Are Online Discussions a Form of Writing or Speaking – or Something Altogether Different?

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

For several semesters my undergraduate students have participated in online discussions with students from other countries. My students are education majors, and most speak English as their first language. Those who are not native English speakers have sufficient proficiency in the language to be successful college students in the US.

I have collected data about the activities in the form of questionnaires and have saved the discussions themselves for analysis. Recently I attended a linguistics conference, and while it is not my field, I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the wealth of linguistic data that I had. I chose to analyze one very narrow slice of the discussions, phatic expressions in the form of greetings and closings. One of the research questions I was trying to answer was: Can phatic expressions give an indication of whether the participants regard an online discussion as writing or speaking? My conclusion was that the students seem to approach these activities as informal writing activities. At the end of my presentation, I asked for questions and comments.

One person’s comments and questions prompted me to write this piece: Why should I try to classify it as either? Why not just recognize it as a third type of writing which is specific to this medium? I am still trying to wrap my head around this concept. I am what Prensky refers to as a digital immigrant, and I think my perspective and mindset is coming into play here.

To me, there is a distinct difference between oral and written communication. However, in today’s digital world, perhaps these distinctions are becoming blurred or are changing. Perhaps people who are developing their communication skills through digital media see online discussions as another way of communicating that is a distinct form or genre of writing. I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts on this notion.

31 Responses

  1. Interesting question, Lynn. Like you, I’m a digital immigrant. When I first started teaching online, about 5 years ago, I was warned that I would have to set rigid guidelines about grammatical usage, since the students would simply use “text language” if they had a choice. Well, that has happened maybe twice in the hundreds of students with whom I’ve had conversations in online forums. I don’t set rules, I model behavior or practice in how I set up their discussions.

    Is it writing or speech, though, you ask? My students are very polite to one anohter–as though they were talking in person. I’ve never had an incident of “flaming”–though I have had to write to students on a couple of occasions about their ad hominem responses.

    Students in my online classes tell me they “know” one another better–more fully and deeply–through these conversations than they know their face-to-face classmates and acquaintances. But I don’t think we need to think of these forums as a new way of “being.” Folks used to write letters that were incredibly revealing–that let themselves be known in deep ways. I’m thinking we have found a way to replace that form of knowing. And it is writing.

    • Your comparison to letter writing is interesting. I think that is an apt comparison.

      In my experience, both as a student and as a teacher of online courses, I have not found that we get to know one another better than in face-to-face. I have actually met some of my online students at one point or another and they all comment that they got a lot out of the course, but missed the personal interaction of face-to-face. These are all graduate students, so perhaps, this is a function of their being less accustomed to the online/digital environment.

      Thanksfor bringing up some interesting points.

  2. Hi Lynn,

    True: chat, SMS, Twitter impose a concision that influences style.

    But otherwise, Isn’t the degree of formality determined by the communication context rather than by the communication tool? People don’t write in the same way to a colleague in a holiday postcard and in a professional communication.

    Then fashion swings as to the appropriate formal level of communication are nothing new. In the late 1960’s – early 1970’s, in Italy, communication was very informal in academe and in the media, as a result of protest movements: the informal “tu + first name” dominated. A decade later, among the former protesters who had become professors in the meantime, many insisted on being called by their official title. So it’s not a matter of tech (1).

    Students should be made aware of such possible swings, and told that in doubt, it’s always safer to choose a more formal type of address.

    (1) Granted: in the late 1990’s, courses and tuts purporting to teach folks how to “write with the new information and communication technologies” often stated things like “e-mails must be short and informal” (one I translated even added that proper spelling didn’t matter in e-mails). This silly axiom lead to frictions and misunderstandings, especially in work context. However, these stylistic mistakes were not due to the medium itself, but to what self-appointed experts had written about it.

  3. Interesting point that it is the times not the tech that determines how people communicate. In the US, communication is much less formal now than it was even 20 years ago. Perhaps what I am seeing is a function of that shift.

    However, I also think about McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” I don’t think we can deny that tech has influenced this particular shift.

  4. In writing instruction, we teach students to make decisions appropriate to audience and purpose. Authentic writing, as in online discussions, helps teach that concept better than anything I know. I see that every day I participate in active discussions.

