This response is co-authored by Ken McAllister and Judd Ruggill:
A short answer to the question about how to build digital cohorts and academic communities: They’ll emerge even without ambitious plans, repurposed MIL-SPEC hardware, and Kickstarter-funded software.
A longer version: Historically, academe incentivizes individualism and penalizes collaboration. Promotion and tenure, merit increases, puff pieces in alumni magazines—all tend to spotlight the person, not the people. Indeed, projects’ people are routinely and compulsorily scissored out of the group shot, casting each scholar as—to use David Ignatow’s phrase—“a crowd of oneself.”
But the academy has started to molt, to shed this skin. Continued erasures of human and material resources and escalations of research, teaching, and service loads are creating an environment in which eventually academics will be punished for not collaborating. There’ll be no way to do what needs doing without working together, without the synergy and economies of scale that digital scholarly communities enable. We won’t be able to publish enough to meet the ever-rising demands of P&T, we won’t be able to manage courses enrolling many thousands of students (and thus won’t be able to service our institutions’ primary bill-payers), and we won’t be able to maintain day-to-day departmental operations because there will be too few staff and qualified administrators.
So how do we adapt to and benefit from this change? Extant and emerging digital scholarly communities, plus the torrent of apps designed to facilitate collaboration and community building are two effective avenues. There is also faculty revolt—folks forcing the issue by hijacking the relevant committees and rewriting institutional policies governing research, teaching, and service so that collaboration is actually rewarded, not just tolerated (and certainly not punished). And then there are administrators’ potential largesse and vision, generally considered essential to rejiggering the rules of academic citizenship.
And if none of these blooms bear fruit in the seasons ahead? Not to worry: the transformation of higher education and its eventual and utter dependence on collaboration and digital scholarly communities is already a done deal. Thanks to the new math of higher education funding, increasingly the name of the game is teamwork. The solitary scholar--not the collaborator--will be the outlier: dubious, incalculable, and jobless.
We can’t wait.