Letters from the Concourse Level

While I plan to post regularly on Fridays, ever so often something will come up like today that’s worth sharing.  Some of you may know that today was orientation for the incoming graduate students at The Graduate Center.  I was happy to be there, flanked with dazzling iPads and a laptop, to welcome students to the CUNY Academic Commons.

Last week I talked a little about the difficultly in summing up the Commons, especially in any meaningful way, when you don’t have time to go into detail about how everything works.  Today I was put to the test and overall I think I did pretty well.  The first part of the morning was funny as someone behind ‘the desk’ for once.  The new CUNY denizens wandered around the concourse anxiously introducing themselves to each other and I was struck by how by similar the first day of school is no matter what stage of life you’re at.  From 7 to 37 there you are with your new book-bag and a name tag stuck to your chest trying to pick which table to sit at before the adults start to speak.

Plenty of students made their way over to the Commons table to figure out who I was and how I could help and I learned a few valuable lessons immediately:

1. If you have a stack of flyers* on your table, mess them up.  Nobody was willing to sully the tidy stacks of flyers I made, but once I knocked them down and spread them over the table people dove right in.

2. It’s totally acceptable behavior to flag someone over to your table.  There were lots of folks who made there way over to me, only to stop about 6 feet away.  I lost a few at first but figured it out shortly after; they want to be invited over, kind of like Bill in True Blood.

3.  Sometimes it is easier to just say, “Yeah, it’s similar to Facebook but we focus on…” then to try and list the ways we’re not like Facebook at all.

Everyone seemed to be having a really good time and the enthusiasm was humming through the room.  I had some really great conversations with people and I’m excited to see what they bring to the  Commons as they get settled in.  Overall,  I was impressed with the level of interest from the incoming class and I hope that it translates into growth for us.

Outreach events are a fairly new thing for us here at the Commons.  While we often give presentations at IT conferences we haven’t focused a lot of energy on campus outreach.  There are lots of reasons for this, in part because you can’t really set up a table somewhere and reach all the  faculty and staff of a college.  If anything doing the Graduate Center’s orientation is the only ‘orientation’ we can be at.  There’s also been a question of what rate of growth are we comfortable with.  We’ve tried to let the Commons’ growth be a really natural process and that’s allowed us to upgrade and modify the Commons as new needs have developed as a result. I would love to hear back from you on ideas for how we can introduce ourselves to the uninitiated across CUNY.  The utility of the Commons is fundamentally tied to the quality of the content we provide and the network we can create, and we take that responsibility seriously.  Bringing more people on-board casts a wider net and brings us all more ideas, energy, groups and connections.

I’d like to thank Marisa Panzani and Elise Perram for getting us a table and everyone who dropped by to ask questions and introduce themselves.  Be sure and send me a note when you get set up.

* Flyer?  Flier?  The internet has failed me here, as did an informal poll of friends.  I picked ‘flyer’ if only because I was told once long ago that Y might also be a long vowel if it only wanted it bad enough.

3 Responses to “Letters from the Concourse Level”

  1. Brian Michael Foote August 20, 2010 at 4:24 pm #


    Marisa, I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect but thanks again for inviting us. I would definitely love to hand off some flyers to you and I’ll send you a PM so that we can discuss. I’m really glad to hear that you using the Commons as a way to reach out to the incoming classes before they hit campus, I think that’s a fantastic idea and in the spirit of what we’re doing here.

    I’m going to post in a while and address Matt’s thoughts more specifically, but in brief I wanted to say that I share your reservations about dropping the F-bomb when trying to describe what we’re building here. I met an incoming student who had worked with the Smithsonian who mentioned that they share some of CUNY challenges and are constructing their own creative commons to work together more closely as well.

  2. Marisa Panzani (she/her/hers) August 20, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Brain, thank you so much for coming to the orientation. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to come over and introduce myself amidst the chaos!

    Here in Admissions at GC, we’ve been talking about using The Commons as a way to pull students into feeling a part of our academic community prior to them even physically arriving on campus (I know, it always sounds funny referring to this one lonely building as a “campus.”)

    Your tabling at orientation was a great first step towards that goal. Do you think we should put up some of your flyers in the student lounge areas for each of the programs here at GC since both new students (and returning students) will presumably be coming on to campus regularly for the next few weeks?

    Let me know if you think that’s a good idea and if you need assistance with that.

    Again, thank you.

  3. Matthew K. Gold (he/him) August 20, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Thanks so much for representing the Commons at the GC Orientation, Brian. I’m thankful to Marisa and Elise for hosting us and to you for introducing new students to the site.

    I do have to confess to some unease with the “It’s like Facebook, but . . .” line of description. While it’s true that Facebook is, to some extent, just shorthand for “social networking,” I’m a bit wary of continuing to associate the Commons with a site that has what I consider to be a wrong-headed view on user privacy.

    I think you’re right when you remark, here and in your last post, that the notion of an “academic social network” is something new, and I guess that it’s easiest to make analogies to known entities such as Facebook. But, if possible, I’d like to see us avoid that one if we can.

    Then again, maybe I’m just overly sensitive on this issue.

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