Epiphanies with Lisa Lane

Lisa Lane smiling. Lisa Lane has just retired from teaching history after 34 years! Wow! Lisa has worked with faculty from all over the world through her professional development roles at Mira Costa Community College in California. This archive of some of that work goes back to 2010 and her writing in teaching & learning publications goes back to 2008. A personal favorite from 2009.



(took notes along the way, for a change, so keep this at the bottom, below the more interesting takes)

Hyperlinks were the first technology that ultimately demonstrated to me how much potential there was in emerging media forms and characteristics…and how so much of it would never be realized for so many of the same (or very similar) reasons that social media (and many technologies along the way, including social software—a different thing than social media) was enshittified. Other reasons, too (it turns out people don’t want to read—or mostly write—densely interwoven hyperlinked novels, the Gaddis and Foster Wallace novels in a new medium), but mostly the not-so-good-ones.

Discussion boards: problematic since forever.  There are so many things that can achieve the same ends as discussion: collaborative annotation, role playing, debates, PR projects. At the same time, many have unrealistic expectations of online discussion that they don’t in the classroom: 100 percent participation is very rare (impossible in larger classes); there is plenty of shallow participation in active classrooms; students can learn a lot by lurking. As Lisa points out: we need to examine what we are hoping to achieve by discussion rather than assuming it must be good because it’s “engagement” and parallels what we do synchronously.

I’m reminded of my minor frustration with the “Creepy Treehouse” wikipedia article because Jared, who is credited with coining the term, got it from me, which I had adapted from a Simpson episode at a conference presentation with many folks I miss in the audience. I know he knows this (he’s not responsible for the article). Lesson for me: I shouldn’t have burned down all the things I made after making them so there would be evidence of the sort Wikipedia recognizes.

That said, I disagree a little with the notion that offering other spaces inevitably leads to creepy treehouses, and also disagree a little that their positive use is tied too strongly to them being fads. The first can happen, but not always. The second doesn’t necessarily detract from their use even when it is part of the motivation … more importantly, Discord (like Slack, Teams, etc) is a fundamentally different form of discussion/interaction. And, ultimately, so what if they get replaced by the next thing, and the next, and the next, if they achieve those goals we talked about?

Low stakes + automation is one method, particularly for supported reading, that I have actually had success at bringing to some UWT folks. As long as they don’t turn everything into a nail for their new automated feedback hammers…


  1. I need much more discussion and commiseration with old-timers that the newer folks shouldn’t have to endure. Tempted to flood the chat (narrator: he did not).

Group of participants in a Zoom meeting.


Why Online Discussions Suck

Discussion Board as History Lab

Thirty-Seven Posts About Discussions Since 2007


It was very nice to see two of my heroes together around one of our campfires. Both Lisa and Dave have deep histories and rich experiences in modern teaching and learning. And both have documented their experiences in a way that lets us see who they are and what they do that few can rival. Having Chris Lott in the group too really placed us all in a wonderful space to learn. 

But the other day sitting around our campfire, it was Lisa’s turn to share a story or two. And so she did.

As you might imagine I think a lot about this group and what we are doing. The format of an hour long Zoom session. The whole “epiphany” thing. Our group and the size and how we express what we do. And why. As I write this, I realize that I have not scheduled the second meeting for the “debrief” session we all thought would be helpful to get the writing done and talk about the epiphanies… It is still very much a work in progress. Currently, I think it is somewhere between “official” work of the university (even though it is completely unsupported) and a social learning event. I prefer social learning spaces myself and have been lucky to be in a few that have really challenged me and provided both learning and more importantly, for me, inspiration.

To see this group of educators from Canada, our group and Lisa was really wonderful. 

That was not really on topic I know, but relevant, nonetheless.

Lisa brought up two ideas that I feel connected to and am still learning about. The whole “threaded discussion” conversation and grading/ungrading conversations. I was taking online courses in 1999 at Walden University using Blackboard. It was amazing. To be in a discussion with peers from across the country seemed really magical. That magic carried a lot of power in the context of “doing discussions” for me. Ten years later, teaching online classes the magic was not really the same. The one post and two replies model that had been so prevalent was no longer magical. We tried other things. In 2009, blogs seemed to be a space that allowed for student ownership and conversations. So we did that. I am not sure if the conversations where any better, but the space seemed more like the world we were living in and the work was under the control of the students, not the university. So that was a win. Today, Zoom sessions with 40 people, online classes with 30 person threaded discussions, just seem to be busy work. And that is sad to me. I don’t have THE ANSWER, but I do have some answers. And some questions that are pointed toward the administration more than the faculty or students.

Ungrading. I think I am not a fan of the word “ungrading” but I do love and support the idea in all of the forms it may take. Some of the most interesting conversations I have with faculty are around feedback and evaluation. Grading strategies vary so much, and faculty are sometimes unable to explain why things are given specific point values. Particularly if they are “given the class” by another faculty. And wow, some conversations about weighted graded are just a trip.

I feel fortunate with this group. The end.

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