    I know one writer in particular who is well qualified and eloquent. He must also be a very fast typist, for he writes very long, complex, and well written essays in his posts. When I read the complete
    conversations, though, it is obvious to me that many people are ignoring him. His posts are too long and complex for parts of that audience and his purpose.

    It makes me examine my own posts, which are also too often a bit long and complex as I struggle to be thorough and precise. I sometimes think I have lost key parts of my audience because of that thoroughness and precision. If I have major ideas, I now try send them in short bursts, so that people can read and respond to each part on its own, so that key ideas are not buried and lost.

    What else do I see?

    People forgive the occasional typo (thankfully for people who type as I do), but frequent misspellings and poor sentence structure will doom the writer to irrelevance as the readers assume a poor education that carries over to the evaluation of the content itself.

    Another key learning is that sloppy logic and inaccurate support will be met with accurate opposition, and it will get one much further to gain a reputation for clear thinking and accuracy.

    None of this is taught by an expert–it comes through trial and error. It comes by recognizing that if one wants to be understood and taken seriously, one has to conform to certain rules, not because they are rules, but because they work.

  5. Claude makes a distinction between “communication context” and “communication tool,” and Lynn mentions McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.” Aristotle, in his less familiar definition of rhetoric, says that “its function is not so much to persuade as to find out in each case the existing means of persuasion.”

    In all three, we get the sense that the context defines the communication or rhetorical event. The context for writing differs from that for speaking, and the context for online discussions differs from that for both writing and speaking. In other words, “the medium is the message.”

    Here, I’m equating context with medium, and both with what Aristotle refers to as “the existing means of persuasion.” The “existing means” differ in each case. To be effective in each, we have to be aware of the means that are common to and unique to each, “on the ground” or online.

    Judith and John A mention rules, and if by rules we mean the grammatical, semantic, and rhetorical structures of language, then these rules are, to some extent, common to all speaking and writing, onground or online.

    But rules are but one of many variables that differentiate online from onground. When I’m writing on the iPad, I dispense with upper-case, internal punctuations, and full spellings because they require too many keystrokes. In this case, ease is the better part of correctness, and I’m guessing that those who text via their phones share the same opinion.

    In other words, the “existing means” determine the rules, and not the other way around.

    Oline is also usually asynchronous, which frees the parties from time constraints. In other words, “anytime” is the rule since both parties don’t have to be communicating at the same time.

    “Anywhere” is what separates online from onground, and anywhere is also closely related to “anyone” and “everyone” located anywhere in the world. For example, in these ETCJ discussions, every comment we post in threads attached to articles is published for everyone everywhere to read at anytime. Google crawls online forums, and search engines will display our texts when they match search criteria.

    Because this is a relatively new medium, the majority of educators haven’t quite figured out how to “teach” it. It doesn’t match their formal schooling, which was almost exclusively onground.

    Thus, we’re left with more questions than answers at this juncture in the evolution of 21st century language or communication. What is the new online rhetoric? What are the “existing means” of persuasion? What are the components or variables of this medium that defines our messages? What is the impact of anytime, anywhere, everybody technology on communication? How does it change our perceptions of who we are and how we relate to others? The new medium extends our communication reach over time and space, and if we are defined by these extensions, then what are we becoming as human beings?

    And for educators, answers to these questions are vital because we can’t begin to teach 21st century communication skills until we have a fairly valid set of answers. If we don’t ask ourselves these questions, then we’re left with our 19th and 20th century models, based on onground realities, and little else.

    Lynn, often a good question is worth a thousand answers, and yours is very good. Thanks. -Jim S

    • Thanks for this great summing up of the issues at stake, Jim. Nevertheless, I still fail to really understand why the tech evolution of the last 15 years should entail new communication skills – anymore than telegrams, or the stenotyping or telex machines did.

      True, the present tech tools are far more widespread. But otherwise? Snail mail also fits your “Anytime” and “Anywhere” criteria. Both e-mail and snail mail can be formal or informal, etc.

      I haven’t departed from the 19th and 20th century communication models I was taught in school. I only fit my use of them to the new possibilities offered by tech.

      E.g. if I write a longish digital text, I use “heading styles” for subtitles, because this allows me to draw an automatic table of content if I want to, and it enables blind people to skip from subtitle to subtitle with their screen reader, whether I’ve made such a TOC or not. And I love hyperlinks, which are more handy than footnotes for letting readers decide if they want or don’t want to delve further.

