For my blog entry this week, I thought I’d start with a story. My story will hopefully paint a better picture of some of the things that can go on in an open online message board/forum.
So I realize that not everyone knows first-hand about what it’s like to participate in an online community typically found in a forum or message board; so I figured I’d give you a glimpse of what that world is like from some of my own experiences.
For years, I was an active member of Regina’s local hardcore and punk music message boards. The boards underwent numerous moderators and name changes throughout the years, but the general idea always stayed the same. Whether it was “Punk for the People”, “Queen City Punk”, “Queen City Hardcore”, or whatever else it was called; it all served the same purpose: staying in the loop about what’s going on with our favorite music genres!
What were these boards used for?
– First and foremost, the board was meant for fun entertainment and community building. It wasn’t THAT serious.
– See what bands were coming through town
– Find out local and surrounding area shows
– Find out about all the hottest and most underground bands (the more obscure, the better)
– Get in touch with out of town venues and promoters
– Booking shows in town
– Sell your merch or music
– Learn about the community and exchange ideas.
The message board was always interesting to me because it always felt like a “digital extension” (so to speak) of the actual Regina music scene. The people posting on the message board weren’t face-less, anonymous pranksters; they were my friends, they were my bandmates, they were everyone that you would typically see at a local event.
I got to know so many new people, learned a lot about Saskatchewan’s interesting live music past (have you read anything about how crazy Regina’s music scene was back in the 80’s?), and most importantly, I got to talk about music (and everything that goes along with it). In a matter of fact, my band Failed States, which were going on to our tenth year as a band, STARTED on Queen City Punk. I remember one night someone starting a new discussion thread titled “Who wants to start a hardcore band?”. I immediately replied and next thing I knew, I was in a basement with four other dudes about to start a band that we’re still in today. This was a huge shifting moment in my life. These people I didn’t even know eventually went on to become some of my best friends. We’ve played almost 100 shows in the past ten years all throughout western Canada. I even ended up starting two bands after that! And all this… from a silly message board? Wow. I mean…it that’s not community building, I don’t know what is.
The main purpose of the board was a place for all of us to talk. With the political and social nature of this type of music, conversations often dipped into social justice discussions and political critiques and debates. As much as people liked to joke around on the message board, conversations were often fruitful and interesting to follow (and obviously participate in).
I found that being part of this type of online community did require some effort to maintain a functioning structure. For one, you need people moderating the board. Moderators keep order, they enforce rules, and they oversee everything that’s going on (at least that’s what they should be doing). So who are these moderators? Well…Moderators can be literally anyone, just as long as they are willing to take on the huge list of tasks they must do to keep things working smoothly.
In my time on QCP (Queen City Punk), I unfortunately did see a lot of harassment and bullying go down. Since the board is basically open for anyone to use, anyone is technically able to join. That means “anything” can happen. This can obviously be a good thing, but it’s more often than not, a more negative thing to worry about. Many times, people would come in and “troll” other posters or sabotage a discussion thread. I want you all to keep this in mind as we move onto this week’s prompt.
Alec and Katia asked us to talk a little about how authenticity is affected by the degree of openness in a forum? They also asked if it’s possible to support “authentic” learning in a closed forum or discussion space and if authenticity is guaranteed if we open the conversations to the online world?
Now, I want to use my story to tie some of these ideas into these questions.
In relation to “authenticity” and the degree of “openness” in discussions that take place in a forum, I’d like to use my experiences to draw some sort of parallels. I know that my experiences are going to be super different from what I would do in a classroom, but I think my experiences taught me to be vigilant and aware of certain things.
First of all, I think there is a lot to learn from an opening up a private group to the public (or allowing outsiders to come in). I certainly believe there can be authentic learning experiences and discussions in open forums (because I see them all the time), partly because we’re allowing outside input from individuals who may bring unbiased or different ideas or opinions to the table. For instance, if we were to be using a private message board in a classroom, and open it up to allow the outside world to contribute to the community, it could allow students to explore a topic in greater detail. Inviting guest “speakers”, in a sort of “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) type of format usually seen on Reddit, students would have the opportunity to interact with an expert in their field. Having that level of intimate interaction with potential learning material is amazing and completely game-changing. That’s why I like AMA’s, I mean, you can literally ask the person ANYTHING.
Okay, so yes, you may run into some big problems. Learning experiences won’t always be authentic either, as we don’t always know what is coming into the discussion when we’re opening the discussion to the world. I’m assuming if you are inviting someone to come speak to your class in your message board, you must know this person, you can probably vouch for their legitimacy; but if that connection is missing, we definitely run the risk of potential fraudulence.
When I think of “openness” however, I immediately think of all the things that can go wrong. When you’re part of an online community, I feel like the whole “Anything goes” mantra can work, but when we’re talking about a classroom environment, this sort of scares me. We don’t know what people are going to say. We have no real way of knowing if people are “legit” or not. I mean, we don’t even know if this type of exchange would even bring forth any authentic learning experiences to the students. Is it possible? YES… but absolutely NOT GUARANTEED, which is something important to consider.
To me, there’s too many “What ifs” to fully commit to this type of learning environment. I say this because I’ve seen how message boards work, regardless if there’s a moderator controlling everything that is going on. Furthermore, if you were to do this for your own class, you would most definitely have to take on the moderator role, which is something I think lots of people don’t know what exactly it entails.
The potential for community building is something I definitely can’t ignore however. Given the right instruction, guidance, moderation and interest, a forum can develop an incredible online community. Of course, this goes back to the work we put into making it something your students will want to use and engage in. I don’t know how well it would work under the context of educational content, but when people participate in online communities that relate to their personal interests, the community is going to grow regardless. I mean, people are engaged, they WANT to participate. But can the same be said if we were to do this in a classroom? Depending on the topics, perhaps… but you would definitely have to push and encourage things to get going. I find that as long as there’s legitimate interest, engagement and commitment to the topic, learning becomes authentic.
Before I start writing more than what I should, I just want to end this by saying that moderators are the key to making these online communities stay on track. Without any rules or protocol, your community won’t sustain and it will inevitably fall apart. This will lead to poor engagement and definitely no true form of authentic learning. If you want it to be as real as possible, you need to make it that way, and make sure to do everything that’s necessary to assure that all interactions are purposeful and authentic.
Please ask me questions in the comments, I feel like I left a lot of open ends in my thoughts and I welcome any form of discussion on what I wrote.
Thanks for reading my ramblings, I look forward to hearing from all of you!