Are online discussions really discussions? I’ve been wondering this since I started teaching online. Many of my students, friends, and colleagues get a sour look on their face when it comes to discussion online, whether it be synchronous or asynchronous. They express, sometimes implicitly and others explicitly, a common sentiment that online discussion is not as good as the real thing, implying that — like the initial question asks — online discussion is not really discussion. Hybrid Pedagogy authors and participants have also taken up this question. Stommel and Harris claim that “wonders” can occur during online discussion, and online teachers can provide “fertile ground for brilliant and lively conversation.” They observe however that most online discussions “go to seed,” and consist of “monotone interjections by its participants.” A recent #digped chat opened these issues up to the wider Hybrid Pedagogy community as well. In many of the ideas articulated in these posts and chats, there is a presumption that online discussions are meaningfully similar to discussions which happen in brick-and-mortar classrooms. Is that presumption accurate? What is online discussion, and is it a lesser version of “the real thing”?
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