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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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THE "SERVE": SELECTED RESPONSES AND COMMENTARY

1)  How many of the first three posts did you do (8/29, 9/1, and 9/3)?  If you did not post all three days, why didn't you?

I lead off with this question mainly to make students self-conscious about posting and to signal that I meant business about taking the discussion board seriously.  My experience is that some students lag (or don't post at all), making group work especially problematic.  I was trying to make a statement about what's important right in the beginning.

3 posts:  11
2 posts:    6
1 post:      1
no posts:  1
not sure:   1
Reasons given for not posting:
  • "I just lost track and I blame it partly on just laziness and not checking."
  • "i did not realize we had to post for the first time and i did not know where to check for the posts right away."
  • "needed the unusually large cloud of dust to settle from the first week of the semester."
  • "I was thinking of dropping the course."
  • "it was just a dumb move on my part."
  • "I didn't realize that we were supposed to post.  Since there isn't a writen sylabi, I often forget about posting assignments."
  • "I just really couldn't think of anything to write at the time."
  • "because I hadn't finished the book and didn't realize that I should've posted anyway."

2)  Try to recover your frame of mind on your first post, whether that be 8/29, 9/1, or 9/3. This and the next few questions are about your first post.  How did you feel about doing the first post?

  • A feeling of uncertainty:
    • too many ideas: "Since it was the first post, I wasn't exactly sure of what to write about.  I had a hard time getting started because I had a lot of ideas, but I wasn't sure what would be best to focus on."
    • not used to freedom: "I wasn't sure exactly how to approach the task.  I've had to post for other classes before but we were always given a specific topic to post on."
    • not sure about guidelines: "I wasn't sure how formal/long it should have been.  So, having read others I wasn't sure if it was detailed enough or not.  Another thing I was concerened about was wether or not it should be formal writing or just getting my thoughts out."
    • not sure about guidelines: "I felt a little silly because I ordinarily would have been making these comments in a classroom.  I also wasn't sure if I remembered how to correctly post (the physically submitting).  I wasn't clear on what the expectations of the posts were to be, was it to be a mini essay or just our ideas, I wasn't sure how to handle it."
    • not sure about guidelines: "I think it may have been a little intimidating because I really wasn't sure what my post was supposed to include or what kind of guidelines to follow."
    • worried about the grade: "I was a little unsure of the format for posting. Since it seems that postings are very important for the class, not having a specific posting format makes me very nervous.  I'm nt sure if I'm doing what I should be doing, and I was woried that my posting format might have a negitive affect on my grading."
    • worried about the grade: "I was a little unsure of your expectations during the first post.  You gave us a bare bones explanation of what you were looking for, but you didn't go into much detail.  I wasn't sure what would make one post an excellent post, and what would make another post mediocre.  You did give us the qualities of a good poster, and I thought these were good general guidelines to follow, but they didn't specifically relate to what we were doing.  I do, however, think that some uncertainty can be beneficial when we are trying something new."  
  • Feeling unprepared:
    • "A little rusty.  I didn't have a good grasp on the awakening yet, even though I had read most it in a day.  I wasn't sure what I thought until I finished the book."
  • Feeling nervous:
    • "I felt anxious. I did not want to be totally off in my response because everyone can see my post and my name is like, RIGHT next to it.  If people didnt like it, they'd think I was a moron."
  • Feeling positive:
    • "I liked the time it allowed me to hypothesize and organize my thoughts."
    • "I felt like I wanted to talk about the Novel."
    • "you feel sort of free... no one is checking spelling or grammar (or are they?) and the focus is just on your ideas.  you write what you think with no pressure to have to fill another page and a half for the professor to accept the assignment... very stress free."
    • "It was nice to say how I felt about what I had read without the formality of a real paper."
    • "I felt that the first post was nice.  I was able to speak my mind and accomplish the task of putting my thoughts out into the open world.  Exhilirating in a way, you might say.
    • "I was excited to tackle this form of discussion as I had many ideas to write on.  All in all I felt very comfortable in writing that post."
    • "The first post felt fairly natural because i have used this discussion board format before."
    • "I was surprised to realize that during the composition of my post I learned that I gotr out of the book more than I had before thought.  Finally, after reading over my post I observed that I was able to better relay my thoughts on-line than in my head."
  • Feeling not much:
    • "i didn't have any feelings other than i have to do this for homework."

