Newsgroups for Education

This document is divided into the following sections:

  1. About Newsgroups
  2. Newsgroup Names
  3. What does the Newsgroups look like?
  4. Using Newsgroups for Education
  5. Things to be aware of
  6. News Information Sources



1. About Newsgroups

Newsgroups are a means of carrying on a discussion about a subject. It is not a real-time discussion but instead, it is a discussion over time where the participants leave or reply to messages in the newsgroup. Leaving or replying messages is called posting and is similar to leaving a Post-it note on a fridge with a message for your family.

Anyone with a newsreader can read the message, and if it is of interest, anyone can reply to the message. A reply to a posting is called a thread. One posting can have many threads (or replies) depending on the interest.

To join a newsgroup, you may or may not have to subscribe to the newsgroup. Subscribing to a newsgroup does not cost anything. It is just a term that means that the particular newsgroup subscribed to goes to the top of the list of 7,000 or so newsgroups available. It is a way of sorting the newsgroups so that you can find the ones that you are interested in.


2. Newsgroup Names


There are over 7,000 newsgroups currently used on the Internet with new groups created daily. The format for naming newsgroups follows:

abbreviation dot abbreviation dot abbreviation dot ....

For example, the newsgroup called alternate fan of Elvis Presley may be called in newsgroupese:

alt.fan.elvis.presley

There are many categories of newsgroups and the standard categories are:

alt	alternate
comp	computers
misc	miscellaneous
news	news
rec	recreation
sci	science
soc	social


3. What does the Newsgroups look like?


When you first open a newsreader, you are asked select the newsgroups to subscribe to. Some readers make you answer Yes or No to each individual newsgroup. If your news server has 5 to 6 thousand newsgroups, it may take a while!

Once you have subscribed (selected) the newsgroups of interest, they appear either at the start of the newsgroup's list or in a list of their own. The following image has subscribed newsgroups colored black and unsubscribed newsgroup colored blue. The four subscribed newsgroups are placed at the top of the list before the remaining 5,459 newsgroups listed alphabetically. The dash next to each newsgroup name is to indicate the number of posting present for each newsgroup. The example shown has dashes because I chose not to regularly update my newsfeed from the news server. I found that it takes too long to update.

The newsgroups shown are:

comp.dcom.lans.token-ring	computers datacommunications LANs token ring
alt.folklore.computers		alternate computer folklore
comp.robotics.misc		miscellaneous computer robotics
comp.sys.mac.system		Macintosh computer systems
ab.arnet			Alberta ARNET
ab.general			General discussion group for Alberta
ab.jobs				Alberta job listing

When you select a newsgroup to view, a list of postings is displayed with the thread number, date, name, number of lines and description. The following example shows a "seen" (previously viewed) posting in blue with an "s" preceding the thread number and "new" postings in black with a "n" preceding the thread number. The posting that I posted was on December 28, consisted of 22 lines (graphic is a bit blurry) and talked about the "Origins of Sharp Calculators?"

You can see that there is a discussion going on about "Re: MAC isn't a best seller". The "Re:" indicates that it is a posting referring to the original article described as "MAC isn't a best seller". There are also a series of replies or threads to the response. BTW (by the way) capital letters on the Internet are considered rude and the equivalent of shouting - sorry, ANDREW GRYGUS.

When you select a posting to view, it appears like an e-mail message with a header describing in Internetese where it came from, who the news server is, who sent it and other technical stuff. The body of the posting contains a simple text message discussing the subject of interest.

When you reply to a posting, the original message is included in the reply. The original message is indicated by a heading indicating the original author. The original text is identified by a ">" symbol preceding each line. Normally, you delete all the original text except for the portions that you are specifically discussing.


4. Using Newsgroups for Education

Newsgroups can be used for educational purposes as electronic discussion groups for course subjects. This allows local and distance students to join in a discussion about a particular course subject. A newsgroup, for example, can be made called:

edu.school.el.th101		Education school electronics theory 101 

Moderator

The newsgroup can be moderated by an instructor or student monitor. The moderator previews all postings to the newsgroup and decides which postings are valid.

The moderator chooses which postings are appropriate for the newsgroup and can provide input to the discussions. The moderator also has the opportunity to lead discussions in a certain direction if it seems that the discussion is bearing fruit or to point the discussion in the right direction.

Students can post questions clarifying assignments, problems, labs or schedules. Any student can respond to a posting to discuss their approach to the problem, to offer solutions or point to reference material. The purpose is to provide an area where students can discuss problems or questions that they have.


5. Things to be aware of


a) Normally, a posting to a newsgroup may not be answered for several days if answered at all. Replying to any unanswered newsgroup postings after a certain period of time would have to be part of the moderator's job. This ensures that any student who posts a question, receives an answer.

b) Only simple text may be shown in a posting. There are no provisions for displaying graphics or special characters such as used in electronics, physics, chemistry or mathematics.

c) Documents and graphics can be attached to newsgroup postings that can be downloaded. The documents are encoded using special techniques and decoded when downloaded. The files can then be viewed using the proper application. The standard is to send a posting with a description of the document. The description posting is numbered page 0 of 2 (0/2) with the attached document labeled (1/2) and (2/2). The actual number of pages of the document will depend on the size of the document. The newsreader should automatically perform the encoding and page numbering for you. You just have to attach the document using a pull-down menu option or some other means.


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