The Backstory: Discovering Community1
I can still remember the exhilaration with which in 1997 (before Blackboard and WebCT) I approached my first discussion board as part of the Lehigh English Department’s participation in the groundbreaking Epiphany Project. I had long used such methods as “reaction cards” to engage student involvement, so the move to discussion boards was a natural evolution. But evolution to what? Today the discussion board signifies class community for me. But that was not overtly so in the beginning. Influenced greatly by a seminal College English article by Marilyn Cooper and Cindy Selfe (I had attended Selfe’s Computers in the Writing-Intensive Classroom workshop at Michigan Tech in 1996), my statement of goals for the Epiphany project discussion board had a “radical” tinge to it, with rather stentorian claims about a free space for students and liberation from the teacher’s agenda or ideas. But that approach was a mistake. It led to using the discussion board as a bulletin board (I am tempted to say soap box) on which students posted individual, discrete messages that others were supposed to read but, by and large, didn’t, at least with much palpable impact. There was no “epiphany” that I can remember, just a gradual awareness over time as VKP approached that there was no meaningful “discussion” on my discussion board and that, without interaction, I was not fully tapping the potential of the new technology.
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