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

I must admit that I like the idea of the "five eyes" and that I like the tiered organization of the response options.  There is in me a Wallace Stevensian "rage for order."  Organizing is aphrodisiac for me!  But, ironically, there is also in me a distrust for systems and an Emersonian trust in spontaneity.  I "fly by the seat of my pants" a lot.

So I further admit some conflict over my own project.  Is my approach too structured?  Is there too much organization?  Am I killing spontaneity?  Am I micro-managing?  Am I rationalizing a space that should be characterized by emotion and instinct?

My inner conflict was fueled throughout the course by a small but steady drumbeat of student commentary like the following:
  • "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."
  • "If people were interested in finding out information for their own use, such as a hobby, they wouldn't need coaching to understand how to communicate.  I've been on many discussion boards outside of school, such as one for motorcycles.  If I had a question or comment, I could post something and get responses. Nobody was concerned with enhancing the conversation or keeping it going.  If they had something to add they did, and if they didn't, they didn't.  I feel like if people were really interested in the books and the topics explored on the discussion boards they wouldn't need all theses rules and guidelines.  I think the quality of the communication ultimately comes down to how much people want to talk about the subjects.  If two people are interested in something they won't need to consciously focus on keeping the conversation going, it will happen because they want to keep talking about it.  I think the discussion board is becoming rigid and artificial.  The point isn't to exchange ideas and further our knowledge anymore, it is to post three times a week with each post consisting of 150-200 words.  It is just about fulfilling requirements.  We are required to talk about something whether we feel strongly about it or not.  This probably sounds more critical than it is intended to, but I thiknk part of the problem with the discussion board is that people aren't talking because they want to; they are talking because they have to.  It becomes an art to keep talking about something that you dont want to."
  • "I think the fact there is an artificial, predetermined number of times we are required to post comprimises the honesty of the posts.  People aren't talking and saying things because they want to; they are posting becuase they have to regardless of whether they have something to add to the conversation or not.  It should be up to the group to determine how long the posts should be."
But, complicating the issue even further, these (few and occasional but persistent) comments came from two of the best posters in the class.  What am I to think of that?  That they are beset by inner demons as I am???

In any event, one productive change to address this worry would be the addition of an open space in the content area somewhat similar to the way that Talk Radio functions in the extra-curricular area.  Thus, while "forcing" students to hew to the requirements of my system in one place, there would be another space without such restriction -- a freer, more flexible space, yet still one devoted to serious discussion of content.