LiBeL Column

Board Surfing

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Thoughts on a discussion forum

When I set up ajarn.com I added a discussion board in the hope that fellow teachers with nothing better to do would gravitate towards it and a cosy teaching community would emerge. I foolishly believed that I could trust people add postings that would be humourous, interesting and, possibly, even useful for the rest of us.

How wrong I was. It’s become a bit of a monster with myself, and co-moderator Phil, both too busy, lazy or hungover ( depending on the day of the week) to moderate it properly. Like anthrax in an aironditioned mailroom, the urge to post either libelous dross or irreverent garbage has severely infected many of the posters.

As with every board there is the small army of stalwarts those who’ve been posting since the dawn of time. Often opinionated, usually quick with a put down and not too friendly to hapless newcomers.

Then there’s the itinerant posters who are active for a while then the novelty wears off and either through boredom or having burned themselves earlier the regularity of posts fizzles to a drip.

Paragraphs of the type above which include the odd mixed are always guaranteed to incite the ire of a particular group who’s reason for living is linked to being able to hold up these examples of hack-ish writing as an exhibits of what a waste of space this column is.

This type of activity only goes to add strength to the contingent who classify themselves as being above the language school riff raff on account of their being employed by a Thai university. This affords them the luxury of peering down from their ivory academic towers and spending their time replying to threads about how they don’t just think they are superior to others they know it.

Is it just me or does ” I’ve worked at Ramkahmhaeng U. for 5 years” sound more like an admission of failure rather than one of achievement?

And there’s always one who lives in a world of his own, a ‘superman’ of the board, this guy feels no pain, and is out to make the world a better place ( for you and for me and the entire human race) with his knowledgeable posts regarding his real life expat adventures – all of which are taken from his essential guide to achieving enlightenment – yours for only $9.99.

Now, having gone out of my way to piss off the posters on my own board, how do other TEFL dedicated boards compare?

The biggest has got to be Dave’s ESL cafe – the Granddaddy of TEFL sites which offers a veritable smorgasboard of postings from teachers and curious wannabes worldwide. As with all large scale communities a kind of United Nations effect kicks in – which whilst promoting general harmony and a also leads to a serious amount of repetitive, blandness that becomes prevalent when avoiding conflict at all costs is your aim.

TEFL.net – another worldwide site designed solely for the purpose of making cash has it’s own community. This is more exclusive than Dave’s – with 29 posts in the last 3 months. The most exciting topic appearing to be one entitled ‘Help’ which has a total of 4 responses.

ESL Forum manages to reduce the art of the discussion forum to the content of the Beijing Yellow Pages with the most riveting posts, of the two dozen added since mid September, being entitled ” Latest designed LCD calendar in desktop style and pocket size” and “Oil paintings and frames Manufacturer in China”

The nice guys at English CLUB.com include a 239 word disclaimer for the hapless visitor to read before entering the hallowed halls of its Job discussion forum. The only interesting aspect of the entire forum is to be found in the disclaimer “You understand that all postings are archived and that EnglishCLUB.com reserves the right to re-use them in other parts of its websites and/or newsletters.” Or in other words – “Thanks for the free content suckers.” As the number of the words in the disclaimer outnumbers the number of posts on the forum by ten to one – this is another board best left to rot under the weight of its superiority complex.

Closer to home most seasoned surfers will have seen more signs of life on a Foot and Mouth infected farm that they would the Taiwan Teachers ESL Forum – and that’s being kind.

Over in the monkey brain eating capital of the world, teachers in downtown Seoul have got ‘TESOL Talk – Korea’ a board whose migraine precipitating flashing banner ad caused me to close my browser window before I had the chance to peruse any of the dozen or so posts. Staying in the bizarre dining experience capital of the world ‘TeachKorea.com’ – the self proclaimed ” #1 resource for teachers and other expats in Korea” has a thriving community which over the past 365 days has seen 27 people spare the time and effort enlighten the “thousands” of visitors it receives daily.

And the point of all this?

Despite a fair percentage of the posts being mindless and a sizeable chunk bordering on psychotic, as teaching related boards go that of ajarn.com is probably the most active country specific board around and whups the proverbial ass of many boards belonging to professionally run sites. The credit for which goes to the 1,000 registered users who’ve posted 10,000 messages in the last 18 months.

Thanks.