Principles for Effective Discussion

In all your interactions in these courses, I assume two things:

First, that you understand and are fully committed to practicing what our Lord teaches, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn 13:35)

Second, that you are pursuing the truth.  We are not trying to know who is right but what is right.  There’s a difference.  I assume from the outset that you understand this.

Here are some other strictures to bear in mind:
1. Do not respond hastily. Think and pray before you respond.  “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Prov 29:20)  Especially if you are feeling passionate about a certain issue or argument, pause and reflect before you hit the “submit” button.  You cannot unring a bell; neither can you pull back a post once it has been submitted.
2. Be brief: You want to be clear—and to articulate your point without being pompous. Be direct. Stay on topic. Don’t lose yourself, or your readers, in overly wordy sentences or paragraphs.
3. Observe the ninth command by presenting the arguments of others in the best light possible (recall assumption #2 above).  If necessary, repeat an argument in your own words and ask if you have understand it correctly.  Remember the words of Q144 of the LC,

The duties required in the ninth commandment are… a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocence; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report

4. Respect the opinions of others by doing the following:

  • When you need to disagree, do so respectfully all the while acknowledging the valid points in what others are saying.  When you need to point out inconsistencies, do so “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
  • Do not write anything that sounds angry or sarcastic.  “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (James 1:19).
  • Never speak as if you are glad at the misfortune of another.  Again, see Q144 in #3 above.
  • In as far as you can, avoid language that you know is going to be offensive.  Our student body is extremely diverse; be aware of these cultural sensitivities.  “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18)  On the other hand, do not be quick to take offense.  Very rarely does anyone here intentionally try to insult you with their speech.  Even if you are offended, be mature about this, let it pass, and move on; “charity is not easily provoked” (1Cor. 13:5).
  • Don’t pretend to know the motives of others and certainly don’t attack their motives.  Your task is not to analyze the person but the argument.  We are not trying to know who is right but what is right.
  • Be patient with others who simply don’t or won’t grasp the truth.  God works in his own time.

5. Do not do “drive-by postings“; i.e. assertions which are not supported by any argument.  If you make an assertion, give the supporting reasons or evidence.
6. Treat these posts like your other writing assignments.  That means proper grammar and writing style are expected.

Further instructions about the logistics of these discussions:

  1. Do be aware that many of these discussions (not all) require you not only to submit an initial post but also to reply to the posts of other students. You will always know when this is required by looking at the requirements for each discussion.  You will find these requirements inside each discussion as shown in the image or here.  If “Average reply grade” is listed as part of your grade, then you know a reply is required.
  2. If a reply is required, then know that you must use the reply button to make this reply.  You can see the reply button here.  This is how Populi knows that you have responded to another student.
  3. The best way to reply to another student is as follows.  First, be sure you use the reply button as stated before in #2.  Then find something in the other student’s post to which you would like to respond.  Begin your reply post by identifying this point.  You might say something like, “You noted in your post that…” or “Good point when you stated…” or “I liked your point about…”.  Then, once you’ve made this opening comment, critique the point you highlighted or develop it further.  Explain the reasons for your agreement or disagreement or how your fellow student’s point could be taken in a different direction.  Bring up ministry situations in which you think these truths would have a beneficial or detrimental effect.  Yes, this means you can share anecdotes from your own experience.  You are strongly encouraged to contextualize whatever it is you learned to your own cultural context.
  4. Each discussion assignment has the due date printed directly beneath it. See here.  Late posts are permitted but are graded one point lower; from a 4/4 to a 3/4.
  5. One week after this due date, the forum closes, and no further posts are allowed.  If you fail to make a post before this date, your grade is a zero.  There are no exceptions to this.


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