Posting Online: Are you “lurking”?

Weekly Writing 9 – Lori Sowa

While posting online may cause some apprehension and uneasiness, at least initially, there are numerous benefits to this practice.    The potential for an  increase in the quality of student work is well documented, and something I’ve experienced first hand as both a student and an instructor.      However, this first-hand experience comes at the undergraduate and graduate level.   As with many aspects of online learning – I wonder about the implications for elementary, middle and high school students, where social pressures are more intense.

Browsing through articles and literature on this subject, I came across the somewhat unfortunate term “pedagogical lurking”.   Dennen (2008) describes lurking as non-posting discussion behavior, basically reading posts in an online discussion forum related to a course without commenting.   She  argues that students may do this with positive intent, similar to listening in  a face-to-face course.   And her study, although limited and based upon self-reporting by students, correlated frequent non-posting behavior with a perception  that the discussion board was worthwhile.    This poses an interesting challenge for assessment.   We can easily assess actual postings, but perhaps that doesn’t provide a full picture of the ways in which students use the discussion boards to meet their pedagogical needs. I  find myself reading more posts than I actually respond to, and certainly find benefit in doing so.   I’ve watched many of the video links provided in weekly writings, and have passed them on to colleagues and used them in classes.    But then,  is there a detriment in not responding – to the author or the class as a whole?

The most important negative aspect of student posting online, perhaps related to the desire by students for privacy of their work,  is concern about  intellectual property.   Putting your work out there for all to see also makes it more readily available for others to use in an unethical way.    Safeguards, such as providing a closed forum for discussion boards, can help limit access to material to course participants.   But the actual  threat this  poses is likely small.   Some students will be more sensitive to this issue than others, and instructors will need to be ready to defend their course requirements while taking into account the concerns of their students.

One logistical aspect of posting online is archiving and saving your own work.   While I maintain notebooks from many of the courses I’ve taken in the past, I have not continued this practice with the online courses I’ve taken.   For this course in particular – will we continue to have access to course website after the course is over?   While I keep electronic files of the writing that I do, it’s just not the same as having a compilation of all of the information in one binder.   I may have to gather up the  various articles that I’ve printed for this course (as much as I’d prefer to  save the paper and read the articles online, I still prefer print for comprehension) and start the archival process.   However, the lack of paper-based materials for archiving is likely considered a benefit by many.

The benefits of posting online outweigh the negative aspects which can, in most cases, be easily managed.   Requiring students to post their work online using various tools and in innovative ways can be a forum to teach 21st century skills.   In addition to posting to a discussion board, students can organize and present material by creating a  website, a Prezi presentation, a  Thinglink, or any of the myriad of  modern options available.   This does not mean, however, that  every assignment in an online or blended course should automatically be required to be  posted online.   There may still be a place for private submissions.   As always, the method of presentation of an assignment should be linked to the learning objective and desired assessment.

Dennen, V. P. (2008). Pedagogical lurking: Student engagement in non-posting discussion behavior. Computers In Human Behavior, 24(4), 1624-1633.

5 thoughts on “Posting Online: Are you “lurking”?

  1. Owen

    Hi Lori,

    Several good points!

    To answer your question; yes, this course will remain open and available for a while. You’re welcome to return and look up references as you wish. It will probably remain active for a year or two. After that, it will eventually be archived and at that point becomes more difficult to access. However, I can still help you get things if you’d like even after that point.

    “Pedagogical Lurking” – I like that. I do that all the time on sites when I’m looking for information or answers to particular interests. On some forums, I am more likely to participate – ones in which I have something to offer. 🙂

    You raise a great question: How do we assess this type of behavior? Since we’re trying to engender scholarly like behavior, and assessing community contributions, are we more apt to assess understanding via products than “internal” comprehension?


  2. Bob

    I agree wholeheartedly with the analogy or “forum lurking” is like “listening” to conversation. I think it might actually be an important way to learn a skill, call it “filtering” for the sake of discussion. Think back to our last face-to-face meeting where the topic under discussion went around the room, we hear phrases like, “I agree with Jill, blah, blah, blah, repeat, repeat” or “As Mike, said, blah, blah, blah”. I would say these people are not practicing filtering. Meetings go long because of this behavior. If folks said “My only addition to what has been said, is x”. That would be more like good forum posting and “lurking”. I have to imagine that behavior changes flow in both directions that is our face to face is informed by good forum etiquette or good tweets just as socially graceful people handle online interactions better.

  3. Jenny

    The digital archiving aspect is an important one that I too need to be more diligent about. I have trying to save all the articles I have been using to Zotero, so I can create tags to organize them. I also think there is a point to not having all work posted online. Perhaps the online forum should be reserved for final products and examples of our “best work.”


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