Hey take a look – we made the Chronicle!
Travis Kaya from The Chronicle of Higher Education paid a visit this week and had some nice things to say about us. Inevitably they dropped the F-bomb but it’s alright, we know that breaking the mold means you have to do the best you can with comparisons. Overall it was a warm piece and sparked some conversation in the comments. Mathmaven – I couldn’t agree more! The question is how do we get there?
I actually spend quite a bit of time working with this. We attract new members every single day and the rate at which they’re arriving is faster now than it ever has been. When I started back in February we had something like 700 members. We’ve almost doubled that in just over half a year. The community itself is the number one source of recruitment. You folks talk to you colleagues, write amazing blogs and recruit people to your groups and that in turn creates a stream of new members. It’s pretty amazing to watch from the back end. That being said though, it’s important to keep an eye out for new ways to bring people aboard. As you might recall I spent some time this summer passing out flyers for the Commons at the Graduate Center’s ‘Welcome Students’ day. We’re also very close to having a guide that can be emailed and printed in hard-copy that we’re excited to launch to the greater CUNY community. We can certainly work on ways to increase our visibility within CUNY but I suspect that referrals are always going to be our greatest source of new membership.
With that in mind it’s important for us to remember that the best way to encourage people to bring their colleagues aboard is to make sure we’re always providing the best possible resources. To do that we depend on you to tell us how it’s going. What would you like to see? Having any problems? Feel like something is too complicated? When we don’t hear from you we start thinking up new features and ways to refine the site but if we’ve got a problem we want to know about it first.
All that considered, the Chronicle piece is great because it shows just how unique this project is. In some ways the problems that the Commons was created to solve are unique to the CUNY system. 23 colleges and somewhere around 20,000 employees is a huge number to wrangle. Working together as a university when we’re situated across every edge of New York City is a challenge, and without the agility of the internet at our disposal it’s easy to see how things settled the way they did. And while the Commons is an elegant solution to the barriers of both spatial and institutional distance I’m eager to see what other universities will do with their own ‘Commons’ as the idea spreads. We’re not the only university that’s stretched it’s physical limits and with budget cuts under way across the academy tools like the Commons might become indispensable in negotiating pecuniary limits as well.
Great post Brian. I wanted to stress your point that 5 or 10 years ago the technology simply wasn’t there to support this type of endeavor. It’s amazing to think that we’ve gone from dial-up to phone tethering in less than 10 years (although 6% of Americans still use dial-up)! There’s no doubt that technology has a direct impact on the way our society interacts and operates. One of the best aspects of open source software like WordPress and Buddypress is that we can directly impact the way it operates and the way we interact.
As the great Jedi Master once said, “Control, control, you must learn (ground) control!”.
We’re trying to set up something, anything over here on the left coast like the CUNY Commons. But, this kind of movement starts with a great online meeting spot and then must flower from there on its own. Kudos to CUNY people for stimulating conversation and populating their Commons. There’s a magic formula there of interest that’s enviable. The Cal State system is dispersed similar to CUNY but over the entire state and through various budget loopholes.
(I also have to say that I’m a Graduate Center CUNY alum and am oh-so-very proud of their work!)
I agree. I think the interesting story behind the Commons is the degree to which we’ve been able to craft a solution from largely open-source tools like WordPress and create our own patch for our own problems. It’s not that we’ve developed an application that’s good for universities, it’s that we’ve taken the time to find ways to use what was out there to help. Solutions like the Commons didn’t exist 10 years ago, or even 5 for that matter.
Before I get a little ahead of myself what I mean to suggest is that a thing like the Commons is really evidence for this larger paradigmatic shift we’re working through. E-books to supplement print, smart classrooms that give educators instant tools to visualize what’s happpening on the blackboards behind them – it’s the online augmentation of education that has, as an intrinsic benefit, a lower overhead than any of the solutions that would have been tossed around (and probably tossed out) 15 years ago. It’s less of an instrument and more like the material consequence of the new agility.
I love the analysis in your last paragraph. The idea of “Commons-in-a-box” has arisen many times in the past year or two, both as a response to external requests from schools who want to build something similar and as an internally-inspired idea. From a technical point of view, it’s not so hard to build an easy-to-install Commons-esque package. But this skirts the real issue, which is that our Commons is not the sort of thing that should be adopted wholesale by another institution. In order for such a site to work, it has to be developed in response to the particular circumstances of the institution that builds it. Commons-in-a-box, to be truly useful, would have to respect that.