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Getting the Most Out of the Discussion Board

Writing your own posts

Titles:

The trick here seems to be "short and catchy".  There's an old advertising maxim that nobody ever reads more than 5 words (of an ad, not Homer, please), and that seems to work for our discussion board. Posts with long complex titles often die unnoticed, unless the first two or three words have something interesting in them, and titles like "Discussion Question 5" generally don't seem to get read at all, which may be a great pity, especially if you've spent time and effort thinking out a really neat answer.  On the other hand, if your title's too 'cute' perhaps people won't understand it, and may pass on to something more straightforward.  If you're writing about Odysseus as a bridegroom, then perhaps the best title is simply "Odysseus the Bridegroom".  "Observations on Possible Matrilocal Arrangements in the Courtship Ritual of Odysseus and Penelope" may not fly.  Equally, "The Bridegroom Husband" may be cute, but doesn't really tell people what's inside the package.

Content:

There seems to be one principle above all - ask questions! Some of us are shy, or may be embarrassed to ask something that we think others might already know, but we're all equal on the discussion board and with luck somebody out there knows the answer, or at least has ideas about it. If we ask questions, we learn, and that's what we're here for. If we don't ask, perhaps we'll never learn, which would be a pity. And remember, nobody, but nobody, knows all the answers (not even Prof. Nagy!). If they did, then we could just read the expert's book, put it aside, and forget about it, but in a subject like this, there are always more questions lurking just round the corner, waiting, begging, to be asked.

Posts that simply give information often don't do very well. They may get a few +1s, but no discussion develops. That's because there isn't really much to talk about. Open ended posts are better.

Posts that just give an opinion are double-edged swords. They may open up an interesting line of thought, but it's hard to talk about things when all you've got is an abstract idea. It's really easy to avoid being abstract - just include a line or two of the text that prompted the thought in the first place, so people will know what you're on about.

So the best posts of all are the ones that

  • ask a question, and
  • give concrete examples or, best of all,
  • give verbatim quotations from the actual texts.

Where to post

  • If you're posting an answer to the "Discussion Question" at the end of the Annotation Exercise, then click the New Post button at the bottom of the screen. If you do that, your post will automatically be categorized as a response to that Hour's Discussion Question.

    Incidentally, if you're posting an answer to the Discussion Question at the end of the Annotation Exercise, there may be a really strong temptation to just answer the question and get on to the next hour. Perhaps that's not the best choice, though. There's a reason why it's called a "DISCUSSION QUESTION" (in capital letters). It's so you can discuss. And on the exercise, there's a rather unexciting looking grey link at the bottom of the page "Show discussion".  Once you've posted your answer, it's a really good idea to click this link, to see what other people have said, and maybe reply to some of the comments. Reading other people's reactions to the Discussion Questions can result in significant learning experiences.

  • If your post is about an answer to a question, or a 'red X' that perhaps should have been a green check mark, please respect people who haven't yet done the exercise, and post your comments in the thread for open discussion of the answers.
  • If somebody else has already posted on the same subject, you might want to consider posting a reply on the existing thread.
  • If you're posting almost anything else, the easy way to create a new thread is to click the "New Post" button which you can see at the top of every page of the discussion board.  When you do this, a spinner appears on the left giving you the option to choose a forum. Not everything has to be posted in the “General” forum, so if your post is relevant to one of the topics in the menu on the left, it may do better there.

Other people's posts

Here are a few things you might ask yourself about other people's posts when you read them.

  • Did they ask a question? If so, do you have an idea what the answer might be? If so, we hope we hardly need tell you what to do.
  • Did their question or idea prompt another thought for you? If so, put it up in a reply. The chances are that somebody will be interested, not least the person who originally posted.
  • Did you simply like the idea? You can click the '+1' button, but you might just want to say so, using words as well, rather than just clicking!
  • Did the post make you think of a line in the Sourcebook, or in H24H? You could just quote it with maybe a few words to explain why you think the quotation's relevant. Occasionally you needn't even comment - the best answer for a question about Homer may just be a quote from Homer. The rhapsode, Ion always seems to have answered questions with quotations. It worked for him, so it may work for us.

Following and Replying to Posts

If you reply to a post, or even if you don't, but think it might be worth checking back later, then you can click the star in the top right hand corner. 