About a 50-50 split between feeling tentative and feeling good.  Perhaps the main kinds of uncertainties (over grades and guidelines) are natural at the very beginning of a course with an unfamiliar teacher and especially a course run in an unfamiliar format.  Quite interesting to see freedom, exhilaration, excitement, and discovery -- especially discovery!  got to love that last "feeling positive" post -- among the good things.

3)  What did you think your purpose was in doing the post?

  • Community purpose/value for others:
    • "To share my thoughts so far on the part of the book we had read."
    • "To be able to express ourselves in a casual atmosphere, allowing everyone to read and respond to eachother's feelings."
    • "I think the purpose was to shed some light of my own; to offer my two cents. This would bounce off another person and someone else's idea would bounce off me, and we could persuade each other to see the book in a different way."
    • "I think the purpose of the post was to just get some ideas about the novel out there and to give a first impression of the novel."
    • "to add my thoughts to the rest of the classes so that they can read them."
    • "I wanted to take someone else's posted idea and add a new thread to it.  I felt that this could provoke even further discussion in class.  I read the other posts, chose a topic, addressed it in my post, and then took it one step further with a new but connected idea."
    • "To contribute my ideas.  Try to shed light on some different topics that were not covered in the other posts."
    • "To tell others what I thought and to see what other people thought."
    • "I think my purpose for the post was to bring some perspectives to the other class.  Since I found my self reading through everyone's posting, for both ideas and for posting formants, I gained a greater perspective about what the book was really about.  I think that the posting serves as the best stimulator for community discussion."
    • "I think my purpose was simply to add insight from a different perspective than others, and to provide some kind of jump-off point for further discussion (in conjunction with everyone else's ideas)."
    • "To get my point of view and opinions out there; compare and contrast them with the rest of the community's and to participate."
  • Personal purpose/value for me:
    • "Make us think about the novel and express our thoughts in the most articulate way possible."
    • "so i have a more flushed out idea of my own ideas for class discussions."
    • "It helped me to organize my opinions for the next class."
    • "I think I just wanted to get my ideas out there and not feel to shy in class. I tend to feel very shy when I talk in front of people."
    • "My purpose was to record my first impressions of the story."
    • "i felt my purpose for posting was somewhat related to grades."
    • "to give us a chance to think about and develop ideas that we might not otherwise.  If we write several small responses during the course of the book, I think students will more fully develop their thoughts and feelings about the book along the way.  The alternative to posting is probably writing an essay at the end of the novel, but I don't think most students will have spent as much time critically thinking about the work under this scenario."
    • "To gain a more solid understanding of the story. When you try to put the meaning of something into words, I feel you 'awaken' and become more comfortable with the topic."
  • Teacher's purpose:
    • "I think the first few posts were aimed at getting us comfortable with using the discussion board."
    • "I think the most basic reason for doing the post is to show that you did, in fact, read the novel.  I think it would be somewhat difficult to write an intelligent post without reading the book first.  Another reason for the post is for you as the instructor to understand how the class felt about the book.  If you know how we feel about the book, you can use that information to better direct the discussions in class.  For instance, if you see that several people had an unconventional point of view about something, you can ask them to expand on it in class."

I had stressed the "community" nature of the course and the community purpose of the discussion board from the top of the course, so It is heartening to see over half the class reflect that understanding.  But almost the entire other half see the discussion board primarily as a tool for self-learning, which, while not a bad thing and certainly a legitimate goal in other courses, was not the message I was delivering.

4)  Where did the idea for what to post about come from?  Can you reconstruct your thinking process a bit?  Did you refer to the "five eyes" document for this post or any of the subsequent ones?

Where do ideas come from?  Writer Harlan Ellison used to quip sarcastically, "Schenectady."  Students were not required to use the five eyes, and they had, in fact, only a minimal exposure to them at this point for sure.  But I was interested to see if they helped trigger this first post.

