Are newsgroups undermining learning?

I was having a chat about the newgroups with one of my mates the other day.

I wondered if the ease of getting an answer, and the quality of (some ;-)) answers, the ability to stay anonymous all lead to people asking first, thinking second.

  • Do people go to the newsgroups and just ask away?
  • Do they try Google Live Umbongo Search for an answer first?
  • Do they even search the archives first?

My feeling is an increasing number don’t do any of those, don’t take any responsibility for their learning, they just fire away and wait to be spoonfed the answer.

I think the newsgroups are a superb resource, but I wonder if we are in danger of creating an overly dependent user base?

(I’m no fan of the snarky ‘did you try Google?’ type responses either btw)

What do you think?

I have to say I’m a big fan of the Excel-l newsgroup/listserv. I have been on that for 10 years on and off. Its my favourite Excel place, because its friendly (in general ;-)), its focused and most folks do search first and do try first. There are very few ‘pls do my homework for me thx’ type requests. And few ‘build my enterprise system for me for free pls thx’. And of course its full of smart people who as a group have done pretty much everything you could imagine in and around Excel and VBA. you don’t see many questions go unanswered, even the hard ones.

The other thing I like is the complete lack of commercial aspect. The intrusive ads for crappy add-ins at some other places turn me right off. As do the annoying auto linking popup thingies. Plain text maan – its the future…

Are newsgroup dumbing things down?

what are your favourite sites/forums and lists, and why?

cheers

Simon

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8 Responses to “Are newsgroups undermining learning?”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    Excel’s online help is fair (no, not even good) as a worksheet function reference, but pretty poor for almost everything else. IF Excel still came with a 6-book documentation set like it did for Excel 5, then I’d be willing to blame users. But I take it as a sign of intelligence to avoid wasting time with Excel’s online [No/Little] Help system.

    Unfortunately, most newsgroup posters don’t check the newsgroup archives. Way too many threads on summing by color (something, BTW, Lotus 123 could do now more than a decade ago using it’s @DSUM function – I’ll provide examples to anyone with 123R4 or later that demonstrates how), converting numbers to text (e.g., 123 to One Hundred Twenty-three), and my perennial favorite, ‘Why does @#$% Excel say 2-13/7 1/7?’ I deal with this by responding with links to past articles in the newsgroups archives that answer the new OP’s question(s).

    OTOH, there are way too many newsgroup RESPONDENTS who seem to prefer responding with 20 or so lines of flaky VBA code when a few formulas or a menu command or two would do or (worse) rewrite answers to FAQs while sprinkling in a few errors (not just typos) rather than linking to better answers from the past. So it’d be fair to say these days the average respondent deserves the average OP and vice versa.

  2. Harlan Grove Says:

    Excel’s online help is fair (no, not even good) as a worksheet function reference, but pretty poor for almost everything else. IF Excel still came with a 6-book documentation set like it did for Excel 5, then I’d be willing to blame users. But I take it as a sign of intelligence to avoid wasting time with Excel’s online [No/Little] Help system.

    Unfortunately, most newsgroup posters don’t check the newsgroup archives. Way too many threads on summing by color (something, BTW, Lotus 123 could do now more than a decade ago using it’s @DSUM function – I’ll provide examples to anyone with 123R4 or later that demonstrates how), converting numbers to text (e.g., 123 to One Hundred Twenty-three), and my perennial favorite, ‘Why does @#$% Excel say 2-13/7 1/7?’ I deal with this by responding with links to past articles in the newsgroups archives that answer the new OP’s question(s).

    OTOH, there are way too many newsgroup RESPONDENTS who seem to prefer responding with 20 or so lines of flaky VBA code when a few formulas or a menu command or two would do or (worse) rewrite answers to FAQs while sprinkling in a few errors (not just typos) rather than linking to better answers from the past. So it’d be fair to say these days the average respondent deserves the average OP and vice versa.

