Reddit, Course Discussion, and Badges

This semester I am using a community on Reddit to run my course. I’m certainly not the first to do this. Here, for example, is a subreddit for a Japanese language course, part of the whole University of Reddit project.

Using existing social software for course management is also nothing new. The code that runs Slashdot has been used for course management, and there is a robust community of people using WordPress and other blogs to run their courses. (I’ve done this for well over a decade now.) So, why Reddit?

Over the last few semesters, I have been experimenting with a badge system, tagged on to a home-rolled portfolio structure. It wasn’t really what I intended at the beginning, but it kind of evolved into that. And it looked a heck of a lot like Reddit, once things were said and done.

I got there backwards. My interest was not just in “discussion” but in developing students’ ability to argue, critique, and ultimately, to assess the work of others and their own work. Some of that includes “meta-assessment”–or what otherwise might be considered meta-moderation. This shows up in a lot of online discussion environments these days; Reddit is just one. I think Stack Overflow presents an equally strong contender here, but given the topic of the course, I settled on Reddit.

Both Stack Overflow and Reddit offer their code for download (and expansion, etc.). For now, I think that’s unnecessary. That said, I am wondering how hard it would be to simply layer a badge system on top of Reddit (or a Reddit clone). As I said, I got very near to something that looked like Reddit or Stack Overflow by trying to create a system that allowed users to upload something for peer evaluation. I can imagine a badge system that would observe a particular post on Reddit as a claim to a badge, and evaluate the comments (potentially giving higher weight to those who held expert-level badges in the area), generating a badge that could then show up in someone’s OBadge Backpack

The only tricky part of this might be to make sure that the person claiming to be the poster is actually the poster. That authentication bit (see every IAmA post!) is not obvious or easy, without the user revealing their email. I suppose they could be asked to post using a particular code for “linking” their email to a Reddit user-ID, but this seems more than a little clunky.

This could be done with directly without ever touching the code. A browser plugin might actually be able to handle all the UI, as well, leaving the backend on a fairly quiet server somewhere.

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  1. Posted 12/6/2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Looking forward to seeing how this experiment works out. Can you clarify what characteristics of the Reddit platform you are leaning on? Just post / comment voting / sorting? Will you mandate transparent voting histories among your students, or just evaluate the content of comments? If so, what is the advantage of Reddit over other threaded discussion platforms?

    Stack Overflow also presents an interesting model, but interaction would seem to trend more towards one-off points of argument or critique, rather than deliberation.

    • alex
      Posted 12/6/2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      In short, I’m not sure it offers much beyond other threaded discussion platforms. Upvoting, threading, uploads, etc., are all possible in most such systems. And this has a disadvantage in comparison with using CommentPress, which allows close commenting on the text.

      But when it comes down to functionality, I’m not sure there is that much difference between most systems. What you can do in Blackboard, you can do in phpBB or in a WordPress install.

      I guess that’s part of the point. Why roll out LMS specific software for courses if existing, open discussion forums exist? Why reinvent the wheel or pay for it? In part it is because they offer stuff like gradebooks, but frankly, the model on which most of these systems is built is already pretty broken. Rather than thinking about your pedagogy, you do what the system allows…

      Which isn’t to say using Reddit (or SO, or the comment section of the NYT) isn’t going to require some scaffolding and some workarounds, only that we should be thinking about such workarounds for the university-sanctioned LMSs, but it is often harder to do…

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