Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An invitation to RSA fellows and also to individuals outside the RSA who would like to work with me

Much has been written at the RSA about 21st century enlightenment and, in particular, on the power of networks as catalysts for enlightenment.  My interest is not in networks, it is in the power of mass online discussion to generate powerful insight and to take people on the journey towards enlightenment.  By mass online discussion I mean online discussion forums and the discussions which follow blog, news articles and so on.

I became a fellow of the RSA because I was hoping to find people who I could work with to rapidly come to express, share develop some of the many insights I have.  I’m interested in taking on the most challenging academic articles but I couldn’t do this alone because while I have the experience of the domain of mass online discussion I do not have the depth of academic experience needed.

I’m interested in writing an engaging and easy to read book about discussion forum culture full of anecdotes and tips on how survive and thrive in forums.  But I couldn’t do this without help and inspiration due to my inexperience in writing, my geographical isolation and the many other pressures on my time.

I’m also open to suggestions. I’d be particularly delighted to be part of projects which explore issues such as how we can formally map the emerging content of mass online discussions so that new joiners can rapidly come to understand what’s already been said or how consultations through mass online discussion can be structured and facilitated to generate maximum insight.

Here’s a little of my background to help you gain some insight into where I am and what I can already do:

By profession I’m a maths teacher who loves working in challenging schools.  This experience has taught me many very relevant skills in coping with feisty forums!  While my children are young I’m lecturing part time in education and I was planning to research and write a PhD on maths education.  I got this far: at which point I realised that it was not actually the content of my PhD which I felt mattered most - instead it was the way in which the original insights it depended on had been generated through mass online discussion.  So I changed direction and decided to devote my time and energy to the study of mass online discussion instead.  Only it’s a subject area which doesn’t exist which makes this rather difficult.

One of my first activities was to write this article with Colin McAllister with whom I moderate a successful international maths and maths education forum.  Colin and I have never met nor even spoken.  We just started writing together on Google shared docs as and when we had time.
If you’re interested in working with me please do get in touch through the RSA, through comments to this blog or through

Since then I’ve contributed to many forums and blog communities, exploring their cultures and how they can be improved and experimenting with different modes of interaction.  My cyberrhetoric blog gives only a small insight into the kinds of things I’ve been doing and thinking:


  1. Rebecca, have you read Howard Gardner's recent work, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed (2011)? Much of it is devoted to an exploration of the impact of two phenomena - cyberspace and post-modernism - on contemporary morals and ethics. I think he comes at this from a rather jaundiced position; one which doesn't readily embrace the positive transformational power of online discussion. Worth a look though.

  2. Thank you for this suggestion Race. I've now ordered this book together with Gardner's more recent book on leadership. Both themes are relevant to my work and it's important I update my references for both. I think I have the relevant experience to work from an insightful but jaundiced position to a more positive one.

    Other relevant reference areas include:
    Nathalie Nahai's work on Web psychology:

    Buber and Rogers perceptions of Ich and Dich which I explored here:

    I think the differences between economic and social liberalism can be overcome through good societal use of mass online dicussion and the quality of society and democracy can be greatly improved. Does anybody have any recommendations for references I can build from on this theme?