I forgot to wash my oversized coffee mug before leaving the office yesterday afternoon. The sight of the dried soup residue, that lined the inside of my mug, was disheartening. It was motivation enough for me too choose lunch at my favorite bakery (Chrissy Beanz) today; as opposed to expending the elbow grease necessary to scrub the grime out of the mug just then. I was destined for Corn Clam Chowder; it turns out it was an excellent choice. It was one of only two choices actually. It was the chowder or the Quiche, and there was only one serving left of each. Simple really, but that’s what I love about the place; its’ simple elegance. As I was enjoying my midday respite from the office, I stared into my bowl of chowder and contemplated the topic of this post.
I want to talk about discussions. When I use the word discussion here I’m not talking about mindless chit-chat about Snooki’s recent pregnancy; or Justin Bieber’s latest criminal escapade. I’m talking about the type of intellectual discussions that have traditionally shaped the culture of the great halls of academia. Discussions that enlighten minds, and embrace aspects of the soul; the kind that result in ideas that change the world.
I recall, from the days I spent attending brick and mortar schools, that class participation was typically factored into your overall grade for a course. I’m not sure how it is possible to grade such a subjective activity, because in a face to face (F2F) conversation there really is no way to reconstruct dialogue and evaluate it objectively in this manner. A traditional college student can benefit from this reality by having the ability to disappear into the crowd; therefore receiving credit from perhaps a place where none is due. This is not the case in an online classroom. Discussions are easily reconstructed, sorted, and evaluated for relevancy and frequency of a student’s post. In my experience, conversations taking place in an online learning environment are much more rigorous than any I’ve participated in F2F. In some ways they may lack the heated emotional debate that sometimes occurs in a traditional classroom (the most powerful of which I witnessed studying criminal law with Central Texas College), but they make up for that with attention to detail. Off handed comments are recognized for what they frequently are (opinion, and guesswork); facts are not trusted to the speaker, they instead are to be appropriately cited (as you would any other academic paper). This also means that if the participants do not have a prerequisite knowledge base to pull from to color their comments, the resulting conversation can easily become bruised; so lacking any true academic worth. I tend to believe there is a general movement taking place in this country that steers us away from the concept of knowing, and instead insist that it’s acceptable to know how to research a topic without acquiring a formative understanding of the subject. I am unabashedly opposed to this concept. Where it’s true that it’s frequently not necessary, and impractical, to thoroughly know a subject; it is essential to gain a general understanding of something in order to intelligently discuss it. If a conversation stumbles, in an academic environment, by fault of the participants being ill-read on a broad enough number of topics to adequately discuss (or evaluate) the subject matter-all the participants suffer. It can actually be demoralizing to those who are legitimately seeking comprehension. Translated to a professional context this type of poor discourse leads to stifled creativity, fractured communication, and poor decision-making.
Throughout my professional (and academic) career I have made it a point to be well read on a wide variety of subject matter. In my experience this habit has served me well in many forums where critical thought, and relevant discourse, are necessary components for success. I find the practice enables me to relate to any subject matter I’m exploring much more objectively. The information I glean from my studies, resonates contextually, within the harbors of my mind in a far more accessible manner. I believe this trait shapes me into a bona fide asset on any team.