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MBA Dialogue Guidelines

Last revised: 06/25/07

The School of Business & Leadership uses online dialogue structures with threaded messages to facilitate several purposes. These include participant learning, town meetings, and other instructional support. It requires students to interactively engage each other online through the Internet. The following is meant as an initiation to dialogue to help contextualize participation. Mastering the process takes emersion in the process.

What Dialogue Is

The purpose of dialogue is to help students understand the relevance of concepts. Students should test their understanding of every concept with group members and professors to prepare for quizzes and minor and major projects. You can read/listen/view the material, but it is how much you have mastered those concepts and their relevance that determines the extent to which you can discuss and apply them.

Learning how to write in a thorough, yet concise manner, is a skill to gain. This means that the quality of each posted message must be excellent. Professors will comment in the dialogue to help guide individuals and groups toward this desired result.

The program uses Canvas to mediate asynchronous threaded messages of interactive dialogue, which Canvas terms a "Discussion Board." The following references address the differences between "dialogue," "discussion" and "debate." When it is unclear which term is meant, prefer dialogue, collaborative and gracious dialogue please.

Canvas is divided into courses. These courses contain groups of students and professors. Groups can have forums. Each forum might contain one or more message threads. A forum remains open for the period of time designated by the course syllabus or the professor usually for two weeks. It is important to post messages according to the expectations that correspond to the specific forum.

The concept of a "forum" is used to frame posed questions for dialogue. Most people use the term forum loosely. In some venues, these are called "message boards." Others label them "learning circles." Numerous terms have been tried, but "forum" appears to have stuck, as in "a forum for dialogue." The plural of forum is both forums and fora, and different individuals might use either.

Similarly, dialogue contributors use the term "post" freely as a verb for "publish," and as a noun for "message," particularly an initial message "posting" on a topic. Thus, one could conceivably "post a post posting" which demonstrates that the language of online collaboration has yet to mature. There is nothing to be gained by resisting these nuances of modern English. Such is life with a "living" language.

Mediating Internet messages collaboratively, however, has been done successfully for decades. The best thing to do is ignore these minor linguistic frustrations and forge ahead. "Taste and see that it is good." You are likely to learn a great deal and improve the state of what is currently known and practiced in the process.

Note: Coursework is scheduled over a seven-day week to provide structure for students residing on six continents. The weekly schedule begins on Monday at 12:01 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time and ends on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. The program neither suggests nor encourages that students work seven days per week. Rather, in respect for the various traditions to honor a given day during the week, all seven days are included in the schedule so students may elect which days they will participate.

Dialogue exists for students to demonstrate their understanding, questions and applications of known content. All of the following types of interaction are expected from each student at some point during each course. However, the list is not exhaustive. Whatever approach to dialogue assists understanding applications of the material is appropriate.

Answering all or part of the posed questions by citing concepts covered in assigned readings.

Example: Christian values held by top leaders often do not penetrate lower organization levels because, as Finkelstein and Hambrick (1996) point out, top leaders in larger companies spend most of their time interacting with a small group of people at the same level as themselves.

Asking specific questions about specific concepts in the readings or challenging statements in the material.

Example: I'm unclear why Davis-Blake and Pfeffer (1989) stress the interaction of personality and situation. Myers and Briggs (1998) indicate that the individual's type alone can predict behavior.

Taking a position based on the concepts in the reading and extrapolating from it.

Example: If Selznick's (1996) Institutional Theory is correct, then it will be difficult for organizations founded on biblical values to succeed. However, Hatch (1997, p. 48) implies that the view of institutionalized vs. non-institutionalized organizations might be in their rationalization. It seems that "as we think so shall we be." This would place more emphasis on the leader and the constant presentation of the vision.

Quality will be measured by several factors: Students must demonstrate comprehension of the topical material. Writing must include appropriate material researched beyond the assigned readings. Students must demonstrate critical thinking in applying organizational concepts to separate personal opinion from reasoned conclusion. Messages must identify root causes to management and organizational problems. That is, the rhetoric of criticism is not automatically supported by data not in evidence.

Keep in mind that course dialogue is designed as professional interaction among grouped peers. (Use non-evaluated forums for personal interaction). If you find yourself "just going through the motions" to meet the dialogue requirement, examine the reasons and contact one of the professors to gain a fresh perspective.

Dialogue Structure

Three Posts of 200 Words or Less. The focus of this style of dialogue is on developing a comprehensive utilization of Bloom's taxonomy of learning. Comment in the form of informative posts—questions, expansions, and exchange—over assumptions and conclusions. Not all concepts are as useful or easy to understand and apply as others, and not everyone will see things as you do. Thus, everyone can benefit from your contributions.

This type of dialogue limits contributions to three posts of less than 201 words each to help tighten your writing and to help your readers spend no more time than necessary considering your thoughts. You should post three times per forum. Each post counts, so be careful not to use a post to make a short reply to a professor or another student. Reply as a springboard to move deeper into the forum concepts and applications.

Keep in mind that these forums are not for posting assignments, but a professional dialogue among group members. It is important to interrogate and probe the contributions of other participants. Seek clarification and, when appropriate, challenge the position of another student, but do not be confrontational. As in all professional dialogue, if you understand and agree with the contribution of another then there is no need to respond to it.

Threaded dialogue substitutes for in-class verbal contributions. Equate this dialogue type with a three-hour in-class discussion. Those who participate during the whole time will receive higher grades than those who exit soon after the discussion begins or those who enter at the end of the "class time" to add a few comments. In addition, no messages posted after the closing date will be considered in the grade for any reason. A group is free, however, to continue using a forum if you wish.

