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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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SERVES REVISITED AND YOUR FIRST "RETURNS":
SELECTED RESPONSES AND COMMENTARY

1)  Did you serve each of the three days within the 24-hr. time-frame from the due date per the Attendance guidelines?  If not, how many serving posts did you do?  If not, why didn't you do the three posts within the time-frame?

One of the "problems" with discussion boards is that some students don't post in timely fashion, making it hard or even impossible for others to do their work.  I asked this question not only to get data but as a kind of wake-up call that timely posting was important.
  • 11 students answered "Yes," indicating they made all three serving posts within the 24-hr. time frame.
  • 2 students said that they did the three posts but didn't post all of them within the stipulated time frame:
  • "I served all three times, but the first missed the 24hr time frame requirement.  I just completely forgot to post over the weekend, so I did it later."
  • "I did not serve in the 24-hr time period becuase I did not know that the board was already up. However, as soon as I realized that it was up, I posted.  I was only a couple of hours out of the 24-hour Attendance guidline." 
  • 4 students indicated they made two out of the three posts:
  • "the reason I did not serve a third time was because my group (myself included) had not posted and therefore had not repsonded to anything of which I could participate in."
  • "I didn't do the second post because I got stumped on what I wanted to say.  I went on the board the night it was due and my idea was already on there.  I had thought a lot about that post and could get myself in the right gear to start over."
  • "My internet has been up and down so it has been hard to get to the internet to ake a post. Probably because I would wait too long then when I would go to post the connection would be down and I would be screwed."
  • "The reason i did not post the last time was because i had absolutely nothing to post on after dissecting the story for 2 previoius posts.  Every idea i had about posting was something that had already been mentioned in previous posts."
  • 1 student indicated that he didn't make any serves:
    • "I realize looking back that I did not initiate any serves for UTC.  This novel did really spark any original ideas or questions in me.  I felt that the best input I could make would be to bounce of other people in my group with my response.  It is true that by the last serves things were getting harder.  I feel that from the first post the same themes and topics were being tossed around leaving it hard to reply to a stale topic."

A solid majority of the students were aware of the time guidelines and posted accordingly.  The trouble, however, is that every miss gets multiplied by the number of people in the group.  For instance, one missed serve caused four or five other people not to return.  What to do about that?  (The reasons given for doing fewer than the three posts frankly seem a bit lame.)

2)  Look at your serves.  Think about the same questions I asked you about serves in the last unit.  That is, using the "five eyes" as a guide, how would you describe the serves that you made?  Were they all the same or similar, or was there a variety of approaches?  On the basis of these reflections, would you say that from a "five eyes" perspective you served the same way this time or differently?  Please be specific.

I was looking to see if the students perceived any difference in type between their serves in the first unit and those here in the second unit as a result of our class discussions on the nature and quality of serves.

Out of 17 responses 16 students indicated that they used a variety of approaches (or different "eyes") when making their responses.
  • "My serves were not the same at all.  I think that this is because when comparing and contrasting amongst my group for The Awakening, I observed the other group members methods for their individual "Eyes".  Consequenlty, my "five eyes" was then altered as I incorporated alternative styles in which to include in my own."
  • "I tried to look at the five eyes and do more synthesize and analysis.  I stayed away from criticize altogether, as that was in all of my posts in the first unit.  I have yet to post anything using internalize, and will work on that for the next unit.  For the most part, my serves within the synthesize and analyze techniques were similar- I said what was on my mind."
  • "For my first serve, I made a conscious effort not to analyze.  I feel as though the majority of my Awakening posts were very analytical in nature, so I wanted to do something different.  However, I did try to keep my posts from being overly wordy in the interest of attracting more readership.  My third serve may be classified under the heading synthesize as I compared the work to a work I previously had read for a religion class.  Again, this was entirely conscious and intentional.  I was trying to break away from my analyzation addiction."
  • "I think my serves were better this time.  I allowed myself more time to "warm up" and to slowly build up a volley.  I would say i served slightly differently this time, more to the five eyes form."
  • "As with my serves last time, I still tried to write about something new each time and bring up different ideas.  This time, since I knew people would be responding, I tried to write with that in mind and write about something that they could respond to."
  • "My serves were all different.  I didn't really rely on the five eyes to do them but instead just saw what everyone else was doing."

The first three sample responses here strikingly reveal the kind of conscious posting behavior that is my goal, and, overall, the class demonstrates excellent awareness of project goals.

3)  Look at your serves.  Think about some new questions.  After the last unit, everybody picked a "best" serve, and we talked for more than one class about the stylistic elements of a good serve.  Do you remember what some of those stylistic elements were?  Were you conscious of utilizing some of those stylistic elements in this unit?  As you look at your serves now, would you say that they are written in the same or a different manner?  In short, are your serves in this unit stylistically different than your serves in the previous unit?  Yes - why?  No - why?  Please be specific.
 
