Common Reading Program Launches Online Discussion


Using Shepherd’s online resource Sakai, the common reading program has launched a new, online feature allowing more students to get involved through an online format. Students now have the ability to share their thoughts and information regarding this year’s text “Strange as the Weather’s Been,” a novel by Ann Pancake, via discussion forum.

Common reading has been part of the Shepherd experience for seven years, designed to unite students and give them a common topic to discuss with one another. It is a great way for students (especially incoming freshman) to get involved in something, which is why it is usually assigned in most first-year experience courses.

According to common reading program coordinator Shannon Holliday, the new Sakai feature has now opened up even more opportunities for students and faculty members alike. Now, one can contribute content, share articles, post discussion questions and participate in the general atmosphere of scholarship and exploration surrounding Pancake’s novel. The goal is for students to use this new feature as a place to talk about the book and the issue of mountaintop removal and how it impacts Appalachian communities.

Associate Professor of Education James B. Tuttle got involved in this process by contacting Holliday and asking if she would like to try a campus-wide dialogue platform for the common reading. “As a user of Sakai and a reader of ‘Strange as This Weather Has Been,’ it occurred to me that the online platform could be an effective and helpful platform for academic dialogue,” Tuttle said.

Sophomore Sarah Hart of Frederick, Md. said she liked the fact that there was a common reading program when she first arrived at Shepherd simply because it gave her something to talk about with other students. “I think having the new online feature is a good idea because it could allow you to converse with more people that you may not have met before,” Hart said.

This new innovation brings up the question, “Will the common reading text get a complete makeover and only be offered online?” While adding the online discussion to the common reading program is an effective way to get the conversation started, Tuttle does not see it entirely replacing the standard paperback version in the years to come.

“While it would be fascinating to embed the common reading text and resources for analysis in the same online module, I believe that many readers also still enjoy the experience of hard copy reading.”

While the common reading text is assigned in certain classes, anyone is welcome to partake in this online discussion. This site is accessible to anyone with a Shepherd email and ID, and both students and faculty members of all ages are encouraged to get involved, even if the student is not already using Sakai for classes.

Holliday talked about the benefits of joining the online discussion: “It’s entirely online, so the discussion can happen anytime and anywhere as long as you can access Sakai. You can post content, share links to organizations associated with mountaintop removal or mining issues, and use the information on the site for future reference.”

Here is how to become a member of the campus-wide common reading Sakai site:

Log in to Sakai (Firefox is the recommended web browser for using Sakai)

Click on “Membership” tab on the left side of your screen

Click on “Joinable Sites”

In the “Search” window type in “Common Reading”

Select Search

Select “Join” located underneath “Common Reading”

“This site gives you the opportunity to read, think, listen, talk and grow, which are all the goals of the common reading program!” said Holliday.