Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Do (educational) discussion forums need managing?

I was reading Lisa's response to #bonkopen the other day. Both the post and the comments were quite interesting. One of the issues is blackboard as a platform. OK, sure, LMS in general stink - regardless of whether it's Moodle, Bb Learn, Bb Vista (formerly WebCT, ANGEL and so on.  Lisa does prefer the distributed mode of communication which is typical in MOOCs like Change and CCK, but despite the fact that Lisa and I prefer blogs to LMS, it doesn't mean that those modes are best for everyone.  One of the big hurdles that many of my acquaintances had with MOOCs as the distributed nature. They didn't have one spot to go to (i.e. the LMS) to check to see what's new.

Sure Bb Learn 9.1 is the same ol' blackboard but with better UI...but UI does make a difference! Some things still stink, but on the whole I think that version 9.1 isn't bad.  That being said here are some of my responses to a couple of the comments on the blog (too many comments to go through all of them):

I find it insane that after 10+ years of teaching or taking classes online, we still can’t find a better way to manage discussion boards, threads, forums, etc. It’s absolutely incredible that in essence, it’s still the same ole, same ole.
Do discussion boards need management?  I think not.  For all of the talk about socially sourced materials and connections, when someone talks about managing something, all that social sourcing goes away. There ought to be a moment of cognitive dissonance here :-)  I've been using forums for many years.  I was actually a forum moderator in a couple of major technology forums for a while as well.  We DID manage the forums, but only to make sure that the rules of civility were adhered to.  We did not manage discussions.  Participants in those forums found their own ways to manage their own discussions.  We, as forum moderators, did not need to do anything to manage the discussion for them.  Same things with LMS discussions. Instructors don't need to manage the discussion, MOOC or otherwise.  They just need to correct misconceptions, if there are any misconceptions - but there isn't any management going on (or at least, there shouldn't).

I agree w/ your Bb critique, but I think it also goes to design issues and assumptions. Why WOULD you have an introduction activity for a group this big. Or if you did, why not structure it in a more network like manner. So we have the perfect storm. A non-network centric platform and a traditional non-network course design.

I agree with this comment whole heartedly.  I know that ice-breakers and intro threads are a way to gain a sense of community, or so the story goes from every single class I've taken.  But ice breakers and intro threads need to be done well, even in small classes, or else they become tedious! In MOOCs introduction threads have no spot.  It's just dead space.  People ought to have their social links and credentials in their profile and people can look them up.  This of course is one of the failings of Bb Learn - the profile isn't social.  I can't plug in my LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter accounts and have Bb do something with it.  Or...what if I gave Bb Learn my blog's RSS feed and told it to show all blogs that were labeled as #bonkopen.  This would be superior to the blog functionality in Bb Learn (which I don't like, in either Vista or Learn because it's antithetical to blogs in general).

The one thing that I would like to avoid is defining "open"....or rather, "how open is open"? because in the end we'll end up with a debate like that that the Open Source and FSF have been having for years. Some are collegial debates and other get right down nasty - this helps no one.

Thoughts?  I think that somehow down this road I lost my focus and went with a stream of consciousness blog lol ;-)
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