There are weekly Forum discussions in most undergraduate and graduate courses in the Legal Studies Program. The Forums can be thought of as “conversations” or “discussions” about an assigned topic. However, because the Forums always focus on a substantive topic which is relevant to Legal Studies, rather than being an “informal chat,” your postings should be the product of research and analysis and should be supported by scholarly references, with personal opinions included only if called for by the Forum Description.
Like all work product which you submit in your Legal Studies courses, your Forum postings should be written in well-constructed prose, using paragraphs, correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You should proofread your work before you post it, just as you would proofread any academic assignment or professional writing. Be sure to use quotation marks when you are including the words of others—whether they be brief or lengthy—in your writing. Accompany the use of quotation marks with a citation that includes the page on which the quote can be found in the reference source. In other words, the rules concerning plagiarism apply to the Forum environment just as they apply to all of your assignments.
All of the substantive points you make in your Forum postings should be supported by references which you cite in Bluebook format. Remember to “tie” your references to the points, assertions, or conclusions which they support. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the reader. Have you enabled your colleagues to find the book/volume/article (and the relevant page) that serves as each of your references? There are two ways to accomplish this objective. You can use citation sentences which appear immediately following the point which they support, or you can use sequentially numbered footnote references throughout your writing, and then list the references in the corresponding footnotes at the bottom of your Forum posting.
Where should you begin the work on your weekly Forum? Students are often tempted to “dive” into the Forum before they do anything else in the Classroom during the week. Resist that temptation! The Forums often pertain to the textbook reading or additional reading which is assigned for the week. Therefore, you should look at the Syllabus, study the weekly Lessons, and do the weekly textbook and ancillary reading before your begin the Forum. You will often find the “foundation” for the Forum topic in the reading and in the Lessons, with the Forum topic being an extension of the reading. In sum, if the Forum relates to a matter covered in your textbook, that volume should always be the starting point for research for the Forum topic. To be sure, additional research is often required to fully explore a Forum topic. In that case, go to the APUS Library and to other sources of scholarly reference material rather than randomly “googling.” The latter method will all too often take you to Wikipedia or to a lawyer’s advertisement website, neither of which are scholarly reference sources. All sources are not created equal!
Just as with all of your assignments, it is important to focus on the parameters and requirements of the Forum discussion before you begin. Those parameters are found in two places: 1) the Forum description itself, and 2) the applicable grading Rubric. First, make sure you understand the most basic requirements such as the due date (Wednesday? Thursday?) for your initial posting each week, the minimum length requirement for your initial posting, the required number of responses to your colleagues, the length requirements for those responses, etc. Because the Forum environment is a substantive dialogue, if you post your initial Forum posting late, your colleagues will not have time to consider your views and respond to you in a meaningful manner—and you will lose points on the Timeliness element of the grading Rubric!
It is unlikely that the Forum description will give you a general instruction to “write about pleadings in civil cases” or to “write about capital punishment.” The topic will be contoured and specific. You might be asked to explain the Supreme Court’s analysis of a rule that governs the sufficiency of pleadings in civil cases or you might be asked to write about the pros and cons of the death penalty, as they relate to the goals of the criminal justice system. Be sure to read the description carefully so that you have a sound understanding of your task. After you complete a draft of your posting, read the instructions again and then read your draft posting with a critical eye to ensure that you met the requirements of the Forum.
Because the Forum environment is, in part, an online substitute for the in-class discussions which occur in a brick and mortar classroom, you should “listen” to the views of your colleagues—all of your colleagues—throughout the week. If a student poses questions to you or makes substantive comments concerning your analysis, you would not ignore them in a classroom; you would respond to them! Similarly, in the Forum environment, you need to be mindful of the fact that your colleagues—and the instructor—are reading your postings and are filing replies to you. Read and consider those replies and respond to them as appropriate. This is the essence of collaboration! You will benefit from the analysis of other students; they might confirm your analysis or help you to view an issue in a different light.
Last but not least, here are a few words of advice about Rubrics. You will find in your Classroom (likely in the Resources area) the Grading Rubric which will govern the manner in which your instructor grades your Forum postings each week. Not surprisingly, your understanding of the topic and the manner in which and completeness with which you addressed all aspects of the topic will be graded under the “Substance” category. However, you should also notice that Collaboration is worth thirty percent of your Forum grade. Be sure to read the Collaboration section of the Rubric. You will find that engaging in a robust dialogue throughout the week will maximize the points you earn. Of course, Timeliness, Writing, and Citations are also elements of the Rubric. It is a good idea to read the Rubric before you begin to write your Forum, but you should also consult it again after you draft your Forum to ensure that you have satisfied all elements of the Rubric and that you fall into the Exemplary point value column.
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