Blogs and Threaded Discussion Forums: Which Should Educators Use?
This post is in response to Terry Anderson’s comment to an earlier blog post, in which he asked me to consider making the blog content more accessible, and asking me to reflect on whether an educator should use a blog or a discussion forum.
One difference is the extent of control over access for the post creator. Bloggers are able to open content and receive comments from anyone from around the globe, or confine it to a class or peers and the instructor. Forum participants are restricted to discussions among their classmates.
I am still considering the answers to this question, because although blogs encourage critical self reflection, forums also encourage this. At this stage, I think the learners’ experiences differ. I can only refer to my own impressions, and share my own story:
Blogging is enjoyable for me. I allows me to sit and finish off a complete thought, go off on tangents, address real and imaginary critics, and play with ideas without concern over how an other will respond. Blogging, for that brief span of time while I am creating connections between ideas, is a calm port of recording my internal dialogue between my self and my alternate selves (when I engage in paradigm bracketing, when I try on ideas and perspectives without immediate reprisal or response from others.) I guess what I am saying is that the main reason I blog is to generate internal dialogues, with the added benefit of receiving comments from others. I do not blog to get attention from others (though good comments are nice). I blog for personal reasons, one reason of course being self-discovery.
Edublogging is cognitive apprenticeship, when the educator models the process, and the learners work towards emulating the model into their own writing process. Presence is characterized by a blogger’s relationship with self, as well as self – as – other.
Forum discussions are not about apprenticeship. My experience has been that forums used in courses are about peer evaluation, where compulsion to reply to posts are the norm. Peers are expected to comment to each other’s posts, limiting the scope of the range of personal freedom to post whatever you really think. You write to impress, to score points with the judges, and in such a competitive environment you are seldom showing true internal processes; you are adapting to the given arena of ideas, and suiting up your armour to engage others.
Where are my ideas coming from? I have experienced repeatedly times when peers would engage in small talk on forums, activity I consider trivial. My personal preference would have been to blow past the idle intros, and get in to the meat and potatoes of intellectual play. No appetizers for me, thank you. I know that is so detached, even cold, but if I want to get to know a person better, I can engage them through depth of dialogue. And I have done this, but for me the process of blogging with key others over months or years has led me to become far more engaged with others than pounding out replies to posts on the introduction forums.
For me, forums are more sparse, shallow, and lacking in emotionality, in connection, with others. And though that standpoint is of course arguable, what is beyond doubt in my mind is that blogs are a better means of engaging in a lively conversation with my various selves over time.
With forums, the class disperses and most of the time the forum posts are locked away in some virtual vault somewhere, awaiting inevitable deletion. With blogs, however, one can continue the dialogue, and expand it and deepen it further, or abandon it. But for blogs it is a question of the owner’s choice; for forums, the posters are not offered the choice.