Once again I was trying to sense whether our meta-week had any impact, this time on the style of their posts.

11 students indicated that they were conscious of utilizing the stylistic elements of a good serve.

1)  It's apparent that the following students relied on model posts and that it affected their responses:

  • "I remembered and was conscious of them.  I magically made that 'best serve' page somehow, so I kind of went in the same direction, with catchy titles and terse paragraphs with succinct arguments. the hard part isnt all that stuff...that's just extra.  the important thing is finding a new and interesting thing to discuss."
  • "My serves were different from the previous ones because i used the favorite posts hand out as a guide while writing my posts."
2)  These students were conscious of the "five eyes" rubric and the stylistic elements of a good serve but felt restricted:
  • "I tried t keep in mind what everyone liked about people's serves, but I wanted to write what came naturally to me.  I didn't want to bend just to plezase people."
  • "I kept those stylistic considerations in mind, and tried to follow some of them but again- I don't want the discussion board to turn into a forced formality.  I mean, I understand the guidelines as far as wanting us to post in reply to one another and having our post be in a sense comprehensive, but I think we should be able to go on the site and say what's on our mind as it comes into our mmind without having to engineer it first."
3)  A substantial number of students indicate the reason for their conscious change as a desire and need to evoke and provoke responses from their classmates:
  • "My serves this time around were intended to evoke a response from my group members and get them to think a little bit.  I did not want to give it all away in my serve but rather lead my group to where I wanted them to go and what inferences I wanted them to make."
  • "I guess i tried to be more provacative in my writing and i tried to think of subjects that would be most appealing to other readers,"
  • "Yes, I was conscious of those stylistic elements.  A large concern of mine was to get some point out there that I knew was getting to me--and that maybe other people hadn't thought about.  I wanted to help make people think about some of the things that were going on in this novel, since there are just sooo many things that were going on."
  • "The posts that force me to entertain new ideas are the best in my eyes.  We talked about the importance of citations from the book, but I don't think citations get at the heart of a discussion board.  I think the goal of a discussion board is to toss around new ideas.  With this in mind, I structured my posts to raise new ideas that I didn't think most people would consider.  In order to raise substantially new ideas, some of the questions I asked may have been more provoking.  There was a greater possibility that something I said in one of my posts would be taken offensively, but I didn't want to simply comment on the same things that everyone else did.  I think my serves in this unit tried to provoke much more thought than the last unit.  After reading other posts, I have a better idea of what comments are probably going to be made by several students, and I try harder not to make the same comments. "
  • "I also ended my serves with unresolved questions in an attempt to gain classmate insights into the issues that I chose to explore."
  • "Maybe I was more conscious of picking topics that would provoke a small discussion."
  • "A large concern of mine was to get some point out there that I knew was getting to me--and that maybe other people hadn't thought about."
  • "I didn't want to simply comment on the same things that everyone else did."
  • "I tried to find new ideas to write about, picking topics that hadn't yet been considered."
4)  5 students indicated that they didn't feel their Uncle Tom posts were very different from the responses to The Awakening, but in actuality in the underlined sections they were articulating significant change in line with the goals:
  • "I don't think they are very different.  I found parts of the story that struck me, and I responded to them in some way.  I didn't use direct quotes from the book, they weren't much shorter or longer than my others, and I still didn't reread/rewrite my posts for grammar errors etc.  I do, however, think I was slightly more focused in an area of discussion rather than writing random thoughts."
  • "I don't think my serves in this unit were too different than in the last.  If anything, I think they are probably less formal and in a more conversational manner, and I did that since I knew people would be responding.  Other than that, I didn't really change the manner in which I wrote my serves since I still tried to post new ideas for people to think about.  That's usually my goal with each serve is to just put new ideas out there."
  • "I don't think my serves are stylistically different this time around than those that I wrote in the first unit.  Maybe I was more conscious of picking topics that would provoke a small discussion."

The responses here speak very well for the impact of the meta-week discussion.  There is considerable awareness of the posting principles and considerable awareness of conscious change according to those principles.  The restrictions that some students felt, however, is something I have worried about and that I need to keep in mind.

4)  Look at your serves.  And think of these same questions above from a different angle.  We talked in class about the "guidelines" document in Course Documents.  Some of those guidelines apply to serves: like free writing, chasing, reading others in your group before you post, writing in the 150-250 word range, signing your posts.  Did you remember these guidelines when you were posting?  Were you conscious of utilizing these guidelines when you served?  As you look at your serves now, which of these guidelines did you follow, which not?  In short, are your serves in this unit different from this perspective than your serves in the previous unit?  Please be specific.

Yet again another window through which to view changes in posting behavior, as well as a heads-up about awareness of the guidelines.

