“Totally agree with you,” “I loved what you said about…,” “I really liked the point you made,” ––if you or a loved one has used any of these openers recently in a Simmons class, you may be entitled to compensation. Well, maybe not compensation, but it probably means you’ve fallen victim to 2U’s dreadfully mandated discussion post replies.
According to 2U, group discussions, (also known as forums) are “areas of the discussion board where participants discuss a topic or a group of related topics. Within each forum, users can create multiple threads.” Typically, professors provide an expectation on word count in advance, and a topic or question to pique inspiration. No complaints here. In fact, I don’t mind writing the posts at all, in a way they help me remember and summarize the material I’ve learned over a week.
It’s the replies to said discussion posts that really do me in.
For most of us, the contribution requirement is two different replies to others’ posts, but even that feels unnecessary. The art of replying to a discussion post is unnatural from the start. Regardless of whether you open with a “Hey [insert name]!”; “Loved this!”; or a “Thanks for sharing!” (yes it always has to include an exclamation point, I don’t make the rules)––it’s never the way one would actually communicate with their peers in an in-person class. Imagine turning to the desk to your right to respond to a classmate two years ago with that much enthusiasm. Not so accurate, right?
Then there’s the actual meat of the reply, the why factor. Much like the openers, these seldom feel anything but sugar-coated and forced. There’s a superficial tone of agreement that feels almost customary while writing out your response, as if you couldn’t possibly find anything wrong with what you just read. My responses always feel like regurgitated paraphrasings of what the student originally wrote which feels counterintuitive seeing as the whole point of them is to “construct conversations.”
So why have we all fallen in-line to this unspoken ordinance? Why have we suddenly become fluent in the saccharine language of 2U’s comment section? Perhaps we’re afraid of dissent and upsetting those around us, but what’s more likely the cause? We’re simply too exhausted from other school assignments to take the time to truly speak our minds.
I get that 2U is just trying to generate student engagement and Simmons merely wants to emulate the in-class conversations that used to happen naturally, but replying to discussion posts doesn’t feel like the best fill-in solution. Discussion posts alone should be sufficient enough for weekly written contributions, let’s leave the responses for face-to-face chats.