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Lurkers as Learners

Much evidence on the student use of collaborative tools such as online forums indicates that a...

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Simon Cross
22 April 2010

Much evidence on the student use of collaborative tools such as online forums indicates that a majority tend to read them but not contribute. There is a gap therefore between how we design / anticpate their use and how they are used (unless students are compelled/forced to use them).  How can we therefore best design for the behaviour of ‘lurking’ (for want of a more enabling and positive term) and exploit it for learning?

 Let’s suppose that instead of relying on the ‘possibly’ of someone in a particular group contributing something, why not ‘fake’, or rather let’s say ‘aggressively seed’, the discussion forum? Why not prepare a set of useful real posts from previous years, add to this to posts written on behalf of ‘imagined’ students and then intentionally drip feed them in to the forum at the appropriate time they were originally/intended to be made? You could call this ‘time-shifted posting’ or ‘simulated’ posting.

  • Certainly what is 'collaborative' for one person is a broadcast or object purely for consumption by another. If the forum debate unfolds like a soap opera and most are only watching it, what would the difference really be?!
  • How do those reading forums ‘know’ the people posting are real (in which case how does a student really ‘know’ a post is from a ‘real’ person unless they have met them face-to-face!)?
  • What is it these ‘lurkers’ are getting from watching / reading things like online forums and discussion treads and are the patterns and content of posts currently 'on offer' or provided by them (by ‘real’ people) really delivering what these ‘lurkers’ want?

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