1)  14 students indicated that they were conscious of or tried to be conscious of the "guidelines document" when responding:
  • "I definitely tried to free write more than I did in the first unit.  I'm the kind of person who always thinks through whatever I want to say or write, but I made an effort to free write more.  I don't think I used chasing as much, but I think that's more because I'm not used to writing in an aggressive manner, and I think I usually have a conclusion to whatever I write."
  • "I have to say I was pretty aware of most of these guidlines when writing.  I addressed most of my posts to whoever I was responding to.  They were in the write word range, I definitly used free writing.  However, I didn't really 'chase' any posts."
  • "My serves for this unit were much more spontaneous and free flowing.  I spent less time figuring out exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to structure it and more time actually posting.  I also made a point to recognize how the things I said relate to other posts.  I tried to feed off the other posts and other people's opinions, even if I didn't specifically mention it in my post.  Additionally, I tried to keep within the 150 to 250 word range.  I kept the guidelines in mind for all of my posts.  I was especially concerned with freewriting and serving."
2)  3 students indicated the they DID NOT follow the guidelines:
  • "I did not have the guidelines in mind at all, I just wrote waht came to me and it fitted into the guidelines.  My serves in both units pretty much are the same when it comes to following the guidelines."
  • "I didn't even realize there were guidelines!"
  • "To be honest I really didnt consider these guidelines when I posted.  I think I just forgot to think about that stuff.  When I get an idea in my head that's usually the only thing I can think of and I ignore everything else.  I guess that's the way I always write.  I try not to be held back in my writing and guidelines like the ones we talking about weren't really a consideration."
3)  6 students made specific mention of their attempt to "free write," or use a stream of consciousness, or less formal approach to their posts.

4)  4 students indicated that they signed or tried to remember to sign their posts.

5)  6 students indicated that they "forgot" to sign their posts, and the response below is interesting in that it reveals an awareness of the rationale for doing so:
  • "One thing I didn't do was sign, and I know I should be doing this.  All writers sign their works.  I guess either I was thinking too much about the informal aspect, or I subconsciously thought my writing to be horrible and refrained from signing my name to it."
Again, positive signs that students are responding to the system.  I realize that addressing and signing posts is a "hobbyhorse" of mine, but I feel that it helps create a sense of audience as well as humanizing the virtual space.

5)  Look at your serves.  Which one would you choose as your best?  Be specific -- identify date and title.  Why would you choose that one?  What makes it a good serve?

As usual I was interested in pushing self-reflection here as well as getting a bead on what principles of posting they were internalizing.

Posts were considered best because:

1)  they introduced something new:

  • "I don't know why I like them the best.  I think it's because I brought up contemporary examples and related themes else where to get away from the setting of slavery and show that there are a lot of universal themes at work in the book."
  • "it deals with some very crucial details of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and it discusses some topics that should be thought about, and might have normally been overlooked."
  • "It raised an important question about how we are supposed to use this book today.  It touched on some things we talked about in class, such as this book painting the black race in a negative light. The posts that combine the novel with things we discuss in class as well as add a new perspective to the situation are the most useful to me.  I think the post accomplished this."
  • "It was a whole new idea about the work that surfaced upon reading the end and it discussed the author's choices, rather than just analyzing a character or part of the story that moved me-I wanted to focus on Stowe's personal beliefs."
  • "Although it was the hardest to come up with, it was truly an original idea."
  • "I liked this serve becuase I think that not too many people felt the same way I did, and that therefore, it would make people think.  I sorta called into question the purpose of religion."
  • "I chose this post because I thought it was unique.  No one else use synthesizing in their first post (that I remember)."
  • "my best because i took the time to think hard about Kate's post and the other responses, and then added what I thought would give it another angle.  I also added some of my thoughts at the time about the book that were not really related to the post, but i figured it would spark further discussion."
  • "the topic was also one that was not discussed by anyone else.  I thoought it useful to start a thread on something new, to provoke more thought."
  • "I liked this post because I played off a response I made to one of my group members and added a new twist to it.  Also, I compared "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to "The Awakening", a technique I hadn't seen anyone else utilize.  I was interested in using the five eyes document in my second unit of posts and felt that the synthesize portion would be the best way to tackle that.  This serve brought a idea to the table and evoked some interesting responses."
2)  they were intrinsically good (as if they were saying, "if I don't say so, myself"):
  • "I asked good questions about a somewhat overlooked characters meaning in the story.  she should never be overlooked though, she's a raging bitch, and that's why i posted about her."
  • "I like the idea I threw out, that Marie is a example of how the extreme, white, selfish slave holders saw themselves, and their property.  I also thought my the example I chose, out of a number, was the best for my claim.  Eh, I was just well thought out."
  • "i think i put it together very well, allowing for additional volleys."
  • "I thought I brought up a lot of good ideas and comparisions.  I also liked the fact that I stayed focused because I tend to have scattered ideas."
  • "I like it because it combines the 'eyes' of synthesis and internalization."
  • " I liked this serve becasue I thought my points were clear."
  • "I chose that one because I think my first posts are my best just because the ideas are completely fresh."
3)  they are reader-friendly:
  • "It is also reader-friendly, kinda short , but tight."
  • "I also usually hypothesize first, so I think it puts ideas out there that people can easily respond to."
  • " It is not overly wordy, it invites response and in it I cite textual evidence to support my ideas."
4)  it added to class discussion:
  • "I responded to the topic of characters meaning in the novel that was bounced around in class and with my group and used that to make my post, and I think it was interesting."  
5)  it had passion:
  • "As I said in my profile, I like complaining, and that's precisely what I did with this post.  I remember writing this.  I remember a flood of ideas coming mind, and it was easy to add textual evidence to suppot my claims.  The only problem I ran into was trying to keep my language respectable.
    I think what makes this a good serve is that it has a lot of feeling."
6)  readers responded:
  • "It generated a lot of discussion, so I think i did a good job with it."
7)  I got to vent:
  • "I liked this on because i expressed the thing that was most bothering me while reading the book-Tom and his belief in Christianity."

