The lurking tipping point – socially and academically acceptable?


Lurking, just saying the word leaves a bit of nasty taste doesn’t it? Even though it is being defined in slightly less threatening terms by the Oxford dictionary.  But as the march of the MOOCs continues and we are beginning to gain more insights into learner behaviour, drop out rates etc, lurking seems to be becoming more acceptable.
However I still don’t like the word. Perhaps because it still has connotations of internet trolls, and to be frank “not very nice people”.  I recently tweeted that I don’t lurk on MOOCs, I absorb. Which might be a bit of an airy fairy statement, but I’m much happier being classified as a sponge than a lurker 😉
However, as I’ve been listening to the #altmoocsig live stream today, and particularly Helena Gillespie talking about the UEA experience, I do now wonder if we have come to a tipping point in terms of valid educational lurking?   There is research coming through (particularly the work done by Colin Milligan , Allison Littlejohn and Anoush Margaryan) which clearly shows that people are self identifiying as lurkers in a MOOC context.
Participating in a MOOC is still not common and requires a new set of skills and coping strategies (as I have found out), at times it can be so overwhelming that as a learner you either have nothing to say because you are taking in too much, or you actually don’t know where or how to contribute.  I think this post sums up a lot of people’s first experience of a MOOC (particularly a cMOOC)

Where’s the door? How do I get in? [struggle with site, find dashboard, maybe this will help . . . nope. Lost again]  Who else is here? Do I know anybody? [read through introductions, post mine,  try to find it again because there were some pretty good questions in there, can’t find it. Keep reading to get some sort of sense of who’s here too many posts, can’t make sense, can’t connect.  I’m lost again.] (How do I get to know anybody?) What can I do here? [cool idea, massively crowd-sourced writing, whoops, the deadline is past. I’m still lost, can’t find my way in.]  What are people thinking and saying, maybe I can just lurk. [Wander around from blog post to blog post, twitter post, not sure why some of this stuff is here, it seems there are intimate conversations going on, I really feel like an outsider here.]

What I looked forward to, I have come to dread. Tonight I found myself sitting in front of my computer, my head in my hands, feeling like an utter failure.  Saying for the 10th time, that’s ok, you are learning how to do something new, and that means you don’t know how to do it. Keep trying. Just another half hour. Realizing ten minutes later that I’m standing in front of the refrigerator, thinking about making some cinnamon toast – my version of comfort food.

I still wish I could find a better replacement word, but I am glad to see that the positive aspects of lurking are being increasingly recognised.