefully at your returns in light of the 11 kinds of posts in the “Response Options” document.   If you posted each of the three days to each of 4-5 group members, you did 12-15 returns.  Go one day at a time.  How many returns did you do on ___?  Classify each return as one of the 11 kinds if you can (“3 returns: 1 agreeing, 1 enhancing, 1 disagreeing”).  A return might have more than one element in it; if so, make a judgment about what the main one is.  If you cannot classify a post by one of the 11 labels, give it a name of your own that describes what kind of response it is.

Wow, I can't believe that I asked them to do all this!  Ha!  And that for the most part they did it!!!  I was trying to "force" some recognition of the various response options by asking them to do this.  In order to do these three survey questions they had to look at the response option document.  Also, I was interested in raising to their consciousness not only the names of the terms but the levels of the responses. 

The kinds of responses to these questions varied, but here is a representative range:
  • "Unfortunately, I did not do any posts on 10/1.  Missing an entire post discussion day won't happen again."
  • "i can't"
  • "3 returns: 2 agreeing, 1 enhancing"
  • "(4 returns: enhancing, agreeing, building, disagreeing)"
  • "On 9/29 I made two posts.  One could be labeled as an 'enhancing' and one as 'disagreeing'."
  • "I returned to all the posts except 1.  I found myself mainly building on what they had said in their serves and offering other ideas.  I found it hard to weave because not all the posts were up when I responded.  There was also little disagreement between us, not a lot of controversy.  I did a total of 12 returns."
  • "On 9/29 my return to _______ was a basic level 1 agreement to start but then I feel I move more toward a level 2 enhancing of the points she made.  My return to ________ again started with a simple level 1 agreement with is feelings about the novel, but then I sort of skip to a level 3 re-thinking proposing opposite view of what the general feelings about Henry and his decision making skills."
  • "On 10/1 I had two returns.  For ________'s serve I tried to answer some of the questions that she had and build on what her main points were.  For ________'s serve I totally agreed with what she was saying, so I tried to enhance what ________ was talking about and answer some of the questions she had.  On 10/3 I responded to both ________ and ________'s responses in relatively the same manner; I did a lot of agreeing, re-thinking, buliding, and answering."
Mission accomplished, I'd say.  My response option terms are liberally sprinkled through the student responses.

10)  What would you consider your best return?  Why?  Which of the 11 kinds is it?  Or if you can’t classify it that way, how would you describe your method?  Please specify the date, the name of the post, and the person to whom you responded.

I'm not so sure this question is expressed in the best way.  I was trying to see if what they considered their best posts would match my hierarchical categories.  But I think I beg the question.  Maybe I should have just asked them to identify their best post and then -- separately -- to identify its type.
  • "This is a weaving/enhancing return.  I used the ideas presented in another post intertwined with those of this post to come up with a completely new idea."
  • "I considered it a 'Building' post.  I thought this was probably my best because I was able to build on ____'s ideas even though I didn't agree with him.  I was able to positively contribute to his thoughts without disagreeing with them."
  • "I'd classify it as agreeing and building.  I liked this return because I was able to directly refer to her serve and then take the idea she presented and expand on it and go more in depth into the idea."
  • "In this serve, I attempted to answer ___'s question by contextualizing, using supporting examples from the tezt.  I also attempted to 'weave' ___'s argument into my reponse as I thought it was very relevant to the subject matter."
  • "It was a kind of level 3 re-thinking, I liked it the best cause it was a little confusing but it kind of flipped the argument around to see it from a different angle."
In any event, the students are thinking in terms of my category labels and seem to have no trouble using them to describe their own work.


11)  Reflect on the examination of your returns that you've been doing.  What is your pattern of returns?  Think about such things as whether you have a "standard" return, whether you have a variety of returns, whether you have a mix of lower and higher level returns.  So, what do you see when you look back over your returns?  Are you satisfied?  Will you try to do anything different with your returns in the next unit?

Ha!  One of my typical complex, multi-layered, cover-the-universe kind of questions (or series of questions)!  But nestled there I can see me testing my intuition that they would have a standard response if not prompted otherwise.

