If you build it, they will come …

While I hated the film Field of Dreams (almost as much as I hate the acting persona of Kevin Costner), I will shamelessly utilize an oft abused quote from that film. After speaking with Amanda McCuskey (a sophomore at UMW, and one of the University’s finest), I was made aware of some online communities that UMW students partake in outside of the ubiquitous facebook. There is a community of UMWers on livejournal called Mary Wash that have been using this social software to communicate amongst themselves and, quite interestingly, with those high school students that are considering coming to the university.

In fact, the this year’s incoming class of freshman (2009) used the bulletin board feature on livejournal to post musings, schedules, proposals, advice and support as they embark on their new life in college. (Please note: that this is a student run site and you may not always be excited about the content!) Moreover, the lists are moderated by the students themselves which implies that these communities are self-sustaining, designed to vent about the college experience as well as foster a space to both find and provide help for one another. Now, here is a public social software tool that allows studnts to create communities before they even step foot on campus, pretty cool, no?

And while I am not a particular fan of livejournal’s software, it seems highly effective at creating a space where students can create effective social networks. For example, the Mary Wash community has well over 200 members, and while you have to be a member to post and keep a journal (their term for blogging), anyone can coment on the post or signup as readers (there are another 215 of them). Students also have the option to control who views their journals, building in a layer of privacy and protection. While in the back of my mind I knew these networks existed for many purposes outside of the mission of DTLT, there are also many uses that fall well within the realm of the academic community.

Image of a livejournal Site created by UMW students

Yet, I think knowing that the students are putting this social software to good use by cultivating a community of information sharing suggests the ways in which these tools are shaping many students social experience at UMW. Such a fact parallels the mission of DTLT, making a strong case for bringing similar tools into a more specific context for their academic experience at UMW. And while I am not suggesting this as an opportunity for coopting these pre-exisitng communities (for they serve a unique purpose outside of DTLT’s purview), I do believe that these elements of online social networks can be easily framed and adopted for many students into a more rigorous, academic online experience which, in my mind, is ripe for development and exploration. In fact, that is what we’re all doing here at DTLT, but I find it really exciting to know/remember that we are by no means alone in this! The students are not only the reason we are here, but, moreover, our most useful resource for understanding what these communities offer and why they keep them alive. So, as a revsion of my original title I offer up: “They’re all ready here! We just have to build it …”

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One Response to If you build it, they will come …

  1. Gardner says:

    Great report, Jim. They ARE already here. Perhaps all we need to do is help them aggregate their stuff and think about reusing at least some part of it as they amass a body of work.

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