      But, again, otherwise? My tendency to skip needed contextual info because I focus too much on the point I want to make, or on the contrary to give too much of it, was also a problem when I used a typewriter, and possibly a more severe one.

  6. Claude: “I still fail to really understand why the tech evolution of the last 15 years should entail new communication skills.”

    In this morning’s internet news, we read that Pres. Obama opened his 2011 campaign with an email message and an internet video. Not an onground press conference. Not a press release. Not a TV ad. And definitely not a hardcopy newspaper ad.

    I don’t know about others, but the morning hardcopy newspaper used to be part of my morning routine, as much as a cup of coffee. But for years now I seldom ever buy a newspaper. And for the last year or so, I seldom if ever watch TV news programs. In fact, when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan recently, I turned to the internet immediately, without a second thought to TV, radio, or newspapers.

    Why?

    I’m not sure if this needs explanation.

    This is the world we live in. This is the world students live in. As teachers, we think of online discussions as interactions between teacher and student or student to student. But this is myopic. The medium is actually the internet. The worldwide web.

    The students — we — are immersed in a context, an environment, that is inclusive rather than exclusive. The power that’s available to the president of the U.S. is also available to students.

    Snailmail is not anywhere, anytime, everybody.

    In this brief post, I’ve mentioned and included links to a Washington Post article and a video — both released today. And others can read this and follow the links wherever they are, at anytime — the instant I click on “publish.” And the new technology makes all this possible.

    Try this with snailmail.

    You can’t because the media are different. Certain snailmail skills will apply, but there are so many more. So many more that are new.

    Finally, we can’t determine the full extent of the new skills based on current practice simply because we’re still in the very early stages of adoption. Doing so would be like judging the future of flight by the Wright Brothers’ very early attempts. There was a world of difference between onground and offground transportation, but in the early going, many couldn’t see it. -Jim S

    • I had an interesting conversation last night with the son of an old friend. He is a freshman in college. He went to college intending to major in journalism, only to find soon after his admission that the college is doing away with the school of Journalism, which is apparently no longer relevant to our world. Our conversation, naturally, centered upon his plans with this changing world of journalism, and I asked him where the students his age got their news. The answer surprised me.

      Facebook.

      When people in his circle come across an interesting news story, they link it to their Facebook accounts, after which there is a discussion. I had seen a number of these because my own children and many of their friends are also my friends on FaceBook. I had never dreamed it remotely possible that a large group of people could be using this (and the discussions that follow, which I will not characterize here), as their primary source of information.

      Shaken to the core, I prepare to re-evaluate.What does it mean when the job of the news editor has been taken over by one’s circle of friends?

      • Has it, though, John? What you describe rather reminds me of when I was in high school and we took turns during pauses between lessons sight-translating aloud and discussing Castro’s funereal homage to Che Guevara from Granma. We weren’t being news editors, and nor are friends discussing news on Facebook.

        A case maybe closer to this news editor’s role was described by Noam Cohen in The Latest on Virginia Tech, From Wikipedia (NYT, April 23, 2007).

      • By “news editor,” I was referring to the decisions made concerning what will be the content of the news. The motto of the N.Y. Times is “All the news that’s fit to print.” In a FaceBook-as-news-source world, the motto would be “some of the news that seemed interesting to my friends from whatever source they came upon as they stumbled about the Internet.”

        The Wikipedia article is interesting, but it is decidedly different from what I described. In that case, it was an item of obvious and immediate concern to people around the world. Such people would go to a source they could trust (more on that later). With FaceBook, you turn on your computer (in Jim’s terms, along with your morning coffee) and learn that a friend has decided that a certain news story from a certain writer’s perspective is worthy of your attention.

        As for the trust factor, let me relate what I experienced just prior to reading your message. I have life interests some might call bizarre. For reasons that shall go unexplained, I was interested in gaining some information about the historical character Dion of Syracuse, a contemporary and friend of Plato. I went to Wikipedia for information, and was greeted by a message saying that the article might need some improving. No kidding! If you want to see what is wrong with this sort of thing, just go to Wikipedia and read about Dion of Syracuse. I don’t care if you don’t know a blessed thing about that era of history, or any era of history, reading through that article–if you can do it–will give you pause.

