Blogs versus Discussion Boards

I’ve been thinking again about blogs versus discussion boards. I have always been very anti-discussion boards because personally I don’t like them as a reader or user. I find them aesthetically uninviting and their folded in structure always makes me want to give up. But last semester I had students who responded quite enthusiastically to an assigned online discussion group. The usual problems arose in many groups and much of the valuable content consisted of fairly isolated postings but in a couple of groups the dynamic really worked. I think this was helped by the fact that for part of the semester I used the same groups in tutorial discussions so the message board discussion became a continuation of the face to face work. A few students noted this in the evaluation session.

While thinking about this I stumbled across this posting by Lee Lefever (via Seblogging) which provides an interesting set of metaphoric differentiations that get passed some of the usual technical distinctions:

  • A blog post says "Here it is, dig it"
  • A message board post says "your turn"
  • Comment implies "if you want, not required"
  • Reply implies "I’m not done until you do."
  • A blog is my back yard
  • A message board is a park
  • A blog has readers
  • A message board has lurkers
  • A blog is all about ME
  • A message board is all about US
  • When things go quiet on a blog, the onus is on one person
  • When things go quite on a message board, the onus is on everyone

Sebastian Fielder goes on to make the comments:

Discussion forums and message boards require a consistent effort of a group to work. They fall apart if people sign off and go quiet or if somebody starts to get outright destructive.

Networks of Weblog authors are much more robust. If one goes quiet or produces rubbish nothing major happens to the collective or a single Weblog authoring project which can quite happily stand on its own and develop new connections… and cut off old ties that seem to have lost its value anymore.

None of this gets around the fact that in an educational setting facilitation and modelling is key to helping students get the most out of these types of projects. But I think that Fiedler and Lefever’s distinctions point to the fact that blogging is potentially more adapatable – although there is a definite me/us bias across the two technologies, blogging accomodates social networking more readily than message boards accommodate construction of individuated prescence.

This reminds me of the discussion at Blogtalk Downunder about comments: a number of people, but primarily Mark Bernstein, made the point that comments are not the real facilitator of dialogue, they can in fact be quite destructive and often are trivial. The real communicative element of the blogsphere – what Fiedler calls the "robust" nature of blog newtorks – lies in the linked communication that occurs between blogs.

3 thoughts on “Blogs versus Discussion Boards

  1. I agree with the observations about discussion boards. They are artificial. I wasn’t much help to them as I would often wait for everyone else to make a comment before I would comment. Most of the comments were like, ‘You are so right’, ‘I agree’, and so on. The process didn’t feel like a dialogue, more like everyone feeling like they had to make a comment or two because we were being graded for our ‘participation’. I haven’t ‘warmed’ up to blogs yet, though. As my husband noted, it’s sort of like getting up in front of the class and making a comment. It’s very revealing and shy types or those afraid to offend may be reticent to make public statements, sort of like the student who pulls the teacher aside after class to make a comment they were to frightened to make in class. Blogs encourage spontaneity. Mainly because I can’t always check my spelling and I’m not a good speller. I am taking more risks with the format. I still don’t feel quite confident. I sort of feel like who really cares what I have to say, anyway. But in comparing discussion boards and blogs, I agree that blogs have more potential for true dialog between students.

  2. This post really clarifies nicely between a blog and a discussion board. This semester, I am enrolled in a course with multiple formats (listserve, course page, and blogs) and another that uses just a discussion board. I am already showing a preference to towards the multiple formats.

    The discussion board seems trivial. People are posting because they are being monitored to post…not necessarily because they have something important to say. A blog post seems to have more purpose because it is more personal.

    I have also noticed that the discussions on the boards have a tendency to digress or go off topic. Alone, this seems like it can be a tedious medium for learners. Although it has taken me some time to adjust, I like the variabillity that this course offers in with the formats and multiple ways to respond.

  3. “I agree” with what everyone has said…(smile). I found Eileen’s and Shawn’s postings to be accurate and confirming. This past summer I was in an on-line course that did not have as much depth as it could have. However, I am wondering if the same “posting for a grade” mentality is present regardless of the medium. With blogs, it is about the individual and thus ‘easier’ for teachers to assess. However, I am not sure yet that one technology is better than another. Most likely, this is due to my “absense” from this course. Thus, a student gets out of the course, what they put into the course…regardless of the medium. Other thoughts?

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