The professors will use a combination of objective and subjective measures to grade the dialogue. Since it represents in-class discussion, it is important to enter the dialogue early and engage with each other and the professors on an on-going basis. Fully support your statements. Remember that professional persuasion is interested in supported conclusions, not personal opinions. Also, it is important to build on what others post. Thus, part of the evaluation will be a measure of how well you tie your post to that of other students. Measures include:

  • Application - apply organizational concepts and separate personal opinion from supported conclusion
  • Bloom's Taxonomy - how well the post covers all the categories of knowing, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating
  • Brevity - less than 201 words per message
  • Comprehension - demonstrate comprehension of the assigned material
  • Extension - move deeper into concepts and applications based upon what others contribute to the forum
  • Frequency - three posted messages within the open forum period
  • Identification - identify root causes to management and organizational issues
  • Inquiry - question, challenge, and probe the contributions of others without being argumentative
  • Regularity - posts occur evenly distributed throughout the open forum period
  • Research- include material beyond the assigned readings

All of these elements are included in the Dialogue Grading Rubric located in each course syllabus.


Students are to post messages to current forums according to the specific instructions of each course. Word lengths exclude reference lists at the bottom of messages. This structure is designed to help order your thinking.

Each forum topic will remain open for a set time period to balance workloads and encourage concise writing with the minimum time commitment. Student dialogue contributions submitted within the posted period for the respective forum will be considered for grading. Instructors will not assess early or late interaction. Students will be assessed higher if they participate throughout the allotted time of a forum according to the current guidelines than if they engage in a less evenly distributed manner. Think of dialogue as in-class participation toward your MBA coursework contributions.

Minimize the number of words you use. People read electronic media about 25 percent slower than paper. The result is that 79 percent of people scan online content. Put one idea per paragraph, and state that idea in the first sentence (Nielson, 1997).

Do not attach files to course dialogues unless specifically directed to do so for a forum. Attachments complicate the rapid exchange of ideas. If what you want to convey requires an attachment it might be too exhaustive. Save that for a different time and place.

Sources, other than required reading or other dialogue messages must be listed in references at the end of the message. All references listed at the end of a message must be cited in the message. Credit your peers by name in the body of messages without formal citations. Dialogue is a conversation between people who are learning together.

Because Regent attempts to comport itself with a biblical worldview, students are discouraged from seeking understanding through "devil's advocacy." Christian theology maintains the devil requires no advocate, that his advocacy is slanderous (Elwell, 1996), accusatory (Revelation 12:9, NIV) and deceptive (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV); that he masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV); and that he is condemned (John 16:11, NIV). As such, consider devil's advocacy antithetical to Christ's advocacy.

Do not use the professional forums for offside conversations, prayer concerns, life issues, contextualizing events or process matters. Mediate these in a "student lounge" forum, email or other channel. If you have a concern then ask it as early in the dialogue process as possible.

Develop skill at posing complete thoughts succinctly. It is inappropriate to publish an idea across multiple messages. The word limits are purposeful. Speakers receive limited amounts of time to address their audiences. Editors anticipate good writers will adhere to author's guidelines. This is a competency to groom.

In addition to learning about the forum topics, note how others respond to the messages. Observe the extent to which posted thoughts succeed or fail at increasing understanding. Examine your own posted messages to determine how to compose increasingly clear, succinct messages. Your writing and presentation should improve as your appreciation of how others perceive your contributions increases.

Timeliness is important. For example, an innovative idea that was enacted by someone else four days earlier is likely a good opportunity lost to you in the current forum. Rare instances of similar replies submitted within several minutes of each other are not significant matters, however.

Many people draft their messages in a word processor to use composition tools like online dictionaries, thesauri, spell check and possibly a grammar checker to identify use of passive voice. Then they save a personal copy of the message to their computer. Finally, they paste their work into Canvas. This can help overcome certain potential technical constraints.

When people log into Canvas the system keeps track of how much time elapses since their last page was displayed as a means to identify inactive users. Composing a message to post in Canvas does not require changing pages and therefore does not update Canvas's timing data. So, if someone composes in Canvas beyond the allotted time limit the system will automatically log them off without notice and their composition could be lost. It is a good thing that the Canvas server logs off inactive users so that others can have improved access. It is not good to lose your work unwittingly. Saving personal work regularly is a responsible self-leadership habit to maintain.

Timeouts can also relate to a participant's Internet Service Provider (ISP). Some ISPs monitor interactions between a user's computer and the Internet to allocate available "space" (bandwidth) to active users. Such issues have nothing to do with Canvas or Regent University. There are several options available if this negatively impacts you. You might configure your email program to check for new messages every few minutes, stream Internet radio or run a program made specifically to keep your ISP connection "alive" (connected). Contact your service provider if this matter affects you.

Beyond that, follow sage advice: Leaders read a lot. Reading will help your writing. Read critically. Discover how one author communicates more effectively than another.


Elwell, W. A., (Ed.). (1996). Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Retrieved April 6, 2002 from

Miller, D. (1993, August). Worldview & development: Breaking the web of lies. Retrieved April 6, 2002

Nielson, J. (1997, October 1). How users read on the web. Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, 1997 , October 1. Retrieved April 6, 2002

Weaver R. M. (1948). Ideas Have Consequences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0226876802.