The idea of valuing a post because it adds something new to discussion is the predominant response here, which is great.  Students seem conscious of avoiding mechanical postings.  And I didn't expect but get a kick out of those students who kind of step back and admire their own work in and for itself.  Seems some self-satisfaction is going on as well as some self-awareness.  It occurs to me that one of the things I have been hoping would happen is that students would gain more confidence in their ideas.  That may be occuring.

6)  Look at the serves of your group members.  Which one would you choose as the best?  Be specific -- identify the person's name, as well as date and title.  Why would you choose that one?  What makes it a good serve?

Here's another way of trying to get a bead on what principles of good posting they were internalizing.  Above I asked what was good in their own posts, here what was good in others.

5 students received multiple nominations.  See representative soundbites after most of the selected "best" posts to indicate why they were considered so good:

1)  3 students selected the "Too Many Halos" (Sept 14) post

  • "I find myself constantly disagreeing with her, and thats why i like her posts so much, i find it personally helpful to read her lucid arguments and see what i think about the subject after reading her thoughts on it.  whether i change my mind or decide my like my original opinion on the matter more, i always appreciate her insight.  it was short, with a catchy title, insightful, yes, the big buzz word...poignant."
  • "Here she voices her own opinion and asks for everyone else input.  Questions=discussion!"
  • "Her post ... looked at the one-dimensional characterization in the book, and the fact that some of the characters seemed 'too good to be true.'  I thought it was an intersting way to challenge the novel, and i found i fully agreed with it."
It's interesting that this post is valued by one student because she DISAGREES with it, while another student likes it because he or she AGREES with it.

2)  2 students selected the "individual morality amidt communal immorality" (Sept 14) post

  • "I liked the way he 'internalized' the novel.  Its clear that the book 'reached' him on some level.  I also liked how he tied in the idea of community, something that we've been discussing in class quite frequently."
    1 student selected the "Marie sucks" post by the same person
    • "he really looked into the character of marie and thought about her cognative processes.  he also asked others their opinions, which means that it would naturally extract ideas and thoughts from the class.  He challenged us."
    3)  1 student selected "The pen is mightier..." (Sept 19) post
    • "I like how he seems to free write and he forms an opinion and really sticks to it.  This post brought up an idea what we didn't really finish discussing in class and allowed the conversation to continue."
    1 student selected the "Uncle Tom Superstar" (Sept 15) post by the same person
    • "I was amazed that he was able to relate Tom to Jesus, as I hadn't picked up on this at all.  His argument is strong, and it leaves the reader with something to ponder over, which is what a discussion post is ment to do."
    1 student selected "Lost My Mind" (Sept 17) by the same person
    • "whether or not his argument was valid seemed to take the backseat to the thought-provoking nature of his post.  I appreciated the different perspective he presented about morality and human nature."
    4)  1 student selected the "The Power of the Pen" (Sept 15)
    • "This was a good serve because it hit on an aspect of the novel and history that is right under our noses but is never really mentioned."
    1 student selected the Sept 17 post by the same person
    • She picked out seemingly obscure ideas from the book and raised some interesting points about them..Alyssa succeeded in provoking new and interesting thoughts with this post, and that is why it is the best.."
    5)  1 student selected the "George Pontellier" post
    • "he amde me think about other works in comparison to this one.  I didn't realize the relationship of the characters with respect to imprisonment."
    1 student selected the post entitled "Haley and Shelby" by the same person
    • "It was effective to ask the question in the post and leave it open for others to reply.  He was clear in his points and I had no trouble following what he was trying to get across to us as the audience."
    Now if we re-shuffle the responses to highlight what criteria for selections they were using to select a best post by others, here's what we get:
    • provokes new thought: 5
    • has a strong intrinsic argument: 1
    • continues class discussion: 2
    • provokes disagreement: 1
    • provides agreement: 1
    • asks questions: 3
    • challenges: 2
    • represents an admirable personal response: 1
    • is clear: 1
    Hmm, I'd say there has been a significant change in the principles used  to identify "best posts" between survey 2.12 and here.  There I thought their responses were "English-teacherly," as if the posts were free-standing.  Here the criteria strongly reflect more the value of a post in a group discussion situation.
  • ***********************

