I don’t pay $70,000 a year to write LATTE posts

February 1, 2019

One of the things that Brandeis has going for it is academics—generally speaking, the professors are qualified and adept at making classes both bearable and edifying, but one aspect of our education here has threatened to drag down the whole experience. I’m talking, of course, about LATTE posts.

They’re a horrible waste of time, only good for padding out a syllabus and dolorous tedia that encourage the most cursory, superficial engagement with course material. They’re a recurring gnat that can’t be swatted away. They squander an outrageously expensive education.

In the three and a half years I have been at Brandeis, I have never once looked at someone else’s LATTE posts. I have never been disposed to scan entries to see what my classmates think. The LATTE forum has never prompted me to think, “Wow, what a great point. That completely changes how I think about this subject.” In the admittedly skewed sample of friends I polled, they all admitted to the same.

LATTE posts are perfunctory, they do not engender deep thought—they exclude it because we’re all doing them at 11:55 p.m. the night before class.

The intentionality, I think, was benign, a byproduct of that early 2000’s techno-utopian way of thinking about innovations in online technology, kind of like the way we used to think about Facebook, Google and Amazon before we realized they were destabilizing democracy.

I can only imagine the thought of the first engineers and professors who, inspired by breakthroughs in online forum capabilities, imagined that their students, from anywhere (imagine!) could participate in intellectual discussion on the World Wide Web. This will make our lives better, they thought. Oh, how they were wrong.

Perhaps, in a perfect world, LATTE could work as a platform for edifying academic discussion. But because we live in a hellworld, this is not the case. People are not flocking to the platform—unprovoked—to create discussion threads, to hash out important ideas and find alternate viewpoints. The internet is not a good mode for this kind of thing. The internet is for memes and email and wasting time. Nothing more.

A quick story: I remember one class, in which we were required to post two (two!) separate 200-word posts to LATTE every week. Besides being a terrible chore, it soon became a source of discord—people were sloppy with their language and were viciously attacked on social media for it.

When we talk face to face, we can amend the things we say. We can read facial cues, or tones of voice, to better understand the context of what people are trying to say. The internet takes all of that away. Across a screen, people are faceless facsimiles, easy to turn into caricatures and see only as enemies. Their humanity is lost. In such a place, it’s difficult to say anything meaningful about anything.

So we have this platform, a worthless vestigial tool from back when we thought the internet was a good thing, born from some misguided optimism that students would want to talk to each other about school online, that, one would generously venture, is only still being assigned in classes out of no more than perfunctory habit. What to do now?

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to learn things in person. To me, face-to-face conversation about course material in the classroom is the best way to learn. Eye contact, provided with the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and elaborate on your point, make changing of your position and learning easy, and conducive. Verbal discussion allows for experimentation with ideas; online, there’s no room to fail. It seems a terrible waste to relegate engagement with course material to a forum no one reads, to work that’s done at the last minute. Outsourcing in-person discussion to an online forum? It would have seemed revolutionary in 1994, but now it’s some kind of cruel joke.

An alternative proposal to LATTE forum posts: Require students to bring written discussion points to class. Hold them accountable. Call on them. Repeat.

I dream of an education environment free of this unnecessary, ancillary platform in which I have to fritter away my time writing worthless mini-essays that no one but the instructor reads. Somehow people in higher education survived without making LATTE posts hundreds of years ago, but, then again, they were all smarter than we are.

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