English 320:  The Short Story
Lyman Baker, Instructor
Guidelines & Tips for Using the Message Board

The Threaded Message Board built into K-State Online offers you and me the ability to post comments and carry on discussions in asynchronous (not at the same time) mode.  The term thread in the phrase "threaded message board" means a topic or subject.  Each new topic can have its own thread.  Then all replies and discussion about that thread or topic stay together and do not get mixed up with another discussion.  This is similar to a listserv, but instead of every message sent coming to your e-mail in-box, messages get posted to a board and organized so everyone can read and reply to the various threads.

You are expected to access the Message Board several times a week.  A major (!) factor in your grade in this course is your active participation in class discussion via the Threaded Message Board.  

Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions.


Q-1.   I can't think of anything to say.  How are we supposed to come up with stuff that goes on the message boards? 

Answer:  Here are 4 ways to do the called-for job.

  1. Formulate a thoughtful question about the scope or application of one of the critical concepts we find ourselves dealing with in the course of the semester.  The key here is that your question has to be specific.



  2. Spell out something that you find puzzling about one of the stories we are taking up.  Notice that phrase "spell out":  you have to be specific.



    1. But here is an example of a thoughtful contribution that advances the discussion by enlisting our curiosity along some definite line:  "It's clear that the situation in Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily' has to do with profound social changes in the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War, and that an important aspect of these changes is the impact of industrialization on a rural world.  But is the theme of this story centrally concerned with the topic of 'industrialization'?  (If so, what is Faulkner apparently trying to suggest about this process?)  Or should we be looking elsewhere for the thematic heart of this story?  (If so, where?  And how so?) 


  3. And of course still another way to make a useful contribution is to post a comment to someone else's statement/question/speculation that you find there.  Again:  the key is to be specific!


    1. Unhelpful, as a response to the previous question:  "I think industrialization is central to the theme of the story."  Equally unhelpful:  "I think we should be looking elsewhere."


    1. Helpful:  "It's true that Faulkner doesn't seem to be concerned to condemn industrialization, any more than he is out to serve as a cheerleader for it.  It would be equally off the mark to say that 'A Rose for Emily' is designed to prompt us to draw up a balance sheet of pros and cons about modernization in general or industrialization in particular.  Rather, the heart of the story has importantly to do with how our sympathies extend to Miss Emily in her predicament as an member of an impoverished social class (the Southern agrarian aristocracy).  And it is true that the disaster, for Emily, is rooted in the destruction of the economic basis of its traditional social status (plantation agricultural, based upon slavery, now abolished).  So it might seem that the local encroachment of modern commerce and industry (gas stations, garages, machinery) are merely accidental after-effects of the fundamental cause of Emily's predicament.  But the mentality of people like Emily and her father must be particularly offended by the particular sort of social order that is creeping into the region from the alien North, based on commerce and industry.  After all, it is precisely this culture that was importantly responsible for the technological superiority underlying the Union's military might, and eventual victory.  Moreover, in the minds of people like the refined Miss Emily, "business" is something "grubby," and beneath the better folk like herself, accomplished in the parlor arts of piano and embroidery.  Finally, it's not accidental, but centrally ironic, that the only "eligible beau" for Emily turns out to be an engineer from the North that the town has to import to upgrade its streets, because there's no one locally available with the requisite skill.  This individual can make enough money to live a "respectable" life only by moving on to the next job, which must necessarily be somewhere else, where Emily's "distinguished" family history counts for nothing.  So the intrinsic nature of "modern industry" is inextricably involved in the situation that Emily is acting within.  "Modernization" is inseparable from the particular tragic (and comic) imperatives behind her fateful decisions."


    • Notice that this response offers 3 reasons for the thesis that "industrialization" is a subject that can't be easily detached from the story's overall center of gravity.  An answer featuring any one of them would be sufficient to earn full credit.
  4. You can always invite a classmate to clarify a statement or query that he or she has made.  But you must explain the unclarity that you experienced regarding the point you raise.  Here, too, then, the watchword is:  be specific!  Here is a series of helpful, credit-worthy contributions.  Notice how this process can lead us, progressively, to refine our understanding of what is going on.


    1. Consider this comment on a remark that was made in Sample Answer 3.b., above:  "How can Emily, or the Southern aristocracy in general, be regarded as antagonistic to 'business'?  After all, the cotton that produced their wealth did so only because it could be sold in quantity, and it could be sold in quantity only because it went to mills producing cloth, factories mass-producing clothing, and commercial distribution to mass markets.  Besides, slavery itself is nothing if not 'materialistic'!"  So who's "grubby" here?