1)  Here are some representative answers regarding the pattern of posts:
  • "I have a pattern of agreeing and then slowing introducing other tactics into the return.  Sometimes the posts don't leave much to say to them but I still attempt to respond on at least one aspect of the post."
  • "I think the majority of my posts in this section were answering peoples questions or building on an idea that they had come up with."
  • "My standard return is either to enhance or to disagree.  I usually dont take a noncommital stance on anything, and I have my own views of most topics raised by serves in my groups."
  • "I notice that in most of my returns I tend to agree with groupmembers more so than disagree and if anything add and enhance to what they have written."
  • "I think the only pattern to my returns is that I try to give a thoughful response to the serve, and a return that will hopefully provoke to sender to think about the situation differently."
2)  Here are some representative responses from the 6 students who were dissatisfied with their posts:
  • "I am definately not satisfied with my posts.  More effort is needed on my part to allow my posting techniques to grow and get better.  In the next unit I am going to try to reply to every single post, and Im going to try to enhance every discussion.  Hopefully, I will be able to achieve this."
  • "While I am not satisfired iwth my returns or posts, I feel that is partly due to the book, that people didn't understand it, and many of us had a hard time verbalizing our confusion."
  • "I am definitely not satisfied.  I did not feel this book veyr much.  It was hard making returns.  I dredded going to the computer and reading and writing.  I can't wait for next book actually/."
  • "looking back, i see that i slacked off BIG time in this unit . i think i picked it up after this."
3)  Here are some representative answers from the 8 students who were satisfied with their posts:
  • "I think I have a pretty good mixture of my types of returns.  Some of them seem to be lower, middle, and higher returns which means I have a broad range of how I reply.  I am happy that I don't seem to be caught up on one type of return, however some of my posts do seem to contain a few types of replies."
  • "I defninatly have a variety in my returns, and that is actually what I find satisfying.  I know that my other group members can expect something different from me each time they serve, which means they won't be bored reading them.  This is what I look forward to when reading the responses to my post ."
  • "I feel much more satisfied with my returns this time because i feel i put more thought into them.  I did not disagree as much, but i feel it was just with this novel and my group members because usually i disagree a lot.  Maybe that is a good thing, maybe it shows that i am starting to have a more open mind with my returns."
The responses of the satisfied students are especially good in their valuing of variety for the community and in perception of and satisfaction in change that is occuring.  The kind of self-reflection in the last post of 3) is something I would like to stimulate more of for each student.  Hmmm, I wonder how I can do that, and how especially in courses that don't have the meta-week.


12)  In general, do you feel that raising consciousness about response options in the documents and/or through this exercise helped you improve over your returns in unit 2 or helped you plan for improvement in unit 4?  Why?  Why not?

Asking here how they felt about their returns and then in question 16 how they felt about the returns they received.