  • Used the "five eyes" specifically:
    • "I referred to the 'five eyes' document, but I did not focus on any on 'eye.'"
    • "I didn't use the five eyes unitl the last post."
    • "I looked at the five eyes page definitely.  It helped structure what I wanted to say."
    • "I chose to use one of the 5 eyes as a basis for my post.  It gave me a little bit more structure so that I didn't go off on a complete tangent about something that wasn't all that important."
    • "I referred to the 'five eyes' document and tried to use those ideas to find something to focus on."
    • "I tried to make sure that I hit upon at least one of the 5 Eyes in my post, mainly the Analyze and Internalize ones."
    • "I read the five 'eyes' document over, and then I wrote about whichever method of observation I felt most comfortable beginning with and which ideas first struck me."
    • "I kind of jumped to the criticisms right away.  I couldn't help it.  I had so much to say about Edna."
  • Used the "five eyes" indirectly:
    • "I did not directly refer to the five eyes document but kept some of its tenets in mind while writing my post.  I mostly criticized and internalized."
    • "I happened to have not referred to the 'five eyes' document directly, however much of what is contained in the five eyes ran through my head when thinking of what to write."
  • From the novel:
    • "I focused on the title for my post."
    • "um... the post came from ideas i got when i read.  didn't really use the five eyes (knowingly)."
    • "No, I chose to focus on ideas or themes that I found to be of particular interest to me.  I tried to figure what concerned me most about the novel after reading one hundred pages.  Then, I wrote about a specific point concerning me."
    • "My idea came from feelings that struck me most while reading.  i didnot think of the five 'eyes.'"
    • "After reading this section of the book, the idea for my post bascially came from the postive and negative outcomes of the 'awakening' of Edna."
    • "For my first post, I didnt really think of the 5 eyes, I simply mentioned what most struck me as i was reading and then i commented on it.  If i were doing the same post now, I'd think more about the 5 eyes prior to posting."
  • From others in the class:
    • "I commented on another post that was available to read and added a new twist to it."
    • "Mainly, my posts came from reflections of class discussion."
    • "my other classmates posting gave me somewhat of a direction in posting.  I did not refer to the five eyes becuase I was unsure if I should be using that for the regular postings."
  • From other sources:
    • "My ideas tend to be spontaneous...and the post we are speaking of was no different. Complete and utter spur of the moment dealings in my mind.  That's how I work, just like Howard Stern says."

About half the class used the five eyes directly or indirectly, but the range of other responses remind me that I have to clarify the use of the five eyes.  Will I eventually be requiring people to post from these perspectives?  At this point I think probably so.  But I've got to remember that the five eyes are questions that one can ask of a literary work (or windows into the work), and there is no guarantee that they will elicit good content.  For instance, I can imagine a post would fit an "eye" perfectly in form but in content still not be a good post -- like a grammatically perfect but uninteresting student essay.  So if a person is "turned on" in some way, having to follow the eyes might be a hindrance.

5)  Did you choose between two or more options before writing?

Should discussion board work lean more toward self-conscious or spontaneous activity?  I must admit that I have previously and primarily thought of discussion as basically spontaneous, both in person and online -- a reaction jumps into your head and you run with it (and you're often simply glad that something does jump into your head).  But now I am moving toward stressing online discussion as conscious, that the big difference between real-time discussion and online discussion is more time to think out your response -- more time to be conscious.  And thus I will be pushing toward reflection before posting.

