Discussion Silos

In response to the past couple of days where my friends and fellow CS Ed advocates Alfred Thompson, Rob Underwood, and I had a nice little discussion via our blogs, Alfred wrote this.

It's great when a number of voices in the community have an open discussion but one of the things I found myself lamenting was the fact that a lot of the discussion isn't truly accessible.

Why not?

The silo known as Facebook.

I have no problem with Facebook - I like it and use it daily - it's a great way to keep in touch with former students turned friends. The problem is that much like Las Vegas, discussions that happen on Facebook stay on Facebook.

Recently I've seen a number of blog posts, some mine, some Alfred's, some others where the post garnered nary a comment. Head over to Facebook and if you're friends with the right people, you might find a lively, informative discussion.

In one case in particular, one post had independent, overlapping discussions in at least three Facebook threads.

How much richer would the discussion have been in a public forum plus it would be left open for people to discover in the future.

Personally, I use Disqus. I like it since I can also follow people on it and I can just embed the code in any page but others like what Wordpress or Blogger uses for comment threads. In any event, it keeps the conversation open.

Is this really a problem? Maybe not but I do wish people would look beyond Facebook for discussions.

It's something I've been trying to get my students to do for years. I've used a number of tools for class communication:

  • mail lists
  • Piazza
  • custom forum software like vanilla
  • slack

and haven't found anything that really does the job quite right. I'm still looking.

The kids use these but invariably end up also setting up a Facebook group for my class and their other classes. I encourage this - they certainly should have a forum that I can't see. How else can they plan that surprise party for me :-). In all seriousness though, ideally they should have a forum free of teachers but they should use the one with the teacher as much as possible.

The real problem with the kids setting up Facebook groups every year is that there's no institutional memory. I see the kids, year after year, have to clear the same hurdles. If they started thinking outside of the silo of their Facebook communities and just had an ongoing community for each class - one that passed on from year to year, it would be of tremendous value for them.

So, I'd like to encourage everyone out there to get our discussions out into public forums. It would be terrific if more of us would blog or blog more often and also to take the time to add to the dialog in a public place.

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