    7)  Now let's move to "returns."  Did you reply to each of your group members each of the three days?  If no, why not?

    This question is one of those where, yes, I was trying to get some data, but, perhaps more to the point, I was trying to give a wake-up call about the need for timely responses.

    1)  11 students indicated that they replied to all or as many as possible of their group members' serves. Several of these students indicated that they didn't respond to "returns" that were posted late or at an "unreasonable hour."

    2)  6 students indicated that they DID NOT reply to all the serves made by their group members:

    • "No because I was unable to post because of my internet!"
    • "______ served all three times, but for some reason I only replied to two of her three posts.  I don't know if I thought I replied to her second post when I did not, or if I didn't see her second post until it was too late to reply."
    • "no. not enough time, too much work, and on top of that, my connection to the blackboard really sucks. everytime i type something, i have to wait two minutes for it to respond and type the words out; it's delayed or something and it's very annoying."
    • "I didn't reply to all of them because i didn't find posts from all of them when i went on some days.  I'm not saying they didn't do it or anything, i just may have gone on the board too early or something.  I tried to reply to a good number of them."
    • "Usually if I didn't reply it was because someone posted late, but I usually tried to go back and respond later if I could."
    The timing issue is a vexed one.  Students have different work habits, different bio-rhythms, and thus visit and post on the discussion board at sometimes wildly different parts of the day and night -- often making it difficult to coordinate interaction.  At least in class discussion everybody is there at once!

    8)  How about "returns" to your serves?  How many returns did you get to each of your serves?

    There were lots of different answers to this question, making it difficult to quantify, but here are some representative answers:

    • "My first serve got 5 returns, my second serve got 4 returns, but my third serve didn't get any returns."
    • "Everyone that posted responded to my serves."
    • "Almost everyone replied to my serves, I got 4 and 2 on the monday and fridays.  Nobody gave me a response on the second though, which I picked for my best work."
    • "only a few, not as many as i expected"
    • "I didn't get very many, partially because my serves may have been a little hidden.  I dunno."
    • "Its kinda ironic, that my first post, which was made a couple of hours late, got the most amount of returns.  Go figure."

    9)  Look at the returns you received from your group members.  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, the date, and the title of the post.  B) Why were you attracted to this return?  What effect did it have on you?  C) Can you identify the strategy the writer used that makes it an excellent return?  D) If you are hard-pressed to choose a "best" because you felt the quality of the returns was low, give a specific example or two (name, date, title) of a return that failed for you and give reasons why.

    Ok, I'm doing here exactly what I did in survey 2.12 and above in 4.6, but now I'm looking for what principles, what criteria they use when thinking about good returns to their serves.

    Since the students were in different groups, there is no one student who is consistently identified as having made the "best" return.  However, two students were cited twice as having made the best return by members of their group. 

    Here are some representative reasons indicating "why" the students liked the posts they picked as their favorite:

    1)  demonstrated that it caused a group member to re-think:

    • "___'s reply on the first post (9/15).  i liked it b/c he let me know that i allowed him to see something in a different light.  that's rewarding personally and i felt good for him b/c i always feel good when i can see something new."
    2)  triggered a change in own thinking:
    • "I liked ____'s on my 9/15, "too much,"post.  It made me change my opinion on what I had written.  I was thinking along the same lines as his post during my origional composition, but I guess it just took what he stated about the message Stowe was trying to send out and such that got me thinking more about it.  It's also a good return because he doesn't just offer his opinion and move on, he actually discusses for a considerable length."
    3)  added to the original idea:
    • "think I like _____'s return to my 9/17 serve "All Talk and No Action."  I liked this return because it addressed the idea that I presented but then he went on to elaborate and add hiw own ideas."
    • "I liked this return because ___ had some of the same views as me and brought up some new angles and ideas I hadn't thought of."
    4)  provided intelligent disagreement:
    • "I would have to say that I liked ____'s response to "Too Many Halos" on Sept. 14th.  Although he completely disagreed with my argument, he supported his point of view effectively and was confident in his argument.  I liked the way the post was worded; it was intelligent without being overly formal.  I also liked the way he concluded with a question, inviting further discussion."
    5)  provided addition to the original idea and intelligent disagreement:
    • "I thought that _____'s reply to my post was the 'best' for a few reasons.  The was positive in her response in saying that she also had similar thoughts to mine.  On the other hand, she also added to what I said and even offered a different viewpoint about the situation.  I think its important to be positive---but also evalute the information for being right/wrong or agree/disagree."

