Check out my web site:

My Photo


« Job Interview Questions | Main | Laptops in Class »


The Unknown Professor

I've been using discussion boards since the mid-1990s (back when you needed a script to put one up). And I can say that if you're getting that many participants, you're doing great.

Like so much else in teaching, managing expectations is one of the keys. I take a good bit of time at the beginning of the semester to explain how the 'Board works, and that I will typically only lurk for the most part. In other words, my comments will be relatively few, and limited to those times when people either get off track or are totally stumped for more than a day or two. It takes a while, and a lot of reinforcement in the early days of class, but they eventually get it.

At my graduate program, the grad students handled most of the core class sections. There was a tradition of the grad student instructors posting in the common class board (covering 5-600 students a semester) under aliases (my favorite pseudonym was Gregor Samsa from "Metamorphosis" - the guy who woke up and found he'd turned into a 6 foot cockroach).

This way, I could turn discussions where I wanted without them knowing it was me, make points that needed making, etc... without them feeling that they needed to depend on me as the instructor. To this day, I "prime the pump" on the the board in the first few days with questions/comments from my various aliases.

academic coach

"Like so much else in teaching, managing expectations is one of the keys."

What a brilliant phrase. I completely agree.

Here's the e-mail response to Unknown Profs comment from the prof who sent me the question. I've made slight edits to protect her anonymity:

She writes: "I just got back from a WebCT Vista conference at our school. I went to a break out on discussion groups, and they suggested having students write a reflection paper about learning, where they have to go and analyze threads (their contributions and others) and show where their learning happened, etc. That allows the prof to back away some and let them make sense of things.

I think though that for this term, I am stuck with the interactional patterns I have set up in interaction with them about responding a fair amount. But I am learning! This is just my first time using an online environment for discussion threads and it's all new to me. But I love especially the "XXXX" class. When we discussed theories of XXXX there were over 2000 emails -- great analyses of the articles, using their personal history and weaving them with the articles, etc.

Vista won't allow us to do 'fake names' because it is linked directly to Banner, our software for grades/transcripts, etc., and so fake names are not okay. That's too bad, because I loved that idea!"


Being an anonymous commenter in class is great! We did that a couple of times in our blog class. What I did is tell the class that I was going to read our blog like any other blog. I would comment on what interested me or things I had questions about. I think for some that motivated them to write interesting things in order to get comments, not just from me but from others. We did a fair amount of anonymous commenting at the beginning to get things going, but towards the end, I didn't really need to comment at all. The funny thing about the anonymous commenting was that it happened by accident. I forgot to log in while making a comment on something and then I realized how useful that was!

I'm hoping I get the chance to try this again next semester.

academic coach

Laura, aka geeky mom, how funny that you talk about enjoying anonymous comments when you are among my favorite non-anonymous academibloggers.


Believe me, there are times when I wish I were anonymous. I definitely think it's been more valuable to be in the open.

The comments to this entry are closed.