Ian, you make a valuable point. As anyone who has taken the Myers Briggs knows, some of us are introverts and some are extroverts. And some approach tasks with a "just do it" attitude while others say, "let me sleep on it." Online dialogue has the flexibility to work for either style.
To take it a step further, while online text-based dialogue lacks the visual cues, at the same time we take race, age, gender, attractiveness, accents etc. out of the equation. When we dialogue online we do not know who is participating via an assistive technology device, and who is sitting in a wheelchair. Whether we are aware of these characteristics or not, online we truly judge each other by the content of our characters, as demonstrated by the respect we show for all contributions of thoughts and ideas. Going back to earlier posts about trust and collaboration: the important thing is whether I can trust you to be honest with me, fair, and reliable.
Janet, that is a really good point you are making about assessing people based on what they say rather than on other factors.
Of course, with our networked world, when I see people participating online in discussions (such as we are doing here), I do find myself looking into their biographical information if I want to learn more. I look for whatever they say about themselves, and then Google them. If I cannot find much, I then get suspicious. If I do find things, then the initial anonymity will gradually disappear.
I recall having a conversation around the issue of online identity (and thus authenticity) -- if you do not have and own your online identity (from your website, jobs, education, blog, postings, etc.), then somebody else will eventually own it for you. This was not referring to identity theft, but rather somebody who has more of an online presence will get indexed faster if they state something critical about somebody than the person criticized if that person does not have enough of an identity to get noticed.
It seems this may have an effect with online education.
This I think has implications or me as an educator as I move away from my traditional classroom roles to more of a blended and online universe - I will have learners who could potentially do most or all of a diploma programme (I'm an academic chair at Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax) online and all I will "know" about them is what they will write. Thing is in my mind at least, based on all of the time I spend online in places like SCoPE, Second Life, and other forums and lists is that is OK for me - as I said - in many ways find it easier to communicate online than face to face. Thing is I have to get faculty to that point - why I think this seminar is so important and timely as we move into a new paradigm of delivery - the future of education for me is blended and online - an environment that is collaborative, engaging, mobile, and open and meets learners literally where they are...