    A good menu of responses given the goal of the project.

    10)  Look at your returns.  What was going through your mind as you made your returns?  What were you conscious of?  What did you think your purpose was?

    As in survey 2.2 and 2.3 with serves, I was looking here for some idea of what's on student minds at the point of origin of this type of post.

    1) keeping the discussion going:

    • "I thought my purpose in responding was to add to the discussion and make it more like a discussion board rather than just a board where people are posting different ideas and opinions."
    • "I thought my purpose was mainly to keep the discussion going while adding a little of my own analysis."
    • "My main goal with the returns was to give a specific reply to the questions or points raised in the serve..."
    • "I wanted to bring the argument to a new level, not stop it in its tracks."
    • "I was thinking about what the author of the post was thinking and tried to add onto that thought- maybe bring a different angle into the picture or bring up another interesting point in accordance with the subject."
    • "I saw my purpose as twofold: 1. To demonstrate an understanding of the other poster's argument and 2. To provide feedback or to give my perspective on the issue. "
    2) stirring thought (which is also keeping the discussion going):
    • "trying to take something from each one to throw back at the person to make them think about something else (if that made any sense)."
    • "I also concentrated on not just simply agreeing with the serve, but challenging some of the assertions put forth.  It is difficult to gain meaningful insight into a situation if there is just agreement between parties."
    3) concern for audience reaction:
    • "i think i was conscious of not trying to start any fights."
    • "I simply wanted to respond honestly to my groupmates, while remaining respectful to their opinions."
    • "I also tried to be conscious of how people would react to what i was relaying."
    • "I was conscious of author's feelings and avoided outright vilification of his/her work."
    • "The main thought going through my mind was, 'how can I say what I want without upsetting the author?'"
    • "I also tried to convey my interest in other group member's ideas."
    4) no conscious reflection:
    • "I didn't really think about anything other than what the post read.  I basically just posted to post.  But hey, at least i'm honest."

    My mantra is that the "goal of writing on the discussion board is to keep the conversation going," so batches 1) and 2) above seem almost to ventriloquize that.  My message got through.  But what is 3) about, and how should I feel about it?  I hadn't expected what I call "concern for audience reaction."  Curiously, perhaps, my first response to seeing some of these comments was negative -- as if the students were being too tame.  Yet, a second response, slower to form, is that perhaps this is a positive consequence of my stress on the community nature of the course.  Students seemed conscious of not flaming, seemed conscious of the need for civil discourse.  I think I should feel good about this.  I guess my worry is about whether it acts as a premature dampener of opinion.  But, after all, they should be practicing a proper style of discussion, right?  Ha!  I'm having an interestingly gnarly reaction to this unexpected discovery.

    11)  Look at  your returns.  One of the "guidelines" is specifically applicable to returns: signing your post.  Did you sign your returns?

    Signing (and addressing) posts is a hobbyhorse of mine -- humanizing the virtual space and forcing a recognition of audience.  So basically this question was just a wake-up call.

    Only three students said that they signed all (or most) of their posts.  Most of those who indicated that they DID NOT sign their posts claimed that they "forgot," but there were a couple of other interesting replies:
    • "I did not sign my posts within my group.  Though i see how it makes a post and reply more personal i feel the groups knew who they were replying to.  Also I feel that this is an easy aspect to over look in the heat of a post."
    • "What does that mean!  It says my name there."
    • "no, but like i said, only because i thought the only point was to call yourself by the name you want others to call you by.  now that i think of it, signing your returns can also be looked at as getting more personable with them, and so i will from now on."
    • "What do you mean by signing the return?"

    12)  Look at your returns.  Pick 2 or 3 that are interesting to talk about for some reason.  Not necessarily your "best," but ones perhaps that represent a variety of situations that returners face.  One may have been easy for you to do, and your return was immediate.  Another might have been hard for some reason because of the nature of the serve or the complexity of the topic, requiring a lot of thought about an appropriate response.  In one you might have felt you had to be diplomatic because you disagreed, in another supportive, and in yet another provocative, etc., etc..  Talk about 2 or 3 situations, and the nature and the strategies of your returns in them.  Please be specific, indicating the person to whom you are responding, the date, and the title of the post.

    Perhaps the title of this question should have been "Dealing with Difficult Posts" or some such!  I was primarily interested in trying to probe response situations that stood out in their minds, especially if they were problematic, especially if they were forced to pause and ponder about how to proceed.

