October 29, 2007

Not all it’s Chalked up to be

Just about every student at the U of C uses Chalk for one reason or another. Whether it’s to find readings, feverishly check grades, or get the notes from a missed 9:30-a.m. lecture, the website can be a helpful academic tool. However, despite the site’s utility, Chalk’s discussion board, as currently employed, is useless at best and pedagogically lazy at worst.

Many instructors require that students post on the Chalk discussion board prior to class in an effort to ensure that students complete the required readings. The discussion board is supposed to be a forum for students to understand one other’s points of view. In practice, however—as just about anyone in a Chalk-centric class knows—students don’t have to do their reading to post on the discussion board. Instead, students rarely even skim over classmates’ hastily assembled posts, defeating the whole point of discussion.

Put simply, Chalk discussion boards promote academic laziness. This laziness goes both ways. Students write knowing that they are not likely to receive feedback for their work. And teachers can claim that a “discussion” took place without actually moderating one.

More important than what a Chalk discussion board is—a jumble of paragraphs dashed off by students not wanting to lose points—is what it isn’t: legitimate classroom discussion. Dialogue and debate are two of the central tenets of a University of Chicago education. In theory, Chalk “discussion” furthers this goal, but in reality no actual discussion takes place.

It should go without saying that students come to the U of C for stimulating, in-class discussion. Whether or not this goal is met, it is clear is that Chalk discussion boards do not bring us closer to this ideal.