Conducting an on-line discussion during the semester enables us to expand our study of philosophy beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of traditional class meetings. If you've not participated in this way extensively before, it may take a little energy to get started, but you'll soon find this medium a comfortable one for communicating with the entire group. Early in the session, we'll get to know each other and learn to manage our networking tools effectiely.
Here are a few general ground rules for getting started on the electronic forum:
- Check the discussion space frequently
- Every member of the class will be contributing multiple messages each week—perhaps one or two substantive efforts and several short comments. This means that your list of messages will pile up pretty quickly. You'll want to read it daily, or at least several times a week, so that you have a chance to chime in on a subject before we move on to something else.
- Avoid lengthy quotes
- When responding to someone else's comments, don't quote the whole message—we've all seen it already. Just mention the person's name, the date of the message, and quote the few crucial lines that provide a context for what you want to say. (Some identification is a good idea, since we'll all be "speaking" at once.)
- Never be deliberately offensive
- Lacking the visual cues present in face-to-face communication, typed electronic messages can easily seem more harsh than they were intended to be. Even in the passion of a vigorous philosophical exchange, let's try to be considerate of each other on both sides—in writing and in reading—by assuming the best. No "flaming," please.
Remember that this substitute for the more traditional methods of discussion is still unfamiliar for some of us. That's no reason to be timid: let's plunge in, try everything we can think of, learn from our mistakes and from our successes, and enjoy the adventure.