2 Ideas to Improve Comments

A blogger’s perspective.

September 7, 2017

Great discussion going on at What Should We Do About Our Comments?

As an IHE blogger, I thought I’d add some thoughts about how our community could improve the conversations that occur in the comments.

Idea #1:  Incentivize Strong Contributions:

My sense is that the IHE editors are trying to find the right balance. They want to encourage debate and discussion within our IHE community. The concern is that bad comments have the risk of crowding out good comments.

These are all legitimate concerns. What we should keep in mind is that positive incentives are always more effective than punishments. 

We know that the answer to bad speech is good speech. Our goal should be to create an incentive structure that promotes positive contributions.

To this end, I recommend that IHE commit to highlighting the strongest comments on the site. This could take the form of re-publishing a well-reasoned, evidence-supported, and thoughtfully written comment as an original Views piece.  Or perhaps as a guest blog post.

I’ve sometimes followed this methodology by building blog posts around comments. This is a way where the writing for IHE and the comments from our community can be placed on a more even field.

This methodology may also encourage the members of our IHE community to devote greater care and energy to their comments.  The potential of the best comments being highlighted, as opposed to the worst being banned, may go much further in nudging our community to the behaviors that we all desire.

Idea #2: Provide Discussion Prompts:

A second idea for improving our IHE conversation in comments is to provide discussion prompts.

We should be aligning our approach to improving our community to what we know about teaching and learning. Clearly articulating acceptable norms for comments is one important thing that the editors of IHE can do, and I think that this is occurring. An additional method that IHE can borrow from effective teaching practices is to provide prompts for the conversation.

We have some great examples of writing on IHE that invites and directs conversation. Dean Dad is the master of this approach. John Warner is always engaged with the readers of his column. My suggestion here is that the writers of News, Views, and Career Advice also commit to providing discussion prompts, asking questions, and perhaps engaging with the responses.

The idea that everyone who writes for IHE is actually taking part in a conversation may be (at first) a difficult sell.  I’m not sure that reporters or op ed writers think of their work in conversational terms. A few years back I got some advice to think of lecturing (and of giving a big talk) as conversation.  In my work with faculty, I’ve always tried to stress the good things that come when the practice of teaching is integrated with the art of conversation. Perhaps the contributors to IHE will be sold on the idea that what works well in education can also work well in an educational community.

What ideas do you have to improve the conversation in our IHE community through comments that have not yet been suggested in the comments in the original letter to readers?  


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