Saturday, January 15, 2011

The value of lurking

Kids who won’t post on the discussion forums used to drive me nuts.  Actually still drive me nuts.  I know they have ideas to contribute, and would benefit from being in on the conversation.  But they don’t post their ideas, even though they lose points.
Lurkphoto © 2005 Zara Evens | more info (via: Wylio)

For a long time I thought they just weren’t participating at all, unless I took the class to the computer lab with the express assignment to be part of the discussion. 

Only then I noticed that students who weren’t posting were still logging in from home.  That meant they went to the trouble to go online, find the website, login…  but not post.  Moodle doesn’t show me the number of posts they read as D2L does (or at least I haven’t discovered that feature), but it does show me when students last logged in. 

I started to look for patterns with one student.  He hardly ever posts, but he logs in several times a week.  Given that many students are posting throughout the week, there’s often new material to read every day.  So it follows that he must be reading it. 

Is he getting something out of that reading?

Yes.  The community is losing out because he isn’t actively contributing, but is he still getting something out of it?  I have to say yes. 

After all, how many blogs do I read but not comment on – dozens.  Do I get something out of that?  Of course.  I read a lot of blogs before I felt comfortable commenting on a stranger’s blog.  It’s easier now, but I was a blog lurker for a long time.  And still read dozens of blogs without feeling the need to comment on most of them.  Guess that means I’m still a lurker.

So returning to those students who lurk, if they’re logging in to read, they are benefiting. 

That doesn’t mean I’m going to change my grading – because most students are powerfully motivated to earn those points for discussion participation, resulting in often vibrant and certainly interesting discussions.

But it does mean I’m not going to fret about my lurkers quite so much.

Thanks to Dan Pontefract, whose musings on lurking got me thinking about this topic.


  1. Interesting post. Some students have different learning styles in the classroom than they do online.

    I've also heard from plenty of teachers who like to read blogs and postings on social networks but are hesitant to make comments.

    I think lurkers are learners too.

  2. I didn't feel like this always, but I've come to this same feeling. Thanks for writing.