    • "think my return on ______'s "Edna v Marie" was interesting because I sat thinking about it for a few moments- had I not thought of that correlation before."
    • "I felt that I made a strong argument by drawing from multiple sources.  I encorporated some of ____'s response for this post as well as the image brought up in class of Mr. Luther King.  This is a good example of making a response out of a whole bunch of information.  I had a lot of sources to pull from and I have only the class to thank for presenting me with such solid information."
    • "The first I replied to a member that questioned why we read the book.  Maybe this serve was out of frustration or truley didnt see the point, but I as well as the other members in the group gave this confused member a history lesson."
    • "One particularly difficult return to make was in response to ____'s 'starring...' on Sept. 18th.  I found it difficult to reply to a post that didn't really offer any arguments, point of view or questions for exploration.  I didn't really have much to say in response, hence the very brief response."
    • "My post was incited initially by his title.  I couldn't understand how someone could have read Uncle Tom's Cabin and not have realized why, as an American, we are still reading this book.  I tried to keep as calm as I could, but his comment seemed not stupid, but ignorant.  It still does.  I guess it stems from education."
    • "Replying to ___'s post "Everybody's dead!" on 9/18 was difficult.  I felt i wanted to reply but I just didnt know how.  I thought it was a good and relevant question but sometimes (well, a lot of the time), posters ask questions that I have never even thought of and it throws me off."
    • "I had trouble responding to ____'s post on 9/15 "The Birds" because I felt that she had made such a good point that it would be hard to follow up with a provocative return."

    This is a very interesting spread, but I wish I had been more direct in the question about citing "difficult posts" to see if that would stimulate more or different examples.  Students here pinpoint the "problems" of replying to an idea that blows you away, to an ignorant poster, and to a post devoid of content.  There must be others.  I think it would be helpful to provide a kind of typology of difficult posts with examples of the way responders tried to deal with them.

    13)  One problem with postings this week brought to my attention by three of you was absence or tardiness of group members from the discussion board, so that there were few or no interactions.  Was this a problem in your group?  If so, how do you feel about that?  If so, did you take any action to deal with the situation?  If so, what suggestions do you have about how to avoid such situations in the future?  If you can see yourself as part of that problem, how do you feel about that?

    What is my role in the community?  Is it to be the community "policeman" when necessary?  It's obvious that's what students expected.  But is that more the role in a "traditional" class setting than this community one?  I was reluctant immediately to be the policeman, figuring, very idealistically, that if students would face each other with their lack of responsibility that then we would be on the road to academic utopia -- students saying to each other, I need you to do your job!  Wheeeee!

    13 out of 17 students said that there were "problems," and most indicated that it was due to group members not posting or responding.  Here are some of the problems with posting and suggestions for improving or correcting the problem:

    • "I actually was looking forward to seeing what my other group members had to say I really feel that giving a direct response to someone helps you to challange not only the other persons beliefs and thoughts, but your own.  I really didn't feel that it was my place to tell people to post.  I know that we are all part of a community, but i didn't know most of the members in my group, which made taking action to deal with the situation very hard."
    • "The one suggestion I might have is to have everyone post by one class but then have them respond for the next class or the next day or something like that.  That might help the situation some, and would also help with replying to the people who post late."
    • "I felt that it was extremely rude of people not to post at a reasonable hour.  It's just inconsiderate.  I refuse to wake up at 6 am so that I have time to reply to late posters before my morning classes!  I was unsure of how to handle the situation though, so I didn't take any action to resolve it.  In the future, I would suggest setting a time when posts must be in, eg. 10:00 pm on the night before class, so that people will be forced into being considerate."
    • "In the future, I think it is best for group members to meet face to face in class and discuss their goals and assingments for the week BEFORE anybody posts."
    • "We weren't given too much direction about what our responsibilities were to the group, so I figured the professor should deal with these issues.  Traditionally, it isn't the student's responsibility to check up on their peers.  I made sure I was taking care of my responsibilities.  If one of the group's responsibilities is to make sure everyone is contributing, then I would make it a priority to follow up on group members."
    • "I just wish everyone could understand that the discussion board is the equivalent to a group project and realize that if they don't do their part, the project will never be complete."
    • "I feel that it isn't my place to tell someone else to do their work.  I guess I just felt a little uncomfortable in that position.  I really don't know what the solution to this problem is but if you don't want to participate in discussion you should probably drop the discussion class."
    • "We had 2 or three that never posted at all, which was annoying.  For this reason, I don't think we should be restricted to groups.  We should have to reply to "X" amount of people, and all posters should have a reply, so if someone;s post does nor have one, last posters should try to fulfill that in making their amount of replies.  I wanted to reply to others outside of my group but I didnlt becasue I didn't think we were supposed to."