1)  Only 4 students indicated that the response options documents did not help them improve their returns:
  • "I don't particulary think it helps all that much.  I didn't rely on the guide to choose what I would write about.  My responses seemed to flow for me, and it also created a various number of styles at the same time."
  • "No because I hate talking about how you talk!  If the energy is there then it is there.  All of this extra talking about talking drains your creative energy completely!"
  • "I feel that catagorizing the returns lends itself to a superiority type situation."
2)  Here are some representative answers from the 14 students who did feel the exercise helped improve their returns:
  • "i do think that being aware of what you're doing helps enormously when you have to do it (confusing i know).  but if you know where you're weak (or where you're strong), you know where to focus your attention so that you're not constantly doing the same things or making the same mistakes."
  • "the document encouraged me to strive for a greater variety of responses."
  • "They made me look at my posts from a qaulitative point of view- to motivate me to try harder, but I won;t use them as my primary reference for posting.  I would rather keep them in mind an use them if I feel it necessary to as a base."
  • "Definatly!  I've been putting more time into responses.  I've been reading the others first, which is why I mostly post late, and try to go in a differnt direction if I can.  I look over the serve to see what sticks out, and try not to just agree, but build, or re-direct, or disagree and argue, anything that makes it fun for me to respond and fun for the other person to read.  The response options opened my eyes to the numerous ways I can respond."
  • "I think it helped me personally, because now its all very organized and i can analyze exactly how i'm posting and what kind of posts i'm making and what returns i'm sending and receiving."
  • "The response options are definately going to improve my returns in Unit 4 because I now have that much more experience to work with when I post.  I am a wiser poster now."
Wow, Wow, Wow!  Look at those responses from the satisfied customers!  Couldn't be more affirming if I had written them all myself!  Beautiful sound bites for the album!
13-15)  Finally, please reflect on the returns you received to your serves.  Go one day at a time.  How many returns did you receive on ___?  Classify each return as one of the 11 kinds if you can (“3 returns: 1 agreeing, 1 enhancing, 1 disagreeing”).  A return might have more than one element in it; if so, make a judgment about what the main one is.  If you cannot classify a post by one of the 11 labels, give it a name of your own that describes what kind of response it is.  If you had to pick one, which return would you say was the best?  Please specify the returner’s name.  How would you label it?  What is your reason for picking it?

Wow, more punishment for them -- like questions 7-9 above.  And for the same basic reasons: trying to enforce familarity with the key terms and to raise consciousness about the levels of responses.

Once again, I give a few responses to indicate the range:
  • "I received 3 returns on 9/29.  The first from ________ was a basic level 1 agreeing, but he builds adding what his thoughts were regarding the words of Henry’s mother.  ________ did not give the general level 1 agreeing but went straight to a level 3 disagreeing that his courage is only equated by his selfishness.  It was good to the discussion mixed up early in the responses.  _________’s post started as a level 1 agreement but she went on to say how she had a different impression of Henry’s mother, and how she seemed normal and over protective.  This makes me recognize that basic idea of a serve can be agreed on but the details are ultimately left up to personal interpretation."
  • "I recieved one From ________.  She Disagreed as well as tried to agree at the same time!"
  • "I recieved 4 posts on 9/29.  3 agree 1 Enhancing/Building.  __________' reply was the best.  Hers was an enhancing/building reply.  I believe _________'s was the best because it built upon the idea that I presented.  Her reply took my post to a higher level."
  • "3 returns - 2 agreeing, 1 disagreeing/questioning.  I liked ________'s response the most because of the way she explains what it is in the serve that she disagree's with.  She states that she follows where my train of thought was going, but wasn't too sure on the conclusion I ended with, and then procedes to offer her thoughts on the subject.  This organization made her response stand out."
  • "4 Returns: All surprisingly agreeable?? due to my wacky ideas.  I thought _______'s post was the best because she didn't directly agree with me.  She brought up the women in his life and posted her own ideas about the feminine symbolism in the text which gave me another perspective to think about."
  • "3 - (all disagreeing, and one being my own)________ had a good resoponse to this serve.  Her post actually got me thinking whether or not I actually understood the point I was making.  Basically, if a return can leave the one who wrote the serve wondering where his mind was during the composition, it's a good one."
  • "On 10/3 I received 3 returns.  As I said above, I really don't feel that I can classify posts.  They just seem like streams of consciousness.  I am having a hard time trying to classify someone's thoughts.  It dosen't seem like anyone in my group really stuck to the 11 kinds of posts.  I think that we all tried to help each other as best as we knew how, and that was just by answering the many questions so many of us raised, becuase we were so confused over the book."

16)  Reflect on the examination of the returns you received that you've been doing.  In general, how do you feel about the quality of the returns you received in this unit?  Do you feel that raising consciousness about response options in the documents affected the kinds of returns you received in this unit?  Do you sense any difference in this regard from the previous unit? Were the returns worthwhile?  Do you feel that other students are helping you learn?  Why? Why not?

