Choice of Digital Communication Space in Academia

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

We’ve all had the experience of walking into a room full of people and having every single person look up and stare at us. Most of us taking CCT courses this semester have also had the experience of pushing the publish button, knowing that in a few seconds, some number of people will be reading (and necessarily, judging) our blog post. Both are intimidating, even in the most casual or intimate of circumstances.

A recent conversation with a CCT professor had me thinking about how “real life” behavior transcends the digital barrier. This professor pointed out her observation that students were far more active on the forums in Blackboard in past years than they are on the current WordPress blogging platform. Her interpretation suggested that Blackboard provided a more discreet form of participation as compared to the spotlight of the blog system. And in fact, in our “Why We Blog” series, this sense of exposure was cited as one factor in why people are reluctant to blog.

It reminded me of what my neighbor John, who works for Hostelling International designing and developing new hostels, pointed out about the common spaces in these establishments. When designing these spaces, hostels are now trying to eliminate this sense of exposure. Rather than having guests enter the common space and find themselves facing the entire room, they are working to design spaces that allow a brief peak into the room to assess the situation, or perhaps a more subtle entrance that allows for psychological preparation before entering an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people.

It seems that the experience is very similar. So, I pose a question similar to the one Lauren poses in her recent post about social perceptions on Facebook (new window): how can our knowledge about human behavior in physical spaces of communication inform the design (and choice) of online communication spaces, and vice versa? And, in the context of my post, what does this mean in the academic setting, specifically, for professors trying to encourage student participation in online conversations?