Truth in Society

January 17, 1995

Using the Online Discussion


We've been thinking for some time about introducing the Online Discussion, but it has taken most of the first term to get it set up appropriately (we're still not entirely happy with the program, BrainStorm, which we're using to run it, but we've been looking for a better one for four or five years, with no success). You may already be familiar with the Online Discussion which has been on the STU main menu all year. It's primarily been used, this year, for various non-academic purposes, and a lot of it is fairly silly (though, in our view, almost anything that involves using writing to communicate isn't entirely silly).

What we've done is set up a second discussion, called "STU Class Discussion (Class lists only)," which will have some restrictions applied. No pseudonyms will be allowed, for instance, and postings which have no direct relevance to the work of some class will be edited out. This is different from the "STU Online Discussion (STU only)" bulletin board, where no editing at all is done, and you join strands on it at your own risk.

The Class Discussion bulletin board will be important to this course for the rest of the year, as it's going to be the place where the responses to outside occasions will be posted and discussed. Whenever an "occasion" is agreed on, a topic will be set up there specifically for that event, and responses and discussion will be posted there.

Here's how you sign on, if you haven't done it already on the open discussion. At the main menu, select "Online Discussion"; then choose the second (class discussion) option. You'll get a new screen, called BRAINSTORM LOGIN. You need to create your own id on this program, very much like the one you have on the network as a whole; only this one should be your name rather than a meaningless combination of consonants. And it should be your name in the way you usually use it and as you want to be known: for instance, Russ Hunt, or John McKendy, or Thom Parkhill (first names only tend to be a problem because they're likely to be duplicated). It will then ask you to create a password. It's a good idea to use the same one you used for your main account (again, passwords are important: if someone else has yours, or can figure out, she can sign on as you and put whatever she wants on the bulletin board as though it were by you. This can be a serious problem, so choose your password with care). You can ignore the question about phone number (press {enter}); tell it the information's correct, if it is, and you'll go to the INVITATIONS screen. It will have two bars across it, one with nothing in it (the program has an email facility which I've eliminated because it's extremely confusing, duplicates Pegasus Mail, and tends to crash the program; that's the top, empty, bar), and one which says "INVITATIONS," "SUPERVISOR," and the date and time. This bar will have little triangles at either side, meaning there's something new under it (when the triangles aren't there, there's nothing you haven't read).

When you move the highlight to the INVITATIONS bar and press {enter}, you'll be in the first "invitation." The top of the message window will say "READING INVITATIONS." The message will probably say something like "Here's a place for discussion of [whatever]." (Sometimes they come up in different order or new ones have been introduced, so we can't be sure which will come up first for you.) If the invitation is for an occasion you've participated in, or think you might want to, press {alt}R to "Reply/Join" the group. When you're reading invitations, {alt}R allows you to "Join" the group (so you'll get all further messages posted to that group); after you've joined, {alt}R is how you'll add your post to the discussion.

Press {enter} after reading every screen, to go to the next one. It's worth knowing that pressing {enter} when you're done, in this program, is important: it's the only way the program knows you're done with that particular screen. It's also important to know a couple of its other peculiarities: you can go to a previous entry, whether a posting in a discussion or an invitation, by pressing the {-} key, unless you've changed topics, at which point the appropriate strategy is to read through until there are no more new postings, go back to the opening screen, highlight the Topic you want to add your comment to, and use the {-} key to page back to the comment you want to respond to.

One of the (few) nice things about this program is that when you press {alt}R to reply to a comment (after you've Joined the topic), the screen splits and you get the comment you're replying to in the top window and an editing screen in the bottom. Then, {f6 allows you to change windows (it says so on the help line at the bottom of the screen), and if you press {enter} while in a line in the top window it'll copy it to the bottom window, so you can remind your reader what you're responding to (often there'll be many messages between the one you're responding to and your new one).

Finally: remember, you only see the invitations once automatically; if you decide not to join a topic now and want to change your mind later, you need to highlight the INVITATIONS bar and use the {-} key to page back to the one you want.

It's also possible to use the Online Discussion for anything else connected with the course -- for discussing research, organizing groups, etc. It's a form of electronic mail that stays there, available to everybody, so you can page back through and see what everybody else has had to say on a subject. It would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with it before you start responding to an occasion. It might also be a good idea to draft your response before you enter it, as the editing facilities in BrainStorm are pretty limited (sort of like PMail, though it's a different program and there are differences in detail).


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