In between all the writing and revising and commenting associated with the research paper, the students read other literary works and discuss them on the e-mail list. I assign weekly readings, asking the students to respond to an initial discussion prompt (they usually have a choice of several) about the readings, then to respond to at least three of their classmates' messages. Other than sending the original discussion prompts and answering an occasional question about due dates, etc., I rarely participate in the discussions.
I have attempted to structure the course in such a way as to (as completely as possible) eliminate my role as the "authority," and to preserve the anonymity of the students if they so desire. I give no lectures, few outside readings assignments, and give only minimal guidelines for their research papers. The students, for the most part, do not know each other, and typically see each other only once, at a required orientation session at the beginning of the semester.
My initial intent was to:
*allow a forum for discussion which was as "free" as possible
*watch a discourse community form and develop
*allow that community to determine its own standards of "acceptable/unacceptable" "discourse behavior"
*encourage, but not require, the use of pseudonyms
*see if what students could learn from each other was comparable to what they could have learned from a traditional, lecture-style course