During the first two weeks of the Facilitating Online Communities course the topic of blogging versus forums was raised by participants. This was one of the course "process" items I was curious about from the onset. How do you organize group communication through blogs? And why would you want to?
First a bit of context. There are 71 individuals/blogs on the course list. There is a course blog which is where Leigh the facilitator posts reminders about what we should be focusing on as well as reflections the course itself. Also the course wiki contains the main course details, nicely organized so we always know where to check in. There is also a Google Group which is useful for Q&A and for day-to-day discussion. There are 107 members on that list, so obviously some people are following along without enrolling in the course. Leigh has been cross-posting his blog entries to the Google Group to make sure everyone receives them. We also have an open Elluminate room in case we want to drop in for more spontaneous synchronous interactions. The room is also used for scheduled meetings.
So far this seems like a good choice of tools for the course. The breadth and depth of contributions to the course through personal blogs have been just excellent. I'm not sure we would have seen that using only a forum; a blog offers a space to post your very own reflections without being concerned with replies, finding the right thread, staying on topic, or missing an opportunity to contribute because the conversation has moved on. But having a forum is essential. I don't think we could survive without the Google Group as a way to connect and support one another, through the orientation at least. However, there are no organized forum/email discussions. Do the blogs replace that completely? If so, where is the facilitation?
Some participants have chosen to discuss the key issues using the forum, others are posting to their blogs and commenting on other blogs. Some folks are doing a little of both, occasionally linking back to blog posts, so the forum discussion becomes an extension of the blog. Leigh has acknowledged individual contributions, sharpened the focus a bit, and advanced certain topics in the forum. But so far I haven't seen any direct references to content in blog posts brought back to the group. Come to think of it, in organized communication through blogs, where is the group? Where does the facilitator do the weaving, connecting, summarizing...encouraging deeper dialogue, if not speaking to a group?
Maybe the fact that I'm asking these questions means that I'm stuck in teacher mode. During the next 2 weeks we will be examining the differences among facilitator, teacher, and moderator roles. Perhaps some of this will become a little clearer!