Once Ning went pay-for-play I successfully got the department and college to pay for the service for a few years, but with other obligations on my docket at the moment, lobbying hard for a community (which was mostly dormant) didn't seem like a good use of my time.
So, 8 years in, what have I learned about communities, community building, and communities of practice from this experiment? Well, In the original paper I wrote about this (written a couple of years into the experiment), the three big take-aways were that:
- A community manager is needed
- A community needs a mission
- You need volunteers
With a few more years under my belt, I would also say the following:
Field of Dreams lied
That is, if you build it they might not come ;-) Having a space on the web for people to come and join doesn't necessarily mean that people will come, or that people will stay and a community will take hold. One of the things that happened was that the community (at some point) was seen as "AK's place" because I spent a lot of time putting in resources of people that my name got associated with it. Others did not take up the mantle of the community as much in the early years, so most content had my name associated with it. Since students are busy people, a community like this needs better integration - which leads me to point #2
I think one of the important stakeholders in this type of community is the academic department itself. It's not just important to support the next by mentioning it here and there, and to pay the bills once a year, but it is important to utilize it. In teaching contexts we speak of teacher presence. I think something similar exists in network. A department needs to be active in the network by posting jobs, announcements, and news there. I also think that faculty have a huge part to play by incorporating such networks into their courses. For instance, Athabasca University has the landing (their social network based on Elgg) incorporated in EDDE 802 and 806. Now, do I visit the landing frequently? The answer is "no", even though our cohort has a group page there. I find Elgg a bit hard to manage, for one thing, and our cohort's facebook page much easier to interact with. Other EDDE courses don't require access to the landing, so I meet my cohort where it's easier for me. That said, I do think that if the social network was promoted and content were made available I'd be there more frequently, which makes me think that if MEd courses incorporated UMassID into their courses (in a tiered fashion) then the network might provide interesting bits for everyone.
Managing a network is time consuming
I guess I had much more time earlier on when I picked up the network, but this stuff is time consuming - and finding volunteers to shoulder the responsabilities is not easy ;-). That said, I did find it rewarding. Finding resources to share with other people was enriching for me as well because it got me to look for stuff that was outside of my own domain. It's a good thing I went in before the lights were turned off and saved a page of Instructional Desinger Resources that I had created for the community. Now I just need to updated it and curate it :)
I am not sure many people will mourn the loss of UMassID.com. The community needed a mission, but it seems that the mission driving GIDA, the one from the 90's, was not sufficient in the 2010's to keep it going. To some extent I think that communities go through cycles, and some communities re-work themselves, re-form, and re-combine to create new ones. I do wonder what the next community for the ID department will be like.
What are your experiences with creating and fostering communities?