Lurker – reclaim, accept or keep resisting? some thoughts for #SocMedHE18

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Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

I’m really delighted to be part of the organising committee for #SocMedHE18 ( there’s still time to make a submission).  We’ve had some really interesting and very fun conversations about the theme of the event. We also had the brilliant Bryan Mathers lead a visual thinkery session which was so helpful and again fun.

Perhaps not surprisingly during our conversations, the word lurker has come up again and again.  Andrew Middleton has written a brilliant post summarising some of key points around “that word”, the need for active learning and positive peripheral participation. This post isn’t disagreeing with any of that, and I’m really looking forward to the discussions during the day relating to that theme. But . . .

Here’s the thing. I have a real problem using that work in an educational context. For me it always conjures negative associations of disturbing behaviour.  I spent most of my student life being quiet in a classroom, listening reflecting and I confess at times daydreaming.  Equally, a lot of my professional life has been spent being quiet in a conference room. As I’ve got older, I’ve got braver about asking questions but it is still a scary thing to do, particularly at a conference keynote.  No-one ever described that behaviour as lurking and I don’t think I’ve ever said, “oh I just lurk when I am at conference”.

I know, I know,  times change and even the OED has a more positive, online chat room related definition.  So I am conflicted. It seems that is acceptable, even quite amusing to refer to one’s self as an online lurker.  Looking on side of positive peripheral participation does, as Andrew’s post explains so well,  bring up key questions around active learning. That is a good thing.  But, if we forget the roots of the word and don’t address its negative connotations are we inadvertently missing a key educational role in addressing head on the more harmful side of online lurking behaviour such as trolling?

As with everything there must be a balance, around the need for silent reflection and (positive) active engagement. However I just can’t see myself ever being comfortable with trying to put a positive spin on a very negative word.


2 thoughts on “Lurker – reclaim, accept or keep resisting? some thoughts for #SocMedHE18

  1. I share your concerns about the use of the word ‘lurk’. It’s a word with pejorative connotations and even when it’s used in a slightly jokey way, it can serve to exclude the perfectly reasonable listener who doesn’t get the joke and might feel got at, rather in the same way that technical jargon is used to exclude.
    I am not sure why it has come up so much this year but I have bumped into discussions on lurking that have many similarities to those held twenty years ago. As I said in this recent post maybe it’s the platforms that are different.
    Thinking about this again, I’m beginning to have the germ of an idea about what might be different in the social media era. Perhaps it’s socmedia’s obsession with (hyper)connection that makes lurking the baddie again until people realise that the behaviour labelled as lurking can be a “good thing” #yawns.
    For me, it’s bad enough when teachers may use the term with learners conveying a deficit approach but it’s possibly even worse when the term “lurking’ is used in data collection for research, sending a strong message to research participants and calling into question research quality.

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