Thinking About Social Glue - Online and Offline

Does building digital scholarly communities call on us to build new platforms?  Or is it better to leverage opportunities on existing ones?  Or simply let community form, in an unplanned fashion, whenever a kairotic moment strikes?  These choices, of course, need not be so stark.  But such questions do pose real, strategic dilemmas.

With Teaching Media, Julie Wilson and I started off solidly in the new platform camp.  There didn’t seem to be any spaces ready to provide a durable, searchable repository for building teaching resources in an open-source fashion.  And when the site first launched, we received excited feedback about the idea from all over.  Hundreds quickly registered, but only a small trickle of users contributed.

So we tried another, complementary, tactic.  We recruited an editorial board composed of talented grad students who created an edited section of the site.  Here, the response from willing contributors was strong.  Friends started a Teaching Media Facebook group.  This group began thriving almost immediately.

This left us with some puzzles – like why have users seemed more willing to contribute to an edited site than an open one?  Perhaps what we’re learning is that digital communities like this grow by building on the same social forces that propel our scholarly activity generally, such as the dynamics of existing social networks and the esteem of established cultural forms.  We’re still hopeful about building momentum for the open-source side of Teaching Media, just trying to find new ways to align these forces with that goal.


A colleague and I were recently discussing how her husband was contending with a great deal of snobbery when attempting to sell or display his digital art. Regardless of whether or not his works are any good (which they are), he was dismayed at how difficult it was simply to display his work in a small,  but judged, gallery. 

Among the many reasons the gatekeepers want to dismiss open source/digital texts is that that instrument of production is in everyone's hands. Why are so many "successful" scholars hesitant to contribute to open-source sites? Maybe it's because, as students, we're ingrained with the need to kowtow to the academy's gatekeeper and forced to comply with Friere's banking model if we ever want to make a living doing what we enjoy.

With the devices of participation, members of the digital community are gifted with the devices of creation. The unfortunate side affect is that many anxious participants have been led to believe that, "if I can create this resource, so can anyone and therefore it's no good." I hope that momentum you seek, Anthony, will build as the authority continues to shift from the hands of the administrators to those of the creators.

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