Doing my homework for the first day of POSSE. It helps that a lot of it was already done before today...
- My TOS userpage is [[User:Mchua]] as usual. (I don't have a course outline to present on Friday, so I skipped that part.)
- I already have a Fedora FAS2 Account
- ... as well as a Fedora bugzilla account.
- I now have a Mozilla MDC account
- ...and a Mozilla bugzilla account
- I've already got a blog (you're reading it now) that's on TOS Planet (you may be reading it there).
- One assignment was to talk on IRC; watching the professors explore #teachingopensource-posse made me grin all night. (And I don't think all of them are sleeping yet, either.)
- That leaves the last assignment: create a blog post describing your experience working collaboratively online. For example, what did you find hard vs. face to face communication? how accurate was the final result? what did you learn that you didn't know before?
I've been using IRC for about 2.5 years and text chat for nearly three times as long, and Fardad's summary of the tradeoffs between online and offline communication covers most of what I was going to say. Here is the rest.
Most of you already know that I grew up with a severe hearing impairment. I'm also something of a quiet introvert (much less shy than I used to be, though). I also don't look like most people who contribute to the projects that I'm interested in; young (I was a teenage math geek and coder, though I'm less of an age anomaly at 23 than I was at 15) minority females with hearing aids are in somewhat short supply in technology in general, let alone open source. This all affects, in various ways, how I'm able to interact around such projects in person. For instance, it's extremely difficult for me to follow large group conversations (over 3-5 participants). In fact, it was so difficult that the first large group conversation I ever really participated in was when I was 14 years old.
It was a chatroom.
For the first time, I could follow a rapid-fire conversation - for the first time, I could socialize without straining to read lips - and I found that I liked talking to people. I learned I wasn't just able to follow a multi-person discussion, but participate in them - multiple ones, simultaneously, and (once I was able to grasp the new flood of subtle cues and tactics I was being newly exposed to) adroitly dance within them, help shape them, steer them, give them form. Not only was this possible and worth it, I was good at it. I then started working hardcore on my real-life group conversation skills, and now I can - sometimes, in certain circumstances, with lots of coping mechanisms - participate in person. Without the taste of success in chatrooms, I probably wouldn't have been motivated to do that, and wouldn't have been able to sit around a table and talk reasonably comfortably at POSSE today.
Similarly, nobody online will assume that I'm my teammate's nontechnical girlfriend, that I can't understand polysyllabic words (probably a combination of reactions to "child" and "wears hearing aids"), or make assumptions on how I operate culturally or what I'm interested and not interested in, or able and unable to understand, on anything other than the basis of what I say I am and ain't, can and can't. All sorts of things like that. Little invisible weights you don't realize you're carrying until you're in a space where they are lifted.
And it gives me time and space. To think. To sit back and take a breath and take a moment without feeling pressured for an answer. To say what I want to say without worrying about interrupting someone. To ask dumb questions that turn out to be not all that dumb - even now, I'll write, write, revise, take a deep breath, run a lap around the building, then close my eyes and stab the send button with my thumb - I can be braver than I sometimes am in person. The gap is narrowing, though; once I noticed this, just like when I noticed what was happening with group conversations, I started working to close it - once you experience the feeling of empowerment, you want to bring out into as many parts of your life as possible.
I'm probably an extreme case, but online communications were an invaluable scaffolding for me, giving me a safe space to grow up, a space that I could learn to modify. That made a lot of things possible that just weren't possible before. (Well, they were technically possible before, but I would never have done them because I never would have considered them - which is effectively the same thing as having it be impossible.) I can never take group conversations for granted. Heck, I never really thought I'd be able to participate in a meeting, and now I teach people more than twice my age how to run them well.
It won't work for everyone. And the internet's not magic. But it worked for me, and so I'm glad I had (and have) it as an option.