Finally, finally Online Discussion in English Studies: A Good Practice Guide to Design, Moderation and Assessment (English Subject Centre Report No. 21) is out! It’s been a long time in the making but this Guide to using discussion forums in English Studies (and beyond) has been a collaborative venture between many colleagues, both at the University of Wolverhampton and beyond. Its genesis is in e-learning-related projects carried out by myself, Ben Colbert and Frank Wilson at Wolverhampton, with Hilary Weeks as our research assistant between approximately 2004-06. Out of these came an English Subject Centre project, which included a day conference, several seminars to colleagues and finally this Guide. Wolverhampton colleagues Candi Miller and Jackie Pieterick came on board relatively late in the day to add a chapter on using discussion forums in Creative Writing, and Christina Lee (Nottingham), Matt Green (Nottingham), Stacy Gillis (Newcastle), Heather Beck (Manchester Metropolitan), and Michael Symmons Roberts (Manchester Metropolitan) all added case studies from their various different teaching contexts. Brett Lucas, the English Subject Centre’s Learning Technologist, has been a terrific support from start to finish as well, and has put a lot of work into getting the Guide looking as good as it does.
I’m personally very proud of this work, by which I mean both my contributions to it, but also the Guide as a whole. I’ve had reason to be reminded recently of the ways in which pedagogically-focussed work can be regarded as ‘in tension’ with subject-based research, and the genuine difficulties there can be for academics who wish to do both. Someone somewhere sometime will try and force you to choose between them. When I started my career as an academic I was as dismissive as some no doubt still are of pedagogical research versus the clearly ‘more important’ subject-based research. This changed for me when I undertook a Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education at Wolverhampton — the kind of teaching qualification that new lecturers now have to do. I tried the resist the cynicism I saw in some of my colleagues who were undertaking the PGCHE and genuinely welcomed the opportunity it gave me to reflect on my teaching in a focussed way, underpinned by reading and research. In the Technology-Supported Learning module I went from being the student at the back of the class with her arms folded — all body language saying “this is nothing to do with me” — to someone enthusiastic about what using discussion forums in my Victorian classes might mean. Everything I have done with e-learning since came from this. At no point did I stop thinking about myself as an English Lecturer (or researcher), and I remain very firmly committed to my subject as the focus for the pedagogical thinking I do, but the Good Practice Guide has broader appeal beyond the discipline of English too. There’s no doubt to me that my bits of the Guide are what I would call ‘subject-based research’ too, but whether future REF panels will agree remains to be seen.