Building digital cohorts: The WHY


I’ve followed this thread for a couple weeks now, and those of you who have posted make me want to examine WHY cohorts and communities matter in my academic/non-academic life (I don’t think the two are easily separated).  So here is a case study of one person.  First, cohorts and communities matter because they get me going each day and make me energized about my work – faculty cohorts; consultant cohorts for professional workshops; scholarly cohorts in my fields of specialization.   I read and post to the list servs and blogs of these communities and talk f2f or digitally with individual members frequently.  Another reason why communities matter is that they offer ideas, action buddies, and thinking spaces for particular issues that ignite me – cohort organizations such as CCCC, League of Women Voters, AAUP, and the Audubon Society.  I go to these cohorts for advice, friendship, group power.  A third reason for my participation in cohorts is that they help me build what I want to build.  Program cohorts can design new degrees; distance education proponents can invent new delivery methods; believers in WID (writing in disciplines) can change university culture; experts in university-corporate partnerships can redraw boundaries.  A forth reason for cohorts is that they help me evaluate and assess how I spend my time – peer reviewers of scholarly work let me know if I’m on the right track, and students who assess my courses keep them fresh.

It may seem that this post is looking backwards to the WHY instead of the HOW when it comes to building digital cohorts, and it’s true that some of my cohorts and communities are not digital, but many are, and all have digital components.  I stay active in them because they give me insight into what I am doing and why.  For example, they shine a light into black boxes of practice.  When I’m co-authoring an article, my digital writing group lets me know who is writing each day and for how long and reminds me to analyze the data and write it up, too. 

A take-away from my one-person case study is that keeping a community active (whether digital, hybrid, or f2f) depends on its exigency for its members.  As for building a community, never underestimate the power of asking someone to participate, just as I was asked to write this post.  Maybe it’s as simple as posing an authentic question and really listening to the answer.  So here are my questions: Who might you invite to join you in one of your digital communities and why?  I’m listening.


I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of “posing an authentic question” (and certainly MediaCommons is doing a brilliant job in that regard), but I think you make an even more important point when you advocate for “really listening to the answer.”

In my first semester in Old Dominion’s English PhD program, Dr. Neff herself invited a number of scholars to speak to the class. Among them was Dr. David Metzger, who asked us all to read an article by Krista Ratcliffe concerning “rhetorical listening.” I’ll admit that, at the time, I didn’t fully realize why a rhetorician like Dr. Metzger, himself with so many brilliant areas of expertise, would choose instead to emphasize listening to new students, but as I’ve moved through the program and through myriad classrooms as both student and teacher, I’ve come back to listening again and again.

I think what’s great about forums like this, and what truly allows us to build things, is that we get yet another opportunity to listen to all kinds of voices. Of course not everything posted here will ring true in a particular classroom or for a particular group in terms of helping us understand what community does and how to build it (well). But just having the opportunity to listen, to carefully consider the ideas and works of others, allows for the growth of an organic scholarly community rooted in dialogue and support. And so here we are: a community devoted thinking about community—how very meta. ☺


I think the idea that a cohort “gets you going” is a very important one. It made me think of my (mostly) non-academic digital cohort on A website like Good Reads motivates me to read books in a few ways.

First, it allows me to de-isolate myself by placing me in a large community of fellow readers. While reading is still very much a personal and isolated experience, through Good Reads I can see myself as being part of a community of people who also enjoy reading. Second, my digital cohort on Good Reads allows me to have a forum to discuss things about a particular book that got me thinking. These discussions can be key to, not only understanding the book on a deeper level, but also just finishing the book. If I know I get to talk about the book or post a review of it, I am more inclined to push myself to finish it.   

Finally, a digital cohort provides you with some way to compare yourself to others. On Good Reads if I read two books in a month I can always find someone who read three that month. Or I can see what kinds of books I’m reading compared to other people in my cohort. I think the ability to compare yourself to others allows you the ability to form your identity in relation to other members of your cohort; because even though it is your similarities that make you a member of a cohort it is your differences that makes you valuable to that cohort, be it academic or not.

Our professional and personal lives have become so stressful and crazy that we need motivation in order to finish the simplest task. Digital cohorts like Media Commons can provide an area that holds you accountable to peers, and motivates you to do your best.   

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