  7. :D Indeed, the Dion of Syracuse Wikipedia article is bad. However, the Talk part of the page already points it out:

    “This entire article needs rewriting by a Classical scholar. It is by some margin the worst piece I have come across on Wikipedia Ericoides (talk) “13:51, 14 January 2009 (UTC)
    “Indeed. The author of most of the text does not seem very skilled in writing English—there are many errors and obscurities, only a few of which I have corrected.” Jakob37 (talk) 04:33, 13 September 2010 (UTC)

    Jakob37 hasn’t made a personal page yet, and Ericoides’ personal page indicates that he is not one himself.
    Maybe the wording of his ccomment was slightly unfortunate, in that it may have deterred users who know about Dion but are not classical scholars either from making improvements.
    However the nice thing is that whenever I have chanced upon a Wikipedia article that was not satisfactory, there has always been something about the issue either in the Talk part or in a banner. And very often, this leads indeed to improvements. Possibly, there are too few people interested in Dion for that to happen as fast as might be desired. But there are no similar opportunities whatsoever with printed encyclopedias.

  8. John, re Facebook as a news source and Wiki sites as references — before we pass judgment on them, let’s make sure that we understand the way web 2.0 works.

    It’s an open marketplace of ideas, and the principle is that the most credible and useful info rises to the top and the least sinks into oblivion. Thus, in Facebook discussions, even among friends, a constant “weighing” is occurring and posts (and their authors) that are most useful and credible become the most read.

    The same is true with wikis. Information that’s most useful and credible will surface and info that’s poor will sink.

    In the early going, in both Facebook and wikis, the info is a crap shoot. Later, though, as others post their perspectives and additional info, the truth begins to take over.

    The key is participation. If you know better, then you post a correction. And if others know better than you, then they’ll post their corrections of your post. Readers will help in the weighing process.

    Thus, in their social networks, people (and not just the young) can get the latest info without having to review all the key news sources. Others will post what they’ve read in the news, seen on TV or Youtube, read in online sources, and you, the reader, can benefit from their initial research.

    In networks of friends or acquaintances, posters have reputations and participants learn who to trust. This is an incentive for all to be responsible in their reporting.

    And because this is web 2.0, people belong to more than one network so what is learned from one can quickly spread to the others via sharing.

    For example, my networks include all of you, my ETCJ colleagues, as well as networks of friends and family. These networks are filled with very bright, caring, and responsible people, and I trust that I will quickly get the best and latest info from them.

    Thus, social networks can be an extremely efficient and effective means of getting crtical info quickly, and from people you’ve learned to trust and rely on.

    Wikis were generally quite poor in the beginning, but as they attract increasingly enlightened posters, they’re quickly turning into the most amazing source of the latest information with a range of subjects that’s literally mindblowing.

    Obviously, there are some areas and subjects that aren’t covered very well. But to judge the entire wiki system by these instances is really selling short a most remarkable resource that wouldn’t be possible without web 2.0’s participatory and dynamic, organic nature.

    Web 2.0 gives us all — everyone on this planet — the opportunity to share the best, latest, most accurate, most useful, most enlightening information. When the best and brightest in all the various knowledge areas participate in social network discussions, the quality of knowledge goes up and the best info rises to the surface. This is the beauty of the MOON, the Massive Open Online Network. -Jim S

    • Question: What do you call the worst and least accurate article in all of Wikipedia?

      Answer: A Wikipedia article, open to anyone who wants to read it and learn from it.

      I see the point of the benefit of what occurs when “Web 2.0 gives us all — everyone on this planet — the opportunity to share the best, latest, most accurate, most useful, most enlightening information.” I can also see the potential “When the best and brightest in all the various knowledge areas participate in social network discussions.”

      My concern is what happens before those discussions are finished, and when the participants are not the best and the brightest.

      In 1999 two of the students in our school district went into one of our high schools (Columbine) and began shooting. It was hours before the police went in, found the bodies and began a formal investigation. During that time, rumors were flying, and we were very afraid that this could be part of something larger. We heart rumors of a vast, Internet-based conspiracy. Even before the police entered the building, I was assigned the task of crawling the news groups to see what I could find.

