Friday, October 28, 2011

On selfish blogging and form & function

Yesterday while taking the train back home from work I was catching up with Change11 related blogs.  Two of them caught my eye and sparked my imagination (or perhaps cognitive process is a better word...in any case it got me thinking). First I read Tony Bates' initial summary of the week he facilitated, and then Jenny's response to him on selfish blogging.

Tony writes (and this is not the only thing he writes so read his entire post):

There could be all kinds of reasons for the shortage of comments on this week’s topic, but I was more struck by the form in which they occurred. Participants did not comment directly to my post for this week, but within their own blogs. I call this the syndrome of the selfish blogger. We all do this. If we have something interesting to say, we’d rather say it on our own web site than someone else’s (it would be nice though if the post was also copied to the site that originated the topic). I had to go and cull all the comments from the #Change 11 newsletter and from pingbacks to get them into one place, so I could comment on them as a whole.
I have to say in MOOCs where an LMS (example: LAK11) or a Google Group (example: MobiMOOC, eduMOOC) were used and there were discussion forums, I really did find it obnoxious when people created (or responded to) a discussion post with something like this:
Oh, I wrote something about this very thing in my blog the yesterday day with regard to insert-MOOC-name. Check it out here: http://wwww.myfabulousblog.com/myfaculousMOOCpost.
As a matter of practice I did not bother going to those people's blogs. There was enough content in the discussion forums to keep me occupied without having to sidetrack.  What I did find very considerate was when people copied and pasted their blog content into the discussion forum with an attribution link.  I think this is the best of both worlds, because as Jenny states, she post on her blogs because those are her reflections on a topic (and reading between the lines here:) not something that is necessarily a response to some discussion somewhere. If we have something that is our reflection on something BUT at the same time fits into a discussion, then the considerate thing to do, as far as I am concerned, is to copy and paste the entire post in the discussion IF it fits in.

Personally, I didn't take offense to Tony's selfish blogger  comment. I think the key theme posed by Tony "Can change come from within, or do we need to re-invent new forms of higher education that are de-institutionalized?" is what drove me, and others this week.  I did post twice on the subject, once in English and once in Greek, with different content in each. Of course I don't expect Tony, or others, to speak Greek, but at least something was there.

Now, as far as forums, blogs and comments go - for me at least, these are three different cognitive processes.  If a MOOC has all three (like MobiMOOC, eduMOOC and LAK11) I tend to stick to the forums for most things, and to blogs for personal reflections.  If a MOOC has gRSShopper, like CCK11 and Change11, where all your content is harvested into a daily newsletter, then longer pieces (like this one) where more time and thought go into it and/or I am referencing more than one source go into a blog.  If I see something interesting on a blog, and I want to add a quick reply, thought or comment then I do indeed post to that blog and comment.  I don't see comments as a venue for discussion, even though threaded comments have become the norm these days, the form is still limiting for longer posts like this one. Mini-discussions are achievable if you keep it to 2 paragraphs or fewer per comment.

Why not use the gRSShopper system for blog comments?  I did try that with CCK11, but I found that
  1. I wanted to maintain "authorship" of my comments, and many blogs have disqus, which allows me to do that
  2. comments on gRSShopper, for me, are disconnected a bit from the blog content.
I don't have any suggestions on how to fix the system. Perhaps a way to harvest and collate comments automatically from blogs?  I don't know how technically difficult that is :-)

Finally Tony asks:

  1. Could I have done something that would have resulted in more comments, more discussion and more integration of the discussion in this MOOC?
  2. Or is the topic itself the problem – just not of interest to most people in this MOOC?
  3. Or are people just too busy to go beyond the webinar and a short response?

OK, to answer these in sequence 
  1.  I don't think so. I think you are limited by the distributed nature of this MOOC. It's neither space bound not time bound. Much of the content is all over the net AND the MOOC-fathers have already setup an expectation that there aren't forums on here, so it's hard to break apart (I think) from an distributed expectation and try to corale people into a forum for a week. It's also a fact that some people are a week, or two behind, or some people skip a week in MOOCs. This type of freedom makes it a bit difficult for facilitators.
  2. For me the topic wasn't a problem, but then again I work in academia, in IT, so I know the issues. Perhaps other participants may have had a harder time getting started with this theme because they didn't have the required social capital to tackle it right from the gate.
  3. Some people will be too busy, for sure.  I am pretty sure that most people are not. I think a lot of MOOC participants take time to read many (if not all?) the facilitator provided materials and do respond via their blogs with their thoughts on the subjects...and then comment back to others via comments (for short comments) or longer expository blog posts (for longer "comments"). I know that there are many people who are on here whose native language is not English. I really like reading blogs from people like this (like Serena for example in Italian and Jaap when he posts in Dutch) because it adds another dimension to the MOOC. If English isn't your native language this takes time, and if a MOOC has been established to not be as strictly time bound as traditional courses, then it will take people more than the "allotted time" to get their thoughts and comments out :-)

For what it's worth, I enjoyed the topic, and thought that Tony did a good job, but he was limited by the existing MOOC setup. I think that the "weekly guest" is really a misnomer because people only get "revved up" that week for that topic, but the topic tends to persist for a week or so after the official "end" of the topic.


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