You Can’t Be a Lurker in My Class

Teaching online has it’s advantages and disadvantages. I do miss face to face and think it’s an extremely valuable environment when done well. Say what you want about the flipped classroom, but the effort to make the most time of face to face interactions is non-trivial.

I’ve had my students blog since the first time I taught this course back in 2007. While the act of blogging is still an important idea, the blog serves as the portfolio or space for students to document their learning. I’ve become fond of saying to my students, “You can’t measure learning, you can only document it” It then becomes clear that they document their learning in ways they’ve likely never had to in previous courses. I don’t give tests or exams. In the case of this spring semester, they don’t even have a project to complete. For most of my students, this is a foreign concept. Part of their mission is to develop some skills around using technologies that I’ve laid out but also to go exploring on their own and bring back their findings to the rest of the class. This interdependence is a cornerstone of this course. They are asked to contribute to each other’s learning and consider how others contribute to theirs.

In every class there are lurkers. Students who are usually quiet, listen well and take in ideas and even process them well independently. They are often successful in that they do well on exams, write quality papers or create quality projects. They are still lurkers but others in the class can learn little from them.

2447023142_25b8b0a10fMaybe that’s okay. But in my courses, I don’t know what to do with these students.

Compliance has been the greatest indicator of success in schools. Doing what you’re told and doing it quietly was and perhaps is still a pretty good formula for doing well in schools. That doesn’t fly in my classes. Students have to document, share and showcase learning. They are not only encouraged but required to contribute to one another’s learning either overtly or simply in their sharing. A lurker won’t do well in my class. I don’t know what to do about that. I’m not totally opposed to that personality, I just know that in my courses, they won’t find success. So while I think what I’m doing is best and great, I wonder if I”m missing something. Maybe I need to structure things differently in order to accommodate the lurker? But if it means an isolated learning environment where good thinking happens behind closed doors, I don’t think I can do that. I know many people using all types of online spaces consider themselves lurkers and I don’t have a problem with that and yet I do when it comes to my courses.

In addition, I want my students to own their learning. They need to speak up when something isn’t interesting or useful. I’m always open to negotiation. After, this is their course, their money, their time. I trust them to seek value for their learning.

Once again, thinking out loud with some half-baked thoughts. If you have any, half or fully baked thoughts, I have a lovely comment section.


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