      As you might guess, the news groups were buzzing, and I eavesdropped on as many conversations as I could throughout the afternoon and evening. Very early on I came across a post, made in several groups, in which the poster claimed to be part of such a conspiracy and who implored all like minded people to join him and his other homosexual friends in this great act against the system. I kept reading, and very quickly saw that the savvier news group participants had exposed this fraud without difficulty. Every news group in which he posted soon showed that he was a well known troll living in Florida, someone who regularly posted erroneous provocative messages of this sort to stir things up in news groups.

      By late evening I submitted my report to the school district personnel and the police, saying I had found no evidence of any kind of conspiracy. I included the information about the troll so that they would know it had been investigated and found to be baseless.

      But 24 hours later the news of an Internet-based homosexual conspiracy was the headline news story in the Drudge Report. Matt Drudge reported on that post in the most lurid fashion possible, with no hint that it might be a false lead. Soon everyone was talking about it.

      By then I had been assigned to be the moderator of an official news group dedicated to discussing the Columbine situation with the presence of someone (me) with direct connections to the actual facts in the case. It was designed for rumor control. In the first few days of this, the key rumor I had to suppress was the homosexual conspiracy rumor, with posters insisting that if Matt Drudge said it, it must be right, and since he regularly exposes the lies of people in official capacity, then obviously my lie about this conspiracy was what he was exposing.

      Maybe it is that memory that gnaws at me.

      In the FaceBook discussions I see about the news articles that are posted among people of that next generation, I have so far not seen any evidence of the best and the brightest entering into these conversations. Those people don’t seem to be on their friends lists.

  9. John, you speak in extremes, in either-or, black-and-white. The result is fear mongering. I have to wonder why you want to promote such a climate.

    There’s a HUGE center where countless discussions are occurring. The universe of social networks (SNs) is more than Facebook, more than one or two pages in any single SN site. Your experience is unique — in the extreme. I have been actively participating in SNs on a daily basis for years and know that the kinds of negative experiences you mention are rare.

    You take my “best and brightest” comment totally out of context to fit your need to argue in extremes. Again, why?

    In fact, if there are pockets of ignorance or malintent, they are counterbalanced by overwhelming numbers of intelligent, rational, informative, useful, and socially responsible sites. [Added a few minutes later:] People online aren’t stupid: They won’t base their opinions on one or two extreme or ill-informed sites. They’ll weigh the info against other sources. This is the way the web works. People have ready access to thousands of news and info sources. They’ll also find other views in other SNs that they log in to. But you know this. Right?

    You’ve chosen to focus on a drop of poison in a sea of clean and healthy water. Why? What do you hope to gain by this message of fear? -Jim S

  10. I would say first of all that you are exaggerating the degree of negativity in my post, which is surprising since my last article (https://etcjournal.com/2011/03/21/asians-in-the-library-the-value-of-social-networking/) talked about the value of social networking in a positive sense, and I have written other positive comments about this in the past.

    I think I am taking more of a cautious middle ground approach.

    In another recent comment I talked about the idea that you mention that “People have ready access to thousands of news and info sources.” Yes, I do have access to thousands of news sources, but I don’t read thousands of news sources. No one does. They select a few that they prefer the most, and I strongly suspect that they shun the ones that are most likely to have information that runs counter to their mind set.

    Perhaps my concern, which is actually, as I said, a really a cautionary aspect of my overall optimism that this will eventually work, is a balance to your rosy belief that the overwhelming number of people who currently use the Internet for information carefully weigh different views, measure the evidence, and make informed decisions.

    I guess I have been dwelling too long in the apparently isolated pockets where this is not always true..

  11. John, thanks for the clarification. I was hoping that you would point us to studies or lit reviews on how the social networks are dumbing down America. I’d be interested in reviewing any and all research that demonstrates this is happening.

    On the other hand, based on stats provided in Nancy Willard’s interview and article, students are very cyberwise and cautious in SNs. Yes, there are dangers, but they’re no greater than dangers that exist onground.

    In fact, the greater danger, according to Willard, is the kind of fear that you’re intent on creating. It hampers the integration of ICT in education.

    Perhaps the only ones who gain from creating a climate of fear are those who either oppose change or profit from the fear by providing services for greater security. -Jim S

  12. I really don’t believe I am playing on any fears here. A s someone who was a sympathetic collaborator with Nancy on a similar issue in the past (School web filtering), I don’t see any contradiction at all. Nancy does not pretend that there is no problem–she just advocates a different solution.

