What do you say when everything has already been said?
How do you contribute to a discussion when you don't understand the topic?
How might you indicate disagreement without upsetting everyone?
These are common concerns when engaging in online discussion. Some suggestions follow.
What to write when you don't know what to write
The question/s have already been answered, and there is nothing more to add. Everyone has covered the topic and I don't know what else to contribute. Help!
- Start by reading carefully through what others have said. If you open the Moodle discussion in two browser tabs, you can use one version for reading and scrolling, while you use the other tab/window to compose a thoughtful response - straight into Moodle by way of reply to the most recent post.
- While reading, consider others' points of views. Which comments teach you something new? Which do you agree with and why? Which resonate with your own experience or with something you have read?
- Write a response to some of these posts, in which you:...
- pick up on the earlier points made by peers, and provide feedback
- thank them for teaching you something new
- ask questions to encourage peers to add to their original posts
- indicate agreement and provide further supporting evidence
- relate relevant stories from your experience, and/or refer others to a reading that relates to the topic.
- Move the discussion along. If everything has been said, what might come next? What new questions arise for you? What are you left wondering about as a result of reading the discussion and considering the topic?
- Step up to lead the discussion forward by posing new questions and directions that you consider relevant.
I don't understand the topic!
What are they on about?! How can I contribute to a discussion when I am really stuck and I simply don't get it?! Help!
- Use the discussion as a forum for asking for clarification. Be open about your confusion and ask others to help you understand.
Here are some things you can write:
I'm really unsure about this topic. Where should I start so that I can begin to understand?
What should I read to clarify this topic? What sources have others found useful and would recommend to me?
What does XYZ mean? Can anyone explain this to me as I am still unsure?
- Give your classmates and lecturer/s the opportunity to help you via the discussion. They may offer to meet with you outside of the online forum in order to help you too.
But I don't want to upset anyone by disagreeing with them...
...and what if I'm wrong? What if everyone disagrees with me?!
- Your perspective is valid. We study in order to learn and to enlarge our ways of seeing. We don't all see things the same way, and we don't have all the answers. It is OK to express doubt and difference.
- To avoid causing offense, you might soften your comments, as in the following examples:
I enjoyed reading John's perspective, however I see this issue differently...
The stories shared have been interesting but do not match my own experience...
Another way of looking at this is/could be...
From a different point of view...
Some might say that...
To play devil's advocate, it could be argued that ...
From my perspective ....
Do others see this differently? I'm curious about your perspectives too :-)
- If others disagree with you, avoid taking offence. It is not personal, and like you, peers are looking for ways to contribute their thinking to the discussion. Enjoy the debate, and learn from the discussion. Keep the tone polite, professional, and learning-focused at all times.