A Commenting Discipline

Screenshot from Pay It Forward
The movie was a little saccharine for my taste, but your mileage may vary.

Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a serial MOOC dropout. If we count the MOOC’s ancestors in “free online workshops”, I’ve probably registered for 8 or more of the things, and never completed a one. This is on me, of course – I decided that the work involved in the course wasn’t creating my desired payoff, and I quit.

Nine Times.

But, like Ferris Bueller’s attendance record, it’s also a function of the system. Courses with hyper-strict schedules punish those who get behind. MOOC message boards don’t provide a lot of incentive for participation, especially for those of us who remember mailing lists and Usenet groups where repeating a question was the mark of a newbie from the Eternal September.

I’ve had some interesting discussions, by the way, about the differences between message boards and blogs. Message boards reinforce participation in a group enterprise; blogs reinforce the individual’s ownership of their thoughts. Pedagogically, you might want either one, but I will argue that message boards don’t scale well for active participants. Maybe they work better for lurkers, but the slide from lurker to non-participant is far too easy for me.

Compare and contrast with Connected Courses’ focus on personally owned blogs. I published on Thursday and woke up to comments on Friday. People had actually taken the time out of their lives to come over to my space, read my thoughts, and say something constructive about them. The reward was immediate and significant. I felt – I feel – like part of something bigger than myself, something bigger than a Venture Capitalist’s first taste for free.

This kind of community takes nurturing. It won’t just happen on its own. I am going to commit myself here to a commenting discipline which I think will help. For every comment I get here, I’m going to dip into the blog flow and comment on another recent post. I’m going to try to pay forward the joy of having a stranger give your ideas serious consideration.

I don’t claim that this makes me a big hero; paying attention to one another’s blogs is, after all, part of the point of a connected course. I’m mostly saying that I know myself this well. If I put the focus on my learning, my network, then I’ll engage, somewhat selfishly, with a small number of participants. At least this discipline will cause me to step into the blog flow with the goal of touching base with new folks. I think it will also change my reading, as I start with a goal of encouraging others as much as developing my own thought.

So… here’s where you get some stranger some encouragement, by telling me what you think:


11 thoughts on “A Commenting Discipline”

  1. “This kind of community takes nurturing.” YES! And this kind of post is what that’s all about, IMO. Thank you for helping us kickstart the discourse here, Joe.

    Funny that you should mention Eternal September. It’s something that I have come to mention to my university students, all of whom were born into a world where there are no widely recognized norms around online discourse: “Once upon a time, those who valued a few norms took the time to educate newcomers (albeit, often not too gently.)” Here, the norm is to connect with each other and iscuss our mutual interests about the texts and our practices as educators.

    1. Thanks, Howard. I’d love to hear more about how we can talk with students (and with others) about the evolution and devolution of social norms in online communities, now and in a historical context. Ideally without veering too often to “back in my day, you got a response from every node in Bitnet as your email made its way to Japan!”

      though that was cool…

          1. Of course, that is, to me, a signal of credibility. 😉 But your mileage may vary! Seriously, I skimmed it, and it looks like they have a good broad awareness of issues and approaches (pretty short paper, which is good for those looking for practical advice). What did you think, Filip?

          2. Couldn’t reply you Howard, I will be reading that hopefully some of the next days but got some other reading I got stuck in (+ academic year gonna start soon and it’s chaos at my college 🙂 ) Anyway since you have read it maybe you want to read what I am currently reading: a talk by Stephan Downes on the future of business education. Will get back to you after I read this pdf I posted 🙂

  2. Social interaction and its tension with ownership fascinates me a lot. Syndication (as promoted by the Indieweb … and taken over by solutions such as Known) is very interesting IMO. I am testing things like, Jim Groom with wordpress, but at a rather starter-level with my own students, but I am looking froward to more ‘best practices’ of others.
    Just as a confession sometimes I do feel held back because of intimidating discourses by pedagogues that can hit you hard with the studies and theories they know … even though it amuses me whenever I can knock them out with my practical experience (with project based learning mostly).
    Anyway it’s easy to become a lurker I think at any time and a sense of ownership drives people as it engages them. I am very curious to see how interaction will evolve over the course of the Connected Courses when we start/keep/stop commenting each other’s blogs …. . What will this mean on the level of discoverability and interaction? Will we be able to cope with the ‘messy-ness’ or not?
    That being said I am glad to find like-minded people and am sure we will all learn a lot by discussing our interests.

    1. Philip, I’ve also been wondering what happens to “Connected Courses” next January. Will the blog feed keep going? Will it stay relevant or morph? Will it accept newcomers? It’s premature to answer those right now, but I think that messiness is something we should consider, because it’s directly relevant to the logistics of creating connected courses at our various institutions.

      And I’ve felt that intimidation myself. One of the neat points about writing for the web is that all those call-outs to theory and thinkers (or, on the other side, technical examples/documentation) can become hyperlinks, so that your audience doesn’t have to just nod and smile and pretend they’re with you. But what are the rhetorical strategies which make sure they eventually come back to finish your piece?

      1. Joe, in my experience, when an online event really works as an emergent community, a sufficient number of people say “why does this have to be over” for a continuation to be viable. I really like Discourse, the new forum software, and I’m hoping there might be a critical mass of participants who would want to continue discussions and peer support around connected courses.

  3. Comments are key because they draw you back into your own text, and remind you that there are others out there. Taking the time to comment can be trickier. I spent one entire month as part of a challenge, commenting every day on a different blog. It then become sort of a routine, and well worth it. There were many connections made then with teachers that continue today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *