“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.”
I used to be a lurker. I was content to sit in the background and hear everyone else talk, give their opinions, and I was willing to soak up all the knowledge swirling around my head. I didn’t have the confidence to join in the conversations.
But as I tried to expand my horizons, little by little, I started joining in. I started commenting on blogs or leaving a comment on twitter. This was a scary time for me and I really didn’t know what to expect. No one was there to show me how this was all done. No one was there to encourage me. But I was curious and willing to put on a brave front to give it a try. Then people started to respond back to me. Eventually I started skyping with people and even meeting them in real life. Slowly I started to find my own voice! Now I am willing to share my thoughts and opinions with confidence.
I’m not sure I could force my students not to be lurkers. Joining in the conversation is kind of like learning to swim. If they are anything like my husband, when using force, they will surely dig their feet in and refuse to budge. I think it is important for me to make the environment safe and welcoming for students to dip their feet in the water. As they gain small successes, they will be willing to go a little deeper each time. Just like me, with each success, their confidence will build until they suddenly find themselves swimming in the deep water. Eventually the deep water won’t be scary for them and they will jump in the deep end of a pool without even thinking twice. Joining in the conversations will seem natural and exciting.
If expectations are given about the class and how participation is necessary in order to pass the class, maybe students who are enrolled hope that this is the kind of class to get them out of lurking. Many people who take public speaking courses are the ones who are terrified about speaking in public. They don’t want the instructor to accommodate their fears and say, “Okay, you are afraid of speaking in public so you can just write a paper.” The same may be true about students who take an online class. They hope this is the nudge they need to move them out of their comfort zone.
What do you think? Are you a lurker? Do you think teachers should accommodate the lurkers in the classroom? Please share.
Image: 'Deep Blue #2'