Why do we post responses to readings on discussion boards?

This is a question that I have been asked quite often over the years.  There are many reasons that I ask you guys to complete postings this way:
  • You are asked to read and discuss the types of essays that you will later have to write yourselves. After reading these, you should have a better idea of how to shape the content of your own paper in regard to the essay instructions provided. This is a great learning tool.  After reading an example essay, you should have a better idea of what "not to do" and what techniques are most desirable. In addition, this is also a way that I can ensure that everyone has read the essay without having to quiz you.
  • Another benefit is that everyone is required to participate, so online discussions of reading are often "richer" in regard to content.  Often in a classroom, for instance, many students are often too shy to share their ideas regarding a text; however, it seems to be much easier for them in a forum like this one.  As a result, you are exposed to more perspectives/opinions than you otherwise would have been in a traditional classroom setting.
  • Most importantly these postings give you a chance to develop your critical thinking skills and to practice your own writing as well.  When you are asked to complete a posting, you are always asked a very specific question about the reading which requires some analysis of that text on your part.  If you want to be a better writer, you must develop the ability to analyze the writing of others so that you can discern for yourself what is working in your own writing and what is not.  In addition, these postings are an opportunity to practice your own writing skills in a low pressure atmosphere without the "looming spectre" of a large grade.  Keep in mind that I do not deduct points for grammar, spelling, or mechanical errors in discussion board postings.  I'm much more interested in the content of what you have to say.
  • I understand that some students are often leary of sharing their work with other writers, but in order for us to "grow" as both writers and intellectuals we must set aside our fear of criticism, we must confront it,  and learn to bravely move forward through the learning process with one another by providing honest feedback to our writing partners both in our physical classroom and our virtual one (the online discussion boards).  The goal is not to be a "perfect writer" or to be the next William Shakespeare.  The goal is to learn to be mindful of our own writing techniques and voices so that we may gain the insight and understanding that allows us to identify our own strengths and weaknesses.  We all have something very precious that we may offer through our writing:  our hearts and minds.  We cannot share this gift, however, if we do not learn to overcome our fears of negative criticism and develop our ability to communicate through the use of the written word.