I have not had much luck with forums.

Picture this. You walk into a restaurant, or maybe a small shop. The decor seems nice and you see something that interests you. But there are these two loud guys yelling back and forth at each other, carrying on an all-day argument. They are saying things like "It was you who began the personal attacks, and I'm just defending myself" and "You're just as ugly as your mother, meathead, and you have no manners" and ... Well, you get the idea.

What do you do? Me, I leave. I don't care who these whacko people are. I don't care about their respective views. Nor do I care (anymore) about the decor or the food or the items of interest. I just leave. And because I'm a bit of a conservative, I don't come back.

Too often, when I join a forum discussion, that's exactly what I find: all-caps yelling and insults and moral pretense and whackos. It's not a space I want to be. Nor is it ever, EVER a place I want to take my learners.

On the other extreme, of course, is the near empty forum with no recent posts and no apparent current membership. (I have one of these: a Yahoo! Group thinger I can't get any satisfaction out of.)

Somewhere in between, I'm certain, there are lively, tactful forums where interesting and interested people swap ideas, questions, hopes. I saw one once. There was a discussion on assessments and accountability. I've never found it again, but I believe. I want to believe.

Community and conversation (my take on 'networking') exists more often, and in more helpful shape, in the comment zones of blogs. I suppose that's because there is a chairperson or moderator with a personal stake in the quality of the conversation. Maybe, as guests in someone else's 'house', we're a little more thoughtful in our comments. Or maybe like-minded bloggers end up talking to each other via like-minded blogs.

I don't know, really. Nor do I know how the exchanges files under 'comments' can be shared with a larger readership.

Maybe they can't? Maybe, like so much in life, it's a matter of being there. The right place at the right time.

Blogging and commenting.

Community and conversation.

Thks, everybody, for taking the time to read and write and send each other comments.



Ivan Chew said...

Here's a thought:

There's are differences between blogs and discussion forums. For blogs, the focus is on the author's main post; the discussions resulting from that posts are secondary. I would think few people read blogs, expecting to find very in-depth discussions.

On the other hand, the primary focus of discussion forum is the discussions themselves. In that sense, there's a higher probability of you landing in a discussion that's off-tangent.

Nancy said...

Where I work at AlphaPlus, we have provided a province-wide service of forums for literacy practitioners and learners for many years. These forums (first called Cosy, now AlphaCom) enabled practitioners to organize, critically analyse, share resources, training, etc. for free and proved in the early years vital to developing sector and stream identities.

The best of course were moderated and some have been going strong for over 10 years!

As a Toronto-based literacy worker, I met the field outside Toronto, initially through AlphaCom forums. Of course I met, as a lurker for years, those practitioners who posted messages. Lots of us just read the messages and didn't join the online discussions - but often took those discussions back to our face-to-face colleagues.

Within AlphaRoute I have seen learners from across Ontario strike up long term friendships and have seen peer support happen within forums. I have also seen students take risks and try to organzie other students in creating a book of stories, having parties in chat rooms, etc. Effective uses of forums I would say.

But blogs have an edge on forums I feel. First of all blogs are easier to access - you don't have to belong and have a user name and password to participate.

And blogs are moderated - the ones I am familiar with have daily or close to daily postings. They feel more reflective - you post and move on with the blog owner. Or not.

Forums feel more formal.

I like blogs better and am very happy to have found this blog!


Wendell said...

@ivan chew

That's a neat way to look at it. I don't know if its always true. But, yes, often the focus of forum discussions is the discussions, or the discussors... Thks.

@ nancy

Nancy, I haven't done much with AlphaPlus since an NB piloting stint a couple of years ago. Looking at it more widely is on my to-do list this summer. Meanwhile, feel free to comment-post any A-P links you think might be relevant and helpful.

literacies publisher said...

We have held forums at Literacies with varied success. We find that something short term (4-5 weeks), on a specific topic (with room for digression of course - we are literacy workers after all), and really well-moderated works best. But even then we have large numbers of people sign up and relatively few post. When surveyed, some say they feel intimidated about posting and others say they do not have time. We are looking for new ways to host conversations about literacy and research that will work better for our readers.

Phoenix71011 said...

Hi Wendell
thanks for dropping by my blog, hope to see you again soon.

I had to laugh at this post because it is so true!
I recently joined a Yahoo group and can't for the life of me get to grips with it. I'm sure they are a great bunch of people, but it seems very cliquey and limited to a hand-full of hard core posters.
And the you say, lots of mud slinging and slagging off! How's a timid newbie supposed to deal with that?
Like you I switch off, never to return!
Love your blog, btw.