    1. A response to this, in turn, might be:  "It's not the story, but Emily, who thinks of herself as "above" business.  What you point out is a limitation of her self-awareness.  A related irony is that she herself cannot escape dealing in "business" affairs.  We see this when, even though she pretends to be above any discussion about her tax obligations because of previous commitments on the part of the city by the former mayor (her social equal), she actually extracts a highly advantageous 'deal' -- an acknowledgment that she doesn't have to pay real estate taxes, under the pretense that they have already been acknowledged as 'paid'.  (In fact, she simply can't pay them, and if she were anyone else, she'd be forced to sell her property and move into more modest -- unacceptably ordinary -- quarters.)  She's actually a shrewd businesswoman when it comes right down to it."


    1. A response to this, in turn, might be:  "The deal she strikes when she bests the city council delegation is not really a business transaction but a political machination.  This is something the aristocracy has always been good at.  But the more general point you make is right on:  even though she likes to think of herself as "above" money matters, she's pretty good at being "grubby" about them when her survival is at stake!"

Q-2.   Do we get partial credit for answers that are at least partially correct? 

Answer:   We're not dealing here with "correctness."  The crucial matter is whether what you say shows you trying to make relevant connections.  

By all means, say what you think.  But be sure to give reasons, and strive to point out possible implications -- tie things together in ways that strike you as possibly relevant for the overall effect and meaning of the story as a whole.  

You should strive to be accurate, rational, on-the-mark in your conclusions.

But whether what you end up with in these discussions turns out to be well-reasoned or off-the-mark in my or someone else's judgment is irrelevant to whether your contribution deserves credit  for the purposes of the message-board component of your final course grade.  

Here what is important is whether what you say is 

specific enough at least potentially to advance the discussion (i.e., stimulate yours and other people's thinking)

on the issues relevant to the main focus of the course, namely, 

  • the way the stories we read function to make meaning, and 
  • the ways in which the critical concepts we take up are relevant for seeing how they do this. 

Here, by the way, are some examples of questions and comments that students are most welcome to ask, but which doesn't earn credit towards the final course grade because they are not about issues relevant to focus of the course:

These questions and questions are about what we call "administrative matters" -- highly relevant for various important reasons, but not bearing on the "issues of central concern to the course."

For these sorts of "administrative questions & comments" I've established a special message board, at the bottom of index of all message boards for the course, labeled OTHER MATTERS.

Q-3.   On the page on Grades, you talk about the need for "continuing and regular participation in discussions conducted over the Web".  What do you mean by "continuing and regular"? 

Answer:   Ideally this would mean that you contribute at least once a week every week, and twice a week for five of these (since there are 15 weeks in the course, and you are asked to put in 20 eligible remarks for the full 100 points possible on this element of the course).  But I'm not so strict.  Nevertheless, there will be some restraints.  

No more than 4 contributions submitted during the last week (dead week) will be eligible for credit towards the 20 responses necessary for full credit on the discussion board element of the course, and no more than 10 contributions posted during the last 2 weeks before final exam week will count.

I'm lax enough to allow you to post, say, half of your 20 questions and comments during the next-to-last week, but that's as far as I'm going to bend on the requirement that you show some regularity!

But really:  you should strive for something more constant and regular than just this bare minimum which, strictly considered, allows you to cram all of your contributions into the last 3 weeks of the course.  Doing this doesn't help you to reap the full benefit, even from the perspective of your most narrow private self-interest, from participation in this feature of the course.

Q-5.   Why is my participation in these discussion so important as to count for such a hefty percentage of my final course grade?  If the grades I get on the exams and out-of-class essays are indicative of my level of skill in the course, shouldn't I be awarded whatever my percentage on these elements indicates, whether or not I take part in discussions over the message board?

Answer:  A case could be made for doing things that way.  But there are good reasons for doing things the way I've set things up.

(1) Part of the purpose of the course is to get people used to discussing literature with other people.  This means actively attending to what other people are saying -- what they are trying to say, and what (sometimes) they end up saying that you figure they might not have meant to say.  It means figuring out what assumptions lie behind what someone else is saying, and thinking about whether those assumptions should be gone along with.  It means tracing out what the implications would be if what the other person is saying is true, deciding whether these implications are really borne out by the rest of what you know, and (if not) trying to decide how what was said might be revised to eliminate the problem.  It means struggling to formulate your own ideas clearly.  Doing these things better can only happen through practice.  But when we are not in the habit of practicing, we need external inducements to get ourselves to do it.  Hence the carrot/stick.