    I see no value in pretending that in all but a few isolated pockets all the information on the Internet is wonderfully correct. Remember that Wikipedia had to alter its processes because of all the misinformation that was getting into its pages, including biographies that were actually character assassinations written by that person’s enemies. I am advocating a similar approach–make a realistic assessment of the situation and act accordingly.

    If a sizable portion of today’s youth is indeed getting most of its news from sources like FaceBook (and I don’t know the degree to which that is true), then we should look at the implications in that shift.

    Nancy advocates education as a solution, and so do I. In all the online courses I developed that included web-based research as a part of instruction, I always included instruction to teach students how to evaluate the sources of information available to them. I have been doing this for more than a decade. For example, I used to use an old article by Alan November in my instruction. It is a true story about how a student learned on the Internet that the Holocaust never happened. “Teaching Zack to Think,” is a good example of how it can be done. (http://novemberlearning.com/resources/archive-of-articles/teaching-zack-to-think/)

    I think that a realistic appraisal of a situation followed by good instruction on how to evaluate this vast array of information as we use it is a better approach than ignoring it because we are afraid people might find out that there is some misinformation on these sites and shut them off.

  13. John, throughout our exchange, you ignore my points (e.g., on research) or turn them into strawmen. You also deny what you’ve written earlier. You’re also twisting my Willard comments to serve your own ends. In other words, you’re trolling. -Jim S

  14. I thought about this for a long time. I think online discussion puts one on the record like no other form of communication. I am a teacher of long experience.

    I have a couple of interesting areas of expertise and in online communities, I continue to get feedback over a long period of time for written comments I have made.

    I am no fan of Michelle Rhee and for writing my thoughts, understanding and observing the program up close and personal, I dared to write . well that was a signal to some that I could not review proposals, of course now that the cat is out of the bag, it is ok, but I was on record as opposing
    someone who was very , very popular and so that made me an enemy in findable terms.

    Sometimes peers use the thoughts you share, without permission to get grants that you cannot.
    It is a chance you take in being open about your ideas. What is the difference between a businessman and a teacher? Teachers share ideas businessmen often take the idea and sell it. Comes with the territory.

    But online conversations make friends and cement friendships in ways that distance , time and limitation of face used to pose a problem.

    Online friends often spur you one to better thinking , point to articles and network as a matter of fact.

    Bonnie

  15. Bonnie, you underscore the social networking aspect of online discussions that make it vastly different from speaking (one to one or one to many) or writing (non-social-networking forms). You’re right. With a single click, we’re able to send a thought to everyone in the world. (Everyone may not read it, but it’s there.)

    The point that this makes for educators is that 21st century students must learn how to effectively and safely use this power to achieve their purposes. Pre-21st century curricula won’t prepare students. This is precisely why Lynn’s question is critical.

    Educators must see that online discussions are different and require curricula that’s different. As long as they believe that current speaking and writing instruction is sufficient for online discussions, curricula won’t change. -Jim S

  16. I thought of another thing. The educational bullying that can occur with online. In informal situations I have had a principal have the tech person copy my emails and I would be called in for things I said that he did not believe. I remember well that He said to me that books would never be replaced and that social media was a fashion that would disappear.

    I really love books, I may have to change my mind but the ease of using a physical library with the selection fo the things I have chosen makes me feel good. And when people were doing sit ins for sandwiches, I was deep in the Petersburg, Virginia library reading wonderful books that I had never had a chance to read.

    Still there is a problem. If I should happen to change my mind , or alter my thoughts, like Diane Ravitz, the orginal thoughts are there for all to see,.

    Sometimes we take a chance when we advocate in an educational crowd where most of the experts do not even teach school. We make enemies without wanting to because people are rigid in their thoughts so an online discussion sometimes is an armed camp of people supporting one side or anouther without room for thought and or thinking that there are many ways to do things.

    It is often politically correct to agree with the current policy. My only beef is that if we are headed to education in the clouds, it would be good for their to be equitable access and tools . And professional developed models of the use of technology. Not saying that everything is on line. But teachers should have more than a rudimentary idea about how things work. I am engaged in a discussion about Facebook. How sad, when what we should be talking about is the use of social media, but
    depth in an online conversation can be reached with other interested people .

