Update: In a move that will probably be compared by some to a flip-flopping politician, we’ve reversed (with some qualification) the change in policy explained below. See our rationale and updated comments policy here.
For a long time I resisted participating in the inevitable march of higher education in the 21st century toward online delivery systems. I like the classroom environment and in-person interaction where I can see the whites of my students’ eyes. But I was eventually compelled to teach a “hybrid” course in which there was some face-to-face classroom teaching, while most of it was online. To my surprise it was a good experience, and although I still prefer the real classroom to the virtual one, I learned there are some benefits to online education. One of the big ones has to do with student participation. Even in a classroom of only 15-20 students, it is easy for a few to monopolize the conversation. Personality types surface pretty quickly in such an environment and professors have to do their best not to let the alpha males and females dominate. Online it’s a different story: students who cowered in the back of the bricks and mortar classroom might come alive online and contribute insightfully when they can take their time and craft their comments for a virtual discussion.
Interestingly, as blogs have worked themselves into the fabric of our society, the same kinds of concerns have surfaced about readers and comments. Does everyone feel comfortable to comment in the wide-open “no holds barred” format that has become standard for blogs? And what do comments contribute to understanding the issues? Popular Science has recently shut down comments on their blog, in part because of a study that shows how comments to an article can actually affect how other readers interpret the article content.
We’ve been talking about how well our current open comments policy on the blog serves the purpose of facilitating discussion within the BioLogos community. So we did our own study, and it turns out that our comments section does very well at facilitating conversation among very few people. We have multiple tens of thousands of unique visitors to our site per month. During the month of September, 93.7% of the comments made on the blog came from .026% of our visitors. That leaves a lot of voices “cowering in the back of the classroom” (in a virtual sense, of course). So we’d like to try something different.
Beginning next week, comments on the blog will typically be closed (there may be some exceptions to that policy for certain posts). Instead, we’ll invite readers to submit their comments and questions to an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). Then, every so often we’ll ask the author of the blog post to respond to some of the best of these, and we’ll feature them in a “Letters to the Editor” format on the blog. We want to see if this encourages more people to join in the dialogue about origins. Perhaps we’ll revert to the open policy at some future time, but we thought we’d give this a try. For now our Facebook page will remain open for comments. And comments to this post are open for one last time.