One of the most important factions of the Poetry in America Staff is our Teaching Team: graduate students in the Harvard English Department and at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who, in their their hours between writing, researching, and teaching on campus, shape and moderate the discussion forums of our online Poetry in America courses.
Read below to hear from a member of our Teaching Team consider the challenges surrounding the creation of meaningful discussions in an online environment.
Online learning can also feel like jumping into the abyss: you stare into your screen, fingers poised at the comment box, wondering: is anyone there?”
Teaching poetry online is often exhilarating: knowing that thousands of people across the globe could, at any moment, be poring over the same Dickinson stanza or Millay phrase is a dizzying and wonderful prospect. Online learning can also feel like jumping into the abyss: you stare into your screen, fingers poised at the comment box, wondering: is anyone there?
Creating a meaningful discussion in a classroom poses its own set of difficulties; designing a discussion forum that creates a community online multiplies the face-to-face problems tenfold. We’re constantly asking ourselves: How do you get people to listen to each other online?
This million-dollar question has lots of sub-questions and sub-sub-questions. To name a few:
–How do we write engaging prompts? How do we phrase questions in an inviting way that’s neither intimidating nor patronizing? We’ve tried writing shorter prompts as well as multi-tiered questions, both of which have been met with varying degrees of success. We’ve also had strong responses to creative prompts.
–How do we develop smaller communities within the massive ocean that is the internet? How well do themed threads (“Lifelong Learners,” e.g.) work? Do people respond more actively when they choose their sub-groups? Do people connect when they’re randomly placed in threads? Should offline communities be fostered, and if so, how?
–How do people get a back-and-forth conversation going? How much should moderators leap in and help guide the discussion? How can we get discussions to form organically among peers?
–What’s the best platform for discussion forums? How can we use multimedia forums to our advantage?
As more and more people join the conversation, we look forward to continuing this experiment, and as we begin to answer these issues, we’ll learn what questions are still out there that we haven’t even thought to ask yet.