Now, if you click on the "Posts I'm following" option, it will be included along with your own posts, and you can check whether it's doing anything. Perhaps there's a reply to the comment you wrote, or somebody else may have come up with something else worth reading. Some posts develop several different threads of thoughts, and often these are the really valuable ones, because now they've got more than one idea going on, so with a bit of luck 'synthesis' takes place, which is when two thoughts merge and produce a new one.

If you don't mark a post, there's a good chance you'll never find it later, and if your “Posts I'm Following” list becomes too cluttered, you can always go through it every week or two and delete posts that no longer interest you, so if in doubt, mark it.

If you really liked a post, and think it's special, then there's a "New and Notable" thread pinned so it's always near the top of the list. Go there, and tell us all what it is, and perhaps what you found special about it.

Finding Replies

There are sometimes posts that get put on the discussion board, and are then left alone.  Try this: At the top of the left hand menu, click where it says "Show all discussions".

 

A menu will come up (though if you have a connection like mine, you may have time to make a cup of tea while you wait!), and the third item from the top will read "* Posts I'm following". Now you will see a list with the titles of all the posts you are following. There are two little numbers to the right of each title. If they're grey, your post hasn't had any new answers, but if the right hand one is blue, then somebody has put a comment there, or an answer, or asked another question. So now you've got a dialogue going, and you should check and see what your dialogic partner is saying.

Formatting Posts

Most of us don't really mind very much if your posts don't look good, but still, it's nice to make it look presentable, and if that makes it easier to read, you may get more responses, so here are a few tips.

  • Check out the bar at the top of the typing area. You can click the various buttons to get most of the formatting options.
  • Bold and Italic.  Select the text you want bold, and click either “B” or “I” on the top bar.  You can also use keyboard shortcuts Ctrl-B and Ctrl-I, or you can type directly in by putting in asterisks, like this:
    • **Bold** will read as Bold
    • *Italic* will read as Italic
    • ***Bold Italic*** will read as Bold Italic
  • Creating a hyperlink (3rd button, icon of the world), or press Ctrl-L.  Click the icon, and fill in  the URL in the box which pops up.  Be sure not to end up with “http://” twice!  Click OK, and then type over the text “enter link description here” which appears in the typing box.   To make a link to http://www.google.com and display it as “Google search” in the post
    • Click the world icon
    • Delete http:// in the box that appears.
    • Type (or copy/paste) in http://google.com and press enter or click OK.
    • Replace the words “enter link description here” with “Google search”.  Your post preview should now show “Google search” in blue, and if you look at the bottom of your typing area, you will see the URL.  Be sure not to delete this!
  • Blockquotes.  You can insert a block of quoted text by pressing the quotation mark icon 4th from the left, or pressing Ctrl-Q, but it is actually easier to begin by typing > at the beginning of the line where you want the block quote to begin.  You can even double indent by pressing >> at the beginning of the line.  If you are quoting poetry, and want to get a new line without space between lines, they you can put two spaces at the end of the line.  The next line will appear on a new line, but without line spaces.
  • Code sample.  Ignore this unless you want to insert computer code!
  • Image (Icon of a computer screen, or Ctrl-G).  A box will pop up.  If your image is online (e.g. you have an address at Flickr.com or elsewhere on the web), then enter the URL just like the hyperlink button above., and press OK.  If the image is on your computer, then press the button “Browse” and select the right file.  You will return to the entry box on your browser, and the name of your file will appear to the right of the Browse button, but you must wait until the URL box fills in automatically with an address beginning https://edxuploads.s3.amazonaws.com, followed by a long number. Then press OK.
  • The next two buttons allow you to create numbered or bulleted lists.  In fact, you can do this by simply typing 1. 2. 3. on new lines, and typing.  The options are quite limited. Don't try to create multi-level lists, or you'll get in trouble, and numbering can get messed up if you try to do anything fancy. Keep it simple, and if you want the full details of what you can do, check out the full Markdown syntax (details below).
  • There are two more buttons which allow you to create large headings and horizontal rules.  Try them out.  They're very simple.
  • The last two buttons, Undo and Redo, are also obvious, and in fact you can undo with Ctrl-Z, and redo with Ctrl-Shift-Z.
  • If you want to find out all the possibilities, there's a complete description of the Markdown language on the Daring Fireball website.

One Last Tip

If you are composing a lengthy post to a Discussion Thread, there's always a risk of clicking something by mistake, and losing the whole post before it's been submitted. Write it all out and edit it in a text window or word processor, and then paste it into the Discussion Board when it's finished.