Commenting, Part I

I wanted to respond to Sue Waters’ queries:

  1. Has commenting helped your learning?  Yes or No?  Why?
  2. What advice would you give others on commenting?
  3. What else could we do to improve the process?
First, in response to the third question, I would say that there’s really nothing more that you all can do. You all have already put us in positions to learn, have made the spaces available, have provided prompts, and have offered motivation. If this is truly a cMOOC, then we are the ones that have to reach out and connect. You all are NOT responsible for my learning, or my engagement.
For me, commenting is no different from any other type of writing, driven by the same goals and motivations. Writing is, first and foremost, about audience, purpose, and context. This means, of course, that commenting is about the potential for more explicit/direct engagement in ways that other more formal writing opportunities are not. This means, to me, that the writing (the commenting) requires both a more direct and a more nuanced consideration of audience, purpose, and context.
The comments that I have received have helped my learning in that they’ve all been very supportive, which makes me feel comfortable in the environment, which makes me want to continue. But commenting must be voluntary, whether in a MOOC or a Grade 7 classroom. To me, there is no value in commenting if it’s a requirement. If it is, then too often the commenter will only be checking a box to get a grade or a pat on the head. 
If we are seeking value in our comments, then the best comments should be purposeful. While there is much to be said for the short, enthusiastic, motivational comment (“Great Job!” “Good Point!” “Thanks for the post.” +1), and while there is also much to be said for the brief comment that summarizes or describes an emotional response to the post, for “learning” to occur through commenting, something with a bit more depth, we must engage. And that engagement requires time and energy.
Some writers may be able to write up a 250-500 word comment off the top of their heads, but my writing process is slower than that. I have to have some time to think, to set aside, to revise. I feel really uncomfortable when I feel rushed. In many respects, commenting blurs the lines between formal and informal exchange. It can be exploratory, or it can be critique, or it can be formative, but since I am new to this environment, it’s hard to know what the purpose for the comment really might be. For example, Allan posed a question for me on his blog, and then sent me a tweet individually pointing me to his post, so I felt compelled to respond, but I was unclear about the purpose for his question or what he was hoping to learn from me. I felt like my response was hasty and a bit defensive, and I don’t like feeling that way. Allan contacted me individually afterwards, and he was great, offering me his thinking. When I engage with a close colleague or a collaborator or someone with whom I have a relationship, I can be messy or uncertain. In a (semi)formal environment like this course or in the blogosphere, getting to know someone in order to project vulnerability (oftentimes a requirement for good learning) can be frightening.
But we all have to put ourselves out there (and the ET MOOC has been quite inviting). We all have to engage in order to grow. We might not necessarily need to do a long comment; we might just pose a few questions or challenge a particular point, but good learning means engagement, which should include numerous exchanges and significant thinking time. That, for me, is just a reality. Good learning takes time and energy, and good commenting takes time and energy, as well. For example, while I didn’t comment on Amy Burvall’s six-word story, I have shared it with friends and colleagues because it was so powerful. And I do that often: I read through a lot of posts, and are moved by many, but comment on relatively few. I try, but some comments turn into posts, and some I begin, then get distracted or called away, or can’t find the right words to say, others I have written, then have been defeated by the delivery mechanism. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m a plodder, which means that I have a number of posts from ET MOOC saved at various places in my cloud: some in my Pocket to read later and more closely, others in my inbox to comment on. For example, I would love to comment on the Academic Integrity postJoining Weight WatchersAdventures: A Choice (just to name a few), but I don’t know if I’ll really have the time to do so. I also want to respond to a reply to a comment that is sitting in my inbox. I have tried to comment quickly to some posts, but am uncertain how successful those comments have been, and I would like to offer something of substance to everyone, and that requires, for me, thinking and drafting and revising. Time.
Personally, one of my primary goals for the ET MOOC is quickly becoming a need to (re)construct my daily learning. I want to think of the engagement in ET MOOC, and the engagement beyond ET MOOC after it’s officially completed, as a part of my daily routine. I don’t want to think of this learning opportunity, and future learning opportunities like this one, as “additional” to my daily work. But that requires both adjustments and choices. Figuring out the role that commenting plays in this larger experience is, for me, an important consideration.
This is already too long for one post. I’ll conclude my thinking tomorrow in Part II.