    The Pope. Oprah Winfrey, Miss Manners and the woman who raised her children with apes in the wild all said that the Internet was not a place for our children. Those remarks are not everywhere but in the wayback machine. Jane Goodall is in our sites because someone used media to share her ideas with us. i found it extraordinary that she dissented.
    Todd Oppenheimer is somewhere quietly counting his money. Because of his writings and online
    rantings many refused to learn the Internet.
    The publications Oppenheimer has written for include The Atlantic Monthly (‘The Computer Delusion,’ cover story, July, 1997. Few noticed how he used online to promote his ideas and few took him on .

  17. Bonnie, you raise a good point about internet detractors.

    The way I see it, they’re not seeing the whole picture. They’re fixed on a part of it, and usually the most dangerous part. It’s like assuming that the entire world is made up of autobahns and freeways. Thus, the world is a dangerous place, especially for young children.

    Of course, if the world were that dangerous, it wouldn’t be safe for anyone to wander out.

    But freeways are just a small part of the earth. The rest is filled with open spaces, mountains, towns, shops, schools, neighborhoods, homes, parks, etc. As part of their education, formal and informal, children learn the difference between safe and dangerous places.

    As part of their schooling, children need to learn how to be safe in the cyberworld. But they also need to learn how to use the power of the internet to expand their communication reach to learn. The internet is an increasingly dominant part of their world, and they need to learn how to not only survive but to thrive in it. -Jim S

  18. Here is some news (Washington Post, 4.7.11) about the ways times are a changing:
    Government may use Facebook, Twitter for terror alerts
    By Hayley Tsukayama
    The Department of Homeland Security is planning to tap social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to help spread the word in the event of a terror attack, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

    In a draft of a plan obtained by AP, DHS says it may turn to social networks to spread news about new terror alerts “when appropriate,” after notifying local, state and federal officials.

    The plan is expected to go into effect on April 27 and will replace the government’s current color-coded rubric with a two-tier warning system. “Elevated” alerts would be issued when there is a credible threat against the United States. An “imminent alert” would indicated a credible, specific and impending terrorist threat or on-going attack. According to the draft, each warning would have an expiration date.

    Related stories:

    Facebook to start sharing AMBER Alerts

    Tech firms hiring White House staffers

    Census Bureau expands use of ‘this thing called the Internet’

    • Hi, Bonnie. Thanks for the link! I added it to your comment. Great article! Just another example of how social networking media are evolving into useful and powerful means of communication. -Jim S

  19. So with thinking a little bit the success of some of our articles lets us know, yes we take a chance when we publish, but our thoughts and ideas have wings and reach people outside of our group, and possibly create
    ways to make our ideas , thoughts and projects known outside of our immediate circles. These ideas , or self publishing make waves to others.

    Bonnie

  20. Online discussions can help you prepare for class learn discussion skills practice your writing skills and learn from each other. However remember that online discussions are first and foremost dialogues not writing assignments.

    • You have touched on what is the very issue for me -I do see them as writing assignments that happen to be dialogues. Thank you for helping me clarify my thinking. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to do with it.

  21. Hello Lynn,

    This is a fascinating question! I have been integrating online discussions into my high school English class using my Collaborize Classroom site for the last two years, but never even considered this question. Despite the numerous benefits that online discussions have had on the quality of our in-class conversations, I never thought of how they perceived the interactions…talking or writing.

    In an effort to collect data and get their points of view, I just posted a multiple choice question to all of my 162 students. I asked them if they thought their interactions online were more like talking or writing. After only 30 minutes, I had 30 replies! The variety of perspectives is so surprising. Most notable, thus far, is that the classes with the best rapport and highest number of replies to peers seem to perceive online discussions more like talking than writing. Where as the classes with the lowest level of replies to peers and less frequent activity seem to view it as writing more than talking.

    If you are interested in the results, my Collaborize Classroom site allows me to publish my results to a Results Page which will tell me what percentage of students vote one way versus another. I plan to pull out some of their poignant responses to do a follow up blog on my site.

    Thank you for posing such a thought provoking question!

    Catlin Tucker

    • Catlin,

      I would love to know what high students think. After all, these are the students I’ll be working with in the not too distant future when they come to college. The better informed we are, the better we can meet their needs and expectations.

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