Love It/Hate It: Discussion Posts

By Courtesy of Viacom/Nickelodeon

It’s the start of a new semester and you’re skimming through syllabi for potential courses. In your endless skimming, you come across the classic weekly discussion post as an assignment. Now, there are one of two thoughts that could be going through your mind: one, I have found the perfect class. This is it. Or two: Absolutely. Not. While it could be valid to think that discussion posts are a waste of time, there are many reasons to prove otherwise. Will you still be Team Hate It after reading the reasons to Love It?

Love It – Anna M. Peters

Whether the course is a concentration requirement or a Gened, discussion posts are, by far, one of the best grade boosters. Most of the time they are couple-hundred-word reflections on the readings. Does this mean that you will have to do the readings? Not at all. Choose a specific part of the reading and go on a little rant. Just think of it as your weekly rant or debrief to your friends, but with a different topic. Or, if you’ve already gotten your storytime for the week, just think of how to say “that’s a great point!” or “this was very insightful,” in 5-7 different ways to fill up the word count. Here are some starters: “I was surprised by this…”, “The concepts discussed in the readings pose an interesting perspective…”, etc. So many options.

Plus, it’s not actually thaaat deep. How many discussion post responses are you really reading yourself? Except for the few to get a feel for the general vibe or to provide a mandatory response to someone else’s, there probably aren’t many, if not zero. Many other people are most likely doing the same. Discussion posts are supposed to be pretty quick, so rest assured that no one will be spending their Sunday morning sipping on coffee closely reading through the thread of posts. Now, when you see a discussion post assignment, you should be filled with joy. Go write that post and get that A.

Hate It – Nicole T. Rozelman

Nobody agrees more than students writing a discussion post. While this may sound like a good thing, it doesn’t really facilitate the kind of critical discourse professors are hoping for. Expanding on Anna’s point (see how I said that without actually engaging with what she said), this assignment type usually feels more like busy work than an opportunity to show what you’ve learned. Writing one of these responses every week means you won’t have the energy to do anything beyond pulling a quote from the one reading you actually paid attention to and maybe ending with a broad, existential question if you're feeling extra. Although don’t expect for that question to ever be answered; it’s not like your classmates will even read it.

A lot of the time, that’s not their fault. In a 300-person Gen Ed, you can’t help that the interesting points will get lost in a barrage of Slack notifications that you quickly set to “do not disturb.” The interaction that professors are hoping to get out of discussion threads would be better facilitated in section, where students can speak to each other in small groups face-to-face (screen-to-screen?). Perhaps a more effective alternative to stringing together 250 words worth of transitions and buzz words would be preparing a few bullet points that you could potentially bring up in class on a shared section Google doc. This more focused and personal format would provide the same evidence of your engagement with the readings, and serve as an organized and productive jumping-off point for class.

To end my discussion, I agree with my classmates’ above points but would like to extend their thinking with the opinion that phasing out discussion posts would be an engaging and effective contribution to students’ academic experiences, as the readings supported. ;)

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