Electronic Discussion Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
I plan to set up an electronic discussion forum for this course to supplement what we do in class. This will take the form of an email subscription list. Once I have all your names and email addresses, I will subscribe you myself. You'll receive a piece of email from the software that runs the list confirming that you have been subscribed. Once you receive that email, you have been "activated" and can start to post messages.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is this Mailman guy?
- Mailman is the name of the software that runs the list. You will get email from Mailman to confirm that you've been signed up.
How do I send a message to the list?
- All you need to know is the name of the email list for this course. For example, the list for my Kant course is called kant. I'll tell you the name of our mailing list in class. You'll also see it on the course home-page and in the sign-up confirmation message you'll receive from Mailman. I'll use kant in all the examples below.
- To send a message to the list, simply send email to kant or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your message will be delivered to all the current subscribers to the list.
- Another way to send a message to the list is to "reply" to a message that came from the list.
- Our list is unmoderated, which means that your contributions need not be approved by the list-owner (me) before they are posted. Some lists are moderated in order to exclude spam (commercial email and advertisements), flames (abuse and insult), and other irrelevant postings. If these become a problem for us, let's talk about it. I can moderate the list if need be.
What if I want to reply only to the author of a message, and not to the whole list?
- When you hit "reply" on your email software, the "To:" field will automatically be filled in with kant. Simply edit that field and change it to the person or persons you want to receive your reply.
How can I get off the mailing list?
- To unsubscribe, fill out the form at http://www.earlham.edu/mailman/listinfo/kant. (Remember to replace the "kant" at the end of this URL with the name of the relevant email list.)
- Having said this, I'd like you to remain subscribed to the list during the semester. I consider electronic discussion part of our coursework. If the high volume of messages is troublesome, we can talk about that in class or by email over the list. Once the semester is over, you should feel free to unsubscribe. By then, however, messages from the list should taper off to nearly zero.
- Feel free to unsubscribe yourself once the semester ends. I can automatically unsubscribe everyone at the end of the semester, but I haven't decided whether this is wise. Shouldn't good discussions be allowed to continue indefinitely? If you have thoughts on this question, let me know.
Is participation in electronic discussion mandatory?
- Remaining subscribed to the list during the semester is mandatory. If the syllabus does not make participation in electronic discussion part of the grade, then sending, reading, and replying to messages is optional. However, in some of my courses, electronic discussion is an expectation on a par with class discussion. If the syllabus doesn't make clear which sort of course this is, please just ask.
Why isn't class discussion good enough?
- Class discussion is indispensable. I don't want electronic discusison to replace it but to supplement it. I think we'll find that electronic discussion also deepens class discussion.
- Face-to-face discussion has many clear and important advantages over electronic discussion. But the reverse is true as well. Here are some of the advantages of electronic discussion.
- You have time to compose and revise your contributions and responses. You have time to find the right words, to find the right arguments, to find the right pages in the text. You have time to think. You have time to finish your thought before you are interrupted. You have time to make a long point.
- You don't have to wait your turn to contribute or reply.
- You can continue a good discussion for as long as you like. This applies to discussions that start in class as well as those that start on the email list. There's no time limit to frustrate those who still have something to say.
- You can reply to a previous point no matter how long ago it was made. Have you ever thought of the perfect reply to a class comment or question 12 hours later? In class, it doesn't matter whether you're three weeks late, or three seconds. Once the discussion veers off in another direction, you can't easily continue on a previous topic. Online, all course-related topics are simultaneously and continuously "alive".
- You can contribute electronically even if the class is a little too large or intimidating for you to speak comfortably. It doesn't matter whether you are shy. It doesn't matter whether your class-mates are rude or simply numerous. Writing email is easier than speaking in public.
- You can start your own discussion thread by asking a new question, no matter how many other threads are already going. You can make sure that the topics dear to you get a hearing.
- No person or group can monopolize the discussion in such a way that you can't get your contribution in. Quick responses, loud voices, and dismissive faces are no advantage to those who use them and no barrier to the rest of us.
- You can follow the discussion and make your contribution at 3:00 a.m. if you like. You can ask questions when they occur to you. Nobody has to know you're in your pajamas.
- You can tune in when you have time and tune out when you don't, and still miss nothing.
- You can save any messages you like. They are ordinary pieces of email which you can copy, print, forward, archive, cut and paste, and delete.
- You can reread a saved message until you see its point or understand its argument. You can reread a series of messages on the same point.
- You can send out information which is very difficult or impossible to convey orally in class, such as a web address, a postal address, a bibligraphic citation, a lengthy quotation, a large number, a list of nearly anything, or a file attachment such as a document or piece of software. Sending out a web address (URL) is a very handy way to share a relevant news story or piece of scholarship with the rest of the class.
- You can follow at least this form of class discussion even if you are sick for a few days and unable to attend class.
If you send me a private email containing a question about the course, then I will assume that others in the class have the same question or could at least benefit from the answer. So unless you instruct me otherwise, I will feel free to delete all signs of your identity and post your question with my answer to the class email list. I'm not promising to deal with all email questions in these ways, just reserving the right to do so. (This does not at all foreclose the possibility of private talks in my office or private email discussion about the course.)
Are there any ground-rules for electronic discussion?
- Yes, but they're the same as the ground rules for in-class discussion. Preserve civility. Criticize positions and arguments, not people. Stick to the subjects within the scope of our course, broadly construed.
Can my friends participate if they are not enrolled in the course?
- Your friends cannot send or read messages without subscribing to the list. But they can subscribe by filling out the form at http://www.earlham.edu/mailman/listinfo/kant. (Remember to replace the "kant" at the end of this URL with the name of the relevant email list.)
- I can also sign-up anyone and give them the same list privileges as the members of the class.
- This means that our class discussion list is open to the public. Remember this when deciding how many shortcuts with literacy to take in your postings.
- So the good news is that your friends (parents, philosophers from elsewhere) can participate. The bad news is that spammers, pornographers, and cranks can do so as well. As the list-owner, I can remove anyone from the list who sends spam, flames, or irrelevant messages, and I will not hesitate to do so. I can also close the list to all but the members of our class. Finally, I can convert the list from an unmoderated one to a moderated one, although I would only do so as a last resort.
What other information can I get from Mailman?
- You can see the current list of subscribers, and an archive of all past messages, at the list website, http://www.earlham.edu/mailman/listinfo/kant. (Remember to replace the "kant" at the end of this URL with the name of the relevant email list.)
Department of Philosophy,
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374, U.S.A.
email@example.com. Copyright © 1998-2002, Peter Suber.