  3. Doug Glancy Says:

    I’m always amazed at the overall quality of the answers, and that such talented folks spend so much time every day helping others, especially answering some of the same questions over and over.

    Even with bad answers, there’s almost always good backup from an expert. (When I first discovered the ng’s and spent more time answering questions – sometimes really bad answers – I remember the sinking feeling of seeing that Tom Ogilvy had replied to one of my replies. He was always polite though and I learned things that have stuck with me since.)

    I’ve always pretty much frequented just excel.programming, and not so much lately, so maybe it’s gotten worse, but I think for somebody that seriously does want to learn, or help others, the ng’s are a great resource even if some people take it for granted.

    My boring lament is still for google groups – why has it been so destroyed?

    I’ve just signed up for Excel-l and look forward to continuing my education there.

  4. alastair Says:

    helping people can be a good way of learning – and with Excel there are always at least 100 ways of doing stuff – and its not difficult to spot the freeloaders.

  5. Bob Phillips Says:

    The thing is that most people who visit any forum, the NGs included, just need to solve a particular problem. So a succinct answer is appropriate, they get what they want, and you rarely seem them again until the next problem.

    You get to know the regulars, those who are trying but maybe just don’t have the skills or the capability to work it out or research it but want to learn, so you can help them develop the answer. I must admit, I love the threads that develop, where the OP questions, asks for clarification and so on.

    I think the Excel forums are a treasure trove, in many ways they are an interactive Google (and much better than Google nowadays). Try other forums, they are nowhere near the quality, not helpfulness of the posters. I use Inno Setup, and when I have asked questions there it is like beating my head against a wall.

    ListServ is no better no worse than others IMO, it has the bunch of frequent incompetents, a few who want to be good but just don’t have the aptitude (you know who I mean), the majority of competents, and a couple of stars. Same as the NGs, same as the web forums. The only difference I see is that its membership seems much more static, and of course smaller.

  6. Martin Rushton Says:

    Simon, you aren’t hinting at Bill Eddings in the “in general comment” are you. His only 3 contributions in the last week or so are “nose in the air” why are you asking that here and one of them to a thread marked OT which he supposedly doesn’t waste his time on.

    I too like the community feel of excel-l but I find the archives not very easy to search and very hit and miss when you do search and I don’t think its my search technique.

    In order
    i)I spend some time trying to solve a problem myself.
    ii)When I believe I have a hit a brick wall I google which is usually quite succesful (which is why I believe my search technique of Excel-L’s archive isn’t poor)
    iii)I revist the problem myself with any hints, tips or outright answers I have found in the google groups
    iv)If nescesary I search the archivesof Excel-L. It regulalry isn’t because of iii
    v)If I have got to iv it is probably over 50% of the time I get to v which is to ask on Excel-L

    As a result I feel I also have an obligation to contribute too. I am by no means an expert but I like to think by at least me dipping my toes in on threads that have gone unanswered encourages some of the gurus to step in. Also some of the quickfire required responses are easy for me

    I’m also wise enough to point out that .Select is rarely nescesary and that if events are not firing its probable code has previoulsy been halted or bombed with EnableEvents = False ;-)

  7. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    I believe Harlan and Bob give an great summary of the present situation with public Excel Q&A forums.

    After 15 years of access to public Q&A forums including the newsgroup we can ask if not nearly all questions have already got their solutions.

    Some may say that new versions of Excel should create a need to new knowledge but because of:
    a) little new stuff is added in every new version and
    b) new stuff refers to XML/.NET/VSTO/SharePoint etc and
    c) low penetration of new Excel versions
    the need for new native Excel knowledge is limited.

    In other words, very little new knowledge is added to the general public source of knowledge nowadays.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

  8. Lord Says:

    My experience is people learn what they want to learn and while the internet means they can get by even easier, there must be many times as many that rely on search. The problems I encounter are unique enough that not even courses of study could answer, but never so unique they have not been answered by someone somewhere.

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