On Lurking

juve lurkThis week we’re talking about lurking: what it is and what we think about it. I’ve been doing a fair bit of lurking myself, as I’m recovering from a wee exploratory op at the weekend and finding that I’m too sore to sit at my desk and type, so I’ve been spending more time than usual passively watching conversations and not always participating.

There’s been  a lot of conversation in our Facebook group this week about what lurking is, and an undercurrent of feeling (I think) about whether this is an appropriate word to use.  This is something I wonder about from time to time, without really coming to any conclusions about what I think. In her book E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online Gilly Salmon writes about “browsers, lurkers or vicarious learners” (p.42), and (a couple of pages before this) suggests that “browsing” might be a better word.  It might.  However, what “browser” misses, for me, is the sense that lurkers are hovering, waiting, watching – they are actively involved in some sense.

There’s a lot of discussion about whether lurking is socially acceptable.  Maybe this stems from thinking about behaviour in face to face learning, and maybe that’s a mistake.  If I daydream in class and rely on my classmates to help me to a good result, that does seem like cheating, but lurking happens outwith the context of formal education with high stakes assessment.  If you lurk on the side of rhizo14 then that is your right – our discussions are happening in open (ish) forums and I know before I type that my words may be read by many who will remain invisible.  That is my choice, and it is one I can make freely.

As some of us have said, to an extent we are all lurkers, anyway.  Sometimes we have other priorities, and are too busy to post; sometimes others know more than we do, and we sit and watch the conversation; sometimes we are too shy, or do not have the words to join in.  I usually begin by lurking in any new forum to get a sense of the tone before I begin to post, and I suspect many others are like me in this.

One thing I have not addressed.  Scott asked why we needed lurkers.  I don’t know how to begin to address that question.

The picture is of our cat, Juve.  Last year I spent a few days in bed.  Juve lurked.

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10 Responses to On Lurking

  1. balimaha says:

    Something just occurred to me while reading this, Sarah. Before rhizo14 i used to blog regularly and get excited about how often my post was tweeted, facebooked, viewed, etc but rarely got many comments (got some on my fb, though). At that stage, i did not resent ppl who read my post and never clicked “like” or never posted a comment. I was just glad someone had read it. When rhizo14 started (less than a month into my blogging experience) and folks started to comment, i stopped looking at how many ppl viewed my blog and just enjoyed ppl’s comments. It also made me realize the value to others of commenting on their work. Tho i normally do comment on online posts i like, i became more intentional about it… About letting someone know their posts had made a difference, made me think, etc. But in retrospect, i did appreciate the reading without interaction , too, i just had not considered it lurking until ot became in the context of a course!

    • I was thinking about that as well – it’s the quality of the interactions, not the quantity.

    • VanessaVaile says:

      Often I want to but if it is late, the end of a long day, and I’m tired enough that the brain fog has started rolling in, I prefer to pass on commenting rather than leave a trail of typo ridden incoherence behind as I drift off. Many moocs and more moons back, I realized I’d have to either stop letting not blogging more for courses eat at me, stop reading and commenting on blogs and in groups to make time for blogging, or neglect other, non-course related blogging and social media — community and personal media, casual faculty advocacy network. Triage. Course blogging was the most expendable. The other two still take some juggling, get neglected, although I try to bring from the courses to those whatever I can whenever I can make an opening. It’s that or give up courses, and I’m not going to do that.

      When I am less visible, it’s not disinterest but perhaps too many. I’m too much the browser, not a grazer, to give up those either — and just now realized that this is also the fox/hedgehog difference too.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    Sarah, if you had goats or were more familiar with their ways (or those of other browsers), you might feeling different about the appropriateness of being a “browser.” Not to be capricious, but I like the term (verbal capriole embedded). fyi browsers are hardy, adaptable, and consume rhizomes that grazers won’t or can’t.


  3. Ah, that is a very good point. Hadn’t made that connection 🙂

  4. scottx5 says:

    Maybe people in higher education are unused to intruders who aren’t enrolled, have no obligation (or need) to answer for themselves? Lurkers seem interested but they speak not–how very Zen of them.

  5. Well, Scott, I guess it’s something I never think about, you’re right. My students are neatly enrolled, all present and correct. Well, maybe not, but we don’t envisage intruders to our ivory towers.

  6. I like ‘browser’ – I think to some extent rather pejorative terms like ‘lurker’, ‘dropout’, etc are baggage carried over from traditional courses by those (typically in xMOOCs) who haven’t grasped that MOOCs are essentially very different vehicles for education. In some ways cMOOCs are like museums or art galleries – maybe you come in armed with a notebook and follow your own path (course?) but nobody minds you lurking there even if you’ve come in to shelter from the rain – you might even learn something in passing!

  7. scottx5 says:

    As a kid we’d wander into lecture halls, sit down and listen. Being quiet, no one cared and it was at public university so really those lectures we’re no one’s property. Now that education is a commodity of trade, we’d be hung for stealing. Listening without permission or admission–how very rude.

    The concept of lurker as “other” bothers me. I think people with education who are blind to the advantages they hold don’t understand how un-public education really is to those who can’t get in. Another place where a person doesn’t “belong” isn’t needed.

    When I started thinking about lurking the invisible barriers began to appear. Just as online education is getting started people are already being segregated into groups. We’re not sure how this new open system works, or how much time it takes to find your voice here, or how it might not be obvious WHAT we do here… But true to human nature we already have a category for those we feel aren’t with us. This rant isn’t appropriate to the cMOOC demographic, this isn’t where the injustice is. Yet the other MOOC species seem unconcerned with the social dimension of education beyond making B-grade courses available to those who will take any scraps they ban get.

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