  • 14 -- No, did not choose between or among options:
    • "No, I picked one that I thought I had enough to say about and was interested in."
    • "Not really, the post was more of a gut reaction to the story."
    • "No, I picked one that I thought I had enough to say about and was interested in."
    • "no. i included all of my thoughts in my posts."
    • "No, I always posted by what I was feeling at the time.  Basically, I wrote about the first thing that came to mind."
    • "I basically found a thought or idea about the book as a starting point and went from there."
    • "No.  I just what whatever came to mind when I was processes thing reading."
    • "Not really. I usually choose a theme and then focus on finding support of what I'm trying to say in the text."
    • "My ideas about what to write were pretty organized by the time I was ready to respond.  I had a relatively strong reaction to the ending, so it was easy decide what I wanted to say."
    • "No, I was intent on writing about the first topic that concerned me.  Next time, I will broaden the cast of topics to choose from.  I think this will enhance my view of the storyline."
    • "No I just went with my gut and then went--pardon the saying--"balls out", and tried to flow with the ideas. Hopefully making an insightful point at the same time."
  • 6 -- Yes, did choose between or among options:
    • "I had many topics to choose from.  I highlighted different sections as I read the novel so I could easily return to them when I wrote.  I would say that I had about 7 different potential topics."
    • "Well I couldnt decide whether I hated or liked Edna so it was difficult.  But i had comments for each one, so when i decided which way i felt about her, I chose to discuss the appropriate comments associated to that opinion."
    • "Yes, actually.  I had originally though of focusing on her death mostly, but figured that would be the topic in class, so I chose to write about Robert, and her desperate actions."
    • "I had a couple different ideas that I wanted to use from brainstorming."
    • "Since I used the "five eyes" as a basis for my writing, I pretty much chose between those options."
    • "Sometimes my posts would included 2Eyes, because I felt they lead into each other.  The Eyes really provided me with a guide for thinking about the work and really understanding it on a variety of levels."

The spontaneous over the conscious by a 2-1 margin indicates I will have some work to do to get students thinking "my way."  But I take heart from the "yes" comments -- the kind you would want: from students with lots to say, with complex responses, who resist wasting class time with repetition, who brainstorm, and, best of all, who take my advice(!).

6)  Who did you envision as your audience?  Did that have any effect on what you chose to write about or the style in which you wrote your post?

In my "community" conception for the course I was naturally hoping that the students would see their peers as the audience rather than me, but I am identified in almost half the posts.  I restricted the selection of quotes to those with comments about style.

  • 7 -- The class as audience
    • "Knowing that my classmates were going to be reading the work, I did pay particular attention to the language I used.  Basically, I wanted my writing to look good.  I wanted it to look finished, like I had put a lot of thought into it."
    • "So I attempted to write posts that got straight to the point, so that the reader could understand what I wanted to convey and move on to the next post."
    • "This inspired a bit of apprehension in me because I did not want my ideas to come across as silly or unrefined, so I think that that certainly made my writing a bit more rigid than i usually would have displayed."
    • "I wrote my post in such a way that it my provoke discussion from my peers.  I hoped that people would either try to prove me wrong or write in response to a point I made or question I had."
    • "I think it made my writing style not as formal as it would've been if I was writing a paper that only the professor was going to read and grade."
  • 8 -- The teacher and class as audience:
    • "I tried to retain a somewhat formal style."
    • "It made me want to try and write "formally", but at the same time I remembered it wasn't a formal paper so I shouldn't be to worried about what I said.  Rather I should just get my thoughts out in the open."
    • "i wanted it to be polished and thoughtful."
  • 1 -- The teacher as audience:
    • "i thought that you would be my audience, because honestly, i didn't expect that anyone would read the posts.  so i tried to tell you what i thought you were expecting to hear."
  • 1 -- The writer as audience:
    • "My audience was myself. I tried to write in a journalistic fashion."
  • 2 -- The world at large as audience:
    • "I envisioned my audience as anyone that would have read the book and analyzed it critically for themselves."
    • "You have to aim for the top, so that's where I aimed and that's where I envisioned my audience.  At the top of Kilamanjaro, or the like.  I envisioned not just a handful reading my post...but the masses."

7)  How did you feel after writing the post?  How do you feel about it now?

Trying to complete the wrap-around of the initial "serve."  Trying to get the complete picture.

