Thursday, March 24, 2011

Good Forum Management

...is not just for the moderators.

I've mentioned before that I'm taking an online course right now through my local community college, and we're doing group projects right now. I can tell that few of my classmates have a decent understanding of not just Online Communication (capitalized because it's actually the name of the course), but also Forum Management (capitalized because it should be a unit in the course).

For the group projects, we are not asked to meet in person, only to collaborate and create a document to be submitted in to the instructor. The instructor provided forums for us to talk amongst ourselves within, and the contents of these forums are visible to all of us.

Group 1 started a single thread back during Project 1, entitled "Group Assignment One." Below that, they posted most, but not all of their communications, very often repeating what they said in reply to different group members. When they started the second project, they simply posted another reply to "Group Assignment One" entitled "Group Assignment Two." At present, they have 56 posts on their forum.

Group 2 is my own, and I will come back to it in a bit.

Group 3 didn't bother posting anything, so they're all failing the class. At present, they have 0 posts.

Group 4 started a single thread back during Project 1, and all they've done is continue to reply to it, never changing the title. It's a very liner thread, everybody posting their reply to the latest post, regardless whether that's the post they're actually replying to. Their conversation follows the rule of face-to-face communication, where everything is linear, and you can't go back and re-emphasize a point that you've received a new inspiration on. At present, they have 19 posts.

Group 2 is my own, and I have experience managing a forum as well as leading a group of people that don't want to stick their necks out and do it themselves. We have a forum thread for Project 1 called "Getting Started," below which are all of our posts branching out for the first project. We have a forum thread called "Project 1 Complete," which has the final form of the project and room for anyone to comment if they chose, if they found anything in the final piece that needed to be edited further. We have a forum thread called "Proj 2: Getting Started," which contains all the posts for the second project, separated from the first so there is no accidental overlap. When this project has been completed and only requires polishing, I will add a new thread for "Project 2 Complete." At present, we have 35 posts.

It's not just about having the most posts to share the most information, if the web that you build with your posts is tangled and confusing. It's not about having a liner discussion where everything can be traced perfectly back to it's roots and has a clear and concise start, middle, and end.

Forum Management is about being organized enough that you only have to address each issue once, and those answers can easily be found so they don't have to be needlessly repeated; separating different topics into different areas so they don't overlap and cause confusion; and emphasizing that every post is a direct reply to the post above it, not one several levels up. If you want to post a reply the a comment several levels up, you're posting your reply on the wrong level: go several levels up to the appropriate post that you're replying to and post it there.

One of my classmates, has a severe issue with that last rule. Regardless what he's saying, he always replies to the last post on the forum. Needless to say, he's in Group 4. If he tried to pull that in Group 2, I would have pulled his aside and told him to stop, taught him the ways of the Force Forum, and maybe threatened him if he didn't shape up. Out in the wild, that sort of behavior is like trying to rob a gun store with a knife.

So please, learn how to talk in an online Forum. It has it's own rules and dynamics, different from chat rooms and face-to-face communication, and as more and more business take their offices and inter-office communication worldwide and online, it becomes just as important as any other form of Online Communication.

Oh, and never piss off the moderators, regardless how they treat you.

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