I'm taking a course online at the moment which is in the standard format of other online courses I've taken in the past - weekly assignments, discussion board for class conversation etc. One interesting thing about this course, though, is that in the discussion area the instructor has requested people not to use their real names or at least not their full names ie so you can use a pseudonym or your first name, but not your whole name. The idea is to preserve anonymity so people can feel free to say stupid things without anyone knowing who they really are.
This is an interesting thought re teaching more generally and I guess is one of the advantages of online forums. We all know how frustrating it can be as teachers not to know whether or not the majority of the class is "getting it" when students don't want to raise their hand and ask a question that they think will make them look stupid. I know we deal with this issue in various ways including offline emails with students who are prepared to ask the question privately but not in front of the whole class. Some of my colleagues also use turning point clickers to do surveys throughout class sessions to see what percentage of the class is understanding the material (without identifying any particular students as getting answers "right" or "wrong").
Should we, as teachers, think more seriously about the benefits of anonymity? Should we encourage pseudonymous/anonymous class discussions on discussion boards outside of class time more often? Obviously, lawyers have to learn to stand up and speak in front of others as part of their professional development, but should there also be more room to anonymously make some mistakes and not look stupid? I should also say that learning that we make mistakes and the world doesn't end is an important aspect of professional development too, but some students are initially more reticent than others to stand up and potentially make a mistake.