    The responses here are quite interesting.  You can see the frustration when others don't fulfill the community contract.  You can see uncertainty from being in a quite unfamiliar situation that they have not been prepared for.  And you can see practical solutions aborning.  Now, I finally did lower the hammer on four students, lubricating their departure from the course.  But I really don't want to be in that role and see the absolute necessity for some time guidelines about posting (this might be tough) and for preparing students to take on the policeman role in ways appropriate to their status.  Lack of cooperation, lack of timely participation simply murders discussion board morale, and I've got to think more about now to handle slackers.  Booting them out should not be the answer ideally -- converting them into active members should be the goal.

    14)  How about the relation between class discussion and the discussion board?  Are you aware that any of your serves or returns were related to class discussion?  If so, please be specific.  If not, why do you think there was no relation?

    I got into this project more from the standpoint of online classes in which the discussion board IS the classroom.  And then I assumed that I would "lecture" during class time to this face-to-face class, leaving the discussion board a separate space.  But I didn't lecture, but ran a kind of controlled discussion.  So when there is discussion in the classroom, what is the relation to this discussion outside the classroom?

    8 students said that there was a definite relation between class discussion and posts made to the blackboard, and 9 students didn't see much (or any) relation. 

    1)  Here are some representative soundbites of those who DID see a relation:

    • "I think that I attemped to bring some of the issues we dicussed in the classroom to the discussion board and expand on them.  The discussion board was also a place of expansion on ideas."
    • "once i realized in class how important it was to use characters in the book to act as vehicles who could voice the sentiments of stowe, I was able to write a much better post than my first post on 9/14 called Marie Sucks, which got a lot of serves back."
    • "if something in class had been discussed and was not already tackled on the board, people seemed quick to add their reactions to what had been discussed in class.  Each class furthering posts, while the posts fuel the class.  I see this as the ultimate goal of the class and discusion board."
    • "i think there is a definite relationship, i hear people say in class all the time 'i posted about this' or 'someone posted about this' and i think that makes it easier to talk about things face to face because you're already prepared with what you're going to say."
    • "I usually brought up things in my posts that I had wanted to make mention of in class, but either didn't feel confident in bringing them up, or they were already mentioned."
    This is a wonderful spread of responses showing a healthy symbiosis between the two spaces.  One student says the two areas fuel each other, one finds the discussion board an outlet for bottled ideas, one finds prior writing lubricates face-to-face discussion, one expands on class discussion, one recognizes a higher quality post after class discussion -- wow!  A textbook array of positive reactions.

    2)  And here are some representative reponses from students who DID NOT see a relation between class discussion and the blackboard:
    • "The one thing I've noticed is that it is very difficult to come up with something new after discussing the book in class.  When I sit down to post, I feel as though I'm just going to be repeating what was already talked about earlier."
    • "I actually tried not to mention much of what I said on the discussion boards for fear of just being redundant, but a couple of times I noticed that subjects related to the discussion boards were brought up, either because people had similar opinions of the book or because they felt it would start conversation in class."
    • "I feel many people did not want to be repetitive with our discussions of the novel, so that discouraged a lot of relation of the posts in class."
    • "I didn't find too much to say on the discussion board that we discussed in class because we talked about it in class.  I tried to find new topics to post about."
    • "Not really because a lot of my posts are out in left field and no one brings it up in class."

    But the class is split -- half articulating the worry I had about repetition and redundancy.   What to do?

    15)  Is there anything else that you would like to comment on relative to the discussion board activity in this second unit?

    Here are the replies made by students who did have something further to offer:

    • "Maybe having a time that the serves are due and then a time that the responses are due to make sure that everyone posts to avoid having to go back again and again looking for a group member to post."
    • "Posting 3-4 times with something new got to be very hard.  It was hard to be original with the late posts.  I would rather not post, than to have to scrape, or bullshit my post."
    • "I think it would be better if each group had their own space to serve and reply.  It is difficult to find your group memebers serves in a list of 40 or so posts.  It would be much more organized and easire to post if the discussion boards were broken down into smaller groups."
    • "People aren't as involved and excited like they were in English 1 :-( They are slow to respond and it seems a lot more formal than what I am/was used to.  I think the posts really shouldn't be as thought as they are in some cases."
    • "I just think that at some point, we were trying too hard to think of new topics.  i really thought that there wasnt that much to respond to after a while.  so when it came to our 5eyes posts, it was ridiculous.  we were saying the saaammeee stuff we or someone else had already said, and many people agree with me.  for a plot based book with not too much symbolism, it was a hard book to post well to.  sorry."
    Good points here.  Again the time problem.  Questions about how much is too much -- at what point does quality suffer?  I was asking them to post double-digit times some weeks -- too much?  I was working off the main discussion board even tho they were in groups, and that was confusing.  Why didn't I have them in segregated groups for the sense of group cohesion?  It must have been like trying to find group members in a stadium.  And there's my nightmare fear -- that I have overformalized a space whose excitement comes from it being open!