  • Feeling good:
    • "I felt confident in my first post both after I wrote it and now.  I was well written and concise.  I felt that new and interesting ideas were brought to the table through my post."
    • "I feel now that the posts really helped me prepare my thoughts for the next class and understand what others were thinking when they read the book.  Thus helping me guage the mood of the class."
    • "I felt as though it was my responsibility as a member of the community to submit my post and I felt satisfied. I am happy I sent my opinion out there for others to react to."
    • "I felt a bit more in touch with the novel after posting for the first time."
  • Feeling middlin':
    • "I think I always feel a little nervous about what other people will think of what I wrote and my ideas or that I wrote something wrong."
    • "I was a bit uneasy because I still didn't actually know the people who would be reading it and what kind of impressions of me they would have."
    • "I felt nervous about how it coulw be recieved in the community.  I didn't think my ideas were comparable to others in the class.  I also didn't think that my posting was organized.  I felt since I had so many thought running through my head that it was hard to organize them into a 1 or 2 paragrapgh posting."
    • "Unsure as to whether I said the things I wanted to say in the right way, and unfortunately the dicussion board is like a point of no return once you press submit."
    • "I felt nervous about whether or not I was thinking the wrong thing or seeing the book in the wrong way."
    • "At the time i felt good about the post, but looking back i wish i had evolved my thoughts and ideas more."
    • "At points during the post I felt naked, but right now I feel clothed and not only that but fashionably clothed as well."

There's a decent amount of anxiety here in the post-posting period, a reminder that, as Emily Dickinson says, "Publication is the Auction of the Mind."  A signal that it is necessary to make people comfortable, especially right in the beginning.

8)  Now a coupla questions about the posts of others on 8/29.  How many of the 8/29 posts of others did you read?

I was sending a signal right away with this question too, about the importance in this course of reading the posts of others.

1: 0
9: 1-5
4: 6-10
4: 11-15
2: 20
  • Some reasons for not reading all:
    • "I didn't have my reading glasses with me."
    • "i don't know if i had time to read any other posts."
    • "I read all the ones before I posted, which were about 7 of them, and then later I skimmed through the rest."

Looks like the signal was needed!  Of course, though, 20 posts is a lot to read, and most times I would probably have them in small groups not in plenary mode like this..

9)  If you didn't read all the 8/29 posts, how did you decide which ones to read?

Trying to get some insight into reading practices.

  • 4 -- Read those on the board at the time:
    • "I mainly read the ones that were posted before I posted."
    • "I mainly read the ones that were posted before I submitted mine, so that I could get an idea of how everyone else was approaching the assignment."
    • "I chose the ones that were close to the time at which I wrote mine."
    • "Mostly the ones that were posted before mine"
  •  4 -- Read those with interesting titles:
    • "I read the posts with the most unique subject lines."
    • "I chose the ones which had the most interesting subject headings."
    • "I skimmed over the post titles and selected the ones that sounded interesting."
    • "generally i snappy title usually grabs my attention."
  • 2 -- Chose randomly:
    • "just randomly picked a few names."
    • "Picked one somewhere in the middle. The middle's where it's at."
  • 2 -- Chose by author:
    • "I chose based on the author.  I tried to think about who made interesting arguments in class so I could see what they had to say."
    • "By people I knew in the class."

10)  If you didn't read any 8/29 posts, why?

  • "too many time restraints"


11)  If you read some or all of the 8/29 posts, did you find value in doing so.  Why?  Why not?

Another very key question for my project.  Is the time spent reading others of sufficient value to serve as incentive?