(2) Our out-of-class assignments and in-class exams overwhelmingly require you to express your ideas in writing, whether in essays, short essays, or short answers.  (You won't find matching, multiple choice, identification questions on the exams in this class.)  It stands to reason that students will tend to do better on assignments and exams to the degree that their thinking becomes more pointed and searching, and their writing skills are more honed.  The Message Board component of the course is where you get most of this practice.

(3) Just as you can get ideas from reflecting on what other students think about our readings, and about the concepts we bring to bear upon them, so others can help themselves to read more actively and deeply by reflecting on what you think.  For this to happen, people have to share their ideas with each other.

Think of it this way:  even a star basketball player has to show up for practice.  When she does, the other players benefit, and so does she.  When she doesn't, she's not holding up her end of the stick.  When the game comes, it makes a difference whether she starts, or ends up on the bench.  In our course, the Message Board (like the classroom) is where you show up for practice.

Q-5.   I find it confusing to find my way on the page that comes up when I click the "Message Board" button on the Navigation Bar.  There seem to be a whole number of message boards, not just one.  

Answer:  Yes, there are several message boards that you will have access to when you click the "Message Board" button on the navigation bar.  But this makes it easier for us to sort out things in the long run.  

There is a message board for each of the stories, or group of stories, you are invited to talk about.  

In addition, there is a special message board at the bottom for "administrative questions and comments" that do not relate specifically to the issues central to the course.  This is labeled "OTHER MATTERS".

For more on this special board, see the discussion above on administrative questions and comments.

Q-6.   It's also confusing when I come to the index page for any given message board.  Even when I've been there before, it's hard to find out what to look at that's new from last time I was there.  I don't want to re-read everything I've been through before.  Now can I be sure I've read the discussion thoroughly without wasting time wading through things I've been through on previous visits? 

Answer:   If you login from the same computer, the system will recognize you from before, and let you know which contributions you haven't read yet.  

But there are also some habits we can adopt that will make things a lot easier for all of us to find our way around more quickly.  The most important thing to keep in mind is that "Subject" descriptions are important.

For any message board to work to best advantage, you will want to give careful thought to the description you put in the "Subject" heading for your message.  Please don't start a new thread by just saying something like "another subject for discussion."  Try to come up with something informative for other people who will be scanning the message board on different occasions to decide what they want to read for the first time.  Shoot for something specific that they might recall to mind when they want in some later session to get back to for another look.

This is also important when you are replying to a message by someone else. By default, the program will supply the Subject line of the replied-to message as the Subject of your reply. But you should instead write in your own Subject description, which will give other readers an idea of the "special twist" of your own line of reply. After you've reviewed what you've composed, consider re-visiting the Subject line and deciding on the best clue to give someone scanning (or reviewing) the index as to what is in your particular message. The threading itself will take care of reminding the reviewer of what the subject is of the message to which you are replying.

Check in frequently!

The whole point of this message board is to enable greater participation in the course.  You should make a habit of checking the message board at least every couple of days to see what's new, and (let's hope) to consider replying to one or more messages.  From time to time, I as the instructor will post new questions for discussion. But students should feel free to open new lines of discussion on their own.

Remember:  your regular participation in Message Board discussions is responsible for a major portion of your final course grade.  It is important to be "engaging your mind" regularly here by thinking about what your classmates are thinking, and going through the process of trying to formulate your own thoughts on relevant issues.

Since you need to post 20 eligible contributions before the semester is over, you'd want ideally to shoot for at least one a week, and to make sure that in at least 5 weeks you intervened an additional time.

You don't have to do it this way, of course.  But you do want to take care to contribute regularly, and this means not to leave more than 5 for dead week or more than 10 for the last couple of weeks before finals week. 

Questions or Comments?

Additional help with the Discussion Boards

There is an excellent introductory tutorial to the Message Board feature at K-State On-line, called "Getting Started," at http://online.ksu.edu/shared/webVine/1.0/get_started.html.  You should definitely work through this if you haven't already done so.  (The first time you enter the Message Board area, the program gives you an opportunity to do this.  If you've already been through it, in another course [say], you can skip it.)

When you're ready to learn more about the message board, simply click on the "Help" button on the "Action Menu" of the Message Board itself.  A separate Web browser window with the online help information will open on top of your current browser window (so you can flip back and forth).  You'll be taken to links to

If you need assistance with the Message Board contact the K-State Online Help Desk at support@dce.ksu.edu or 1-800-865-6143.