1)  10 students felt that the returns they received were good and that these responses were positively affected by the Response Options document.
  • "I absolutely feel thatother students are helping me to learn because their ways of thinking are different than mine and have opened me up to several ideaologies."
  • "I feel good about the quality of returns I recieved in this unit.  I also feel that the next unit will be strongly affected by the response options document.  This will be the case because now that my peers and I have had a unit's experience with the document, we will be able to comfortable and effectively advance as posters."
  • "I think the quality of the returns this unit is much better.  Everybody got the kinks out in unit 2 and the documentation added much awareness to the necessity of solid returns.  I saw a large number of higher level returns; more than I saw in the first unit.  Also, I feel that more people were returning.  The returns are so valuable.  Oftentimes an argument raised in a return becomes a potential serve the next time I post.  This form of discussion is very valuable to the class as it allows everyone to put in their two cents. "
  • "I definitely feel that other students are contributing to my learning.  The discussion board allows for the free flow of wildly different ideas and thoughts.  Its so good to get so many different perspectives on one issue.  It really helps me to better articulate my argument and my thoughts on the issue at hand.  Compared to the previous unit, I feel as though the responses are a bit more varied as well as challenging in nature.  People are realizing that its ok to disagree and the board is becoming more interesting as a result.  So yes, I do feel that raising consciusness about returns has made for better responses."
  • "I think the raising of consciousness about responses definitely had a positive affect on the returns. It seemed to breath a little more life into them and also gave recognition to how many different types of responses there are to an opinion. I definitely think other students are helping me learn through their variety of responses. "
2)  Despite these forceful positive comments, there were also 6 who felt that the returns were unsatisfactory (two were somewhat indifferent), which might mean that the group dynamics has a big effect on the returns and the appraisal of these returns.  Or that the class is a bit schizophrenic!
  • "I was very disappointed in many of the returns I recieved.  I don't think they they were very well thought out, instead they seemed to repeat themselves over and over.  I think that my previous group did a much better job in expanding on ideas and adding more value.  I don't know if I really think they helped me look closer as some of the scenes."
  • "I really didn't feel that the returns in this unit were as good as in the past.  However, I don't blame that on people, I blame that on the book.  I know a bunch of other people have ahd a problem with the book, and making posts and returns have therefore been especially hard.  I really feel that over all, people just jhad a veyr hard time with this unit becuase of the book that we read."
  • "I think the quality of the response I received was very low.  It wasn't much of a response, just a comment."
The positive comments are absolutely breath-taking again, like the ones in question 12.  Collaborative learning and community are quite visible.  The idea that others are "helping me to learn" is explicitly mentioned 3-4 times, which is fantastic!


17)  Is there any other comment that you would like to make about our current focus on returns?
  • "Id say the current focus on returns is pretty good.  I find my returns a lot better but the returns i receive are not.  Ill take the blame for most of this."
  • "To be honest, i think that we focus too much on returns and surveys about them they take a lot of time, thought, and energy.  I think it would be easier to just keep one group, post and respond to all of them.  But when it is done so often, it feels like beating a dead horse with its own limb."
  • "I like the way things are going."
  • "another document like the response options could be very useful."

18)  Are there any comments about other aspects of the course that you would like to make at this time?
  • "At first I was skeptical about the community aspect of the course, however I think it is a brilliant component and has proved to be a very interesting and enlightening learning experience for myself and I believe the class as a whole."
  • "I also hate computers.  I just had to redo half of this survery for the second time.  I wanna throw this computer out the window."
  • "surveys and over postings seem like busy work which can be annoying when i've got way too much other stuff to do.  nothing personal, but i just feel like we should be more focused on the works as opposed to the posting and returning processes."
  •  "i've never used discussion boards in a class before, but i'm a fan.  it makes classes a lot more interesting because there's always feedback to give or receive."
  • "This is not a criticism, merely an observation.  I feel as though we may be spending a bit too much time focusing on "serving" and "responding".  However, I'm assuming that it 's for research's sake so I'll glady contribute as best I can."
A couple of converts to hug to my bosom but also there's that chafing about busy work and over-organizing that I continually worry about and which, in truth, speaks to my own fears about the project.