  • Found value:
    • diversity: "I definalty foud value in reading the posts.  It let me see things from other perspectives (obviously).
    • diversity: "I think it was valuable to read the posts before I posted so that I had a better idea of how people were responding and so that I could try to not write the same ideas as another person."
    • diversity: "I was just wondering what others thought on the topics."
    • diversity: "Yes, I always enjoy getting other people's perspectives and opinions on a subject."
    • diversity: "Moreover, it made me aware of things in the book that I had not thought of in particular contexts aside from my own way of thinking; it brought new meaning to the text."
    • diversity: "Yes, there was value because it allowed me to see outside of my own writing.  By reading what someone else has to say, you can really hear them and understand their points of view also."
    • diversity: "I found great value in this because I looked at things differently after doing so.  Plus, reading them got my brain working for what i wanted to say."
    • diversity: "yes. you may see something that someone else wrote that you can make use of in your own post-- or it may even spark a new idea for you."
    • stimulation: "I saw where the other students were heading with their ideas.  In particular, if I was stuck on some thought that I couldn't put into words, as though the thought wasn't developed fully, I could check what others have written, to see how they interpreted it, to give me a leg up.  I'm not trying to say I was using another's ideas, they were just filed in my head as another example to further strenghten whatever I was thinking at the time."
    • stimulation: "Yes, i did, because it got me thinking about how little sense my post made and how concrete it was.  Its because of my classmates that i ended up changing my opinion of the entire novel."
    • stimulation: "I think it was good, at first, to see examples of how other people posted.  It also helped to pick out one train of thought for your own post to be developed on."
    • affirmation: "I find it helpful to see how other people reacted to the same scenes as I did.  It helps me question why i feel a certain way about parts of the book and see if my opinion is justified."
    • conformity: "It gave me a chance to see if my views were are on par with everyone else's."
    • conformity: "Yes definitely because you can see where others are and get on the same page."
    • conformity: "I found it helpful to be able to see what everyone else's views were.  It was reassuring to know I wasn't thinking in the completely wrong direction about what we had read."
    • bonding: "Yes I found value in doing so as it connected an identity with some of the classmates. "
    • curiousity: "I had to read all of them. i was really curious about hearing the class opinion as a whole, mainly because I wanted to see if other people saw things the same, kind of the same, or COMPLETELY differently than i did."
  • Found some value:
    • "I appreciated other peoples' thoughts, but they didn't really inspire my writing as much as i would have hoped.  Nothing personal, they just weren't what i was looking for."
    • "I found a little value in reading others posts.  Only a little though because for me, my best writing comes from my own ideas and threads of thought."
    • "I tried not to read too many of the posts before I wrote my post because I didn't want those posts to influence my writing too much.  I looked at the other posts to get a general idea of what other students were thinking and writing, but I stopped before I would have lost focus of what my own ideas were."
  • Found no value:
    • "not really, they didn't change my outlook on the book.  i feel that should vary from person to person anyway."

Overwhelmingly positive response.  Diversity and stimulation lead the list of reasons.  Conformity is a bit troubling -- well, actually, a lot troubling.  Bonding and curiousity make an intriguing appearance.

12)  Please re-read or read all the 8/29 posts.  Pick out the one that you think of as the best (ok, you can list some honorable mentions if you wish).  A) Give the writer's name and the title of the post.  B) Why were you attracted to the post?  C) Can you identify the strategy the writer used to get your attention?

Question 12 was designed to get them thinking about their own ideas about the qualities of a good post.  I immediately compiled the responses to question 12 in a handout and used it as the basis for a full class discussion in order to try to raise their consciousness about what their peers felt made posts effective.

I was wondering if there would be any consensus about which post was the best and what vocabulary they would use to support their choices.

I was consciously trying not to tell them my choice (I really didn't make one) or to impose my vision of the principles of a good post, but, in the spirit of community, to open up these matters for discussion.

The results (click here to see the posts and the student commentary):

4:  "Self Empowerment"
4:  "Soaring above Tradition"
3:  "Ignorance as Bliss"
2:  "Sacrifice"
2:  "The Awakening! ugh!"
1:  "Locked in a Cage"
1:  "something borrowed, something new"
7 posts of a total of 20 got votes, and almost 2/3's of the votes went to 3 posts -- clearly, I think, some genuine weighing seems to have happened.  That's heartening.  And I agree that those 3 posts were worthy of their ranking.

So a very basic question in this project is how do we recognize a good post?  How do we know a good post when we see one?

What did the students say?  What criteria did they use?  What vocabulary did they use?

Click here for student commentary and my commentary on a selection of posts, not just the "winners."  But, basically, student praise on the top vote-getting posts seemed to sound more like English teachers noting the principles of good writing than I expected.  Student praise was not based on content, on ideas, on interest, on attraction, on engagement as I expected.  I felt like they were adopting the teacher persona, perhaps telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, or perhaps using the only vocabulary they knew to describe effective writing.  So, this section has made me think about whether the principles of writing are different for essays than discussion boards.  See especially my commentary on "Ignorance is Bliss."