The ds106 Kickstarter: Classes for and by the Community

At 4 PM yesterday Tim Owens and I launched this Kickstarter to raise money for a more robust server to run the extremely resource intensive ds106 site. The server itself is $2,830 for the year, and the remaining $1400 or so is to purchase the swag that we will be providing for those pledging. As of my writing this post, 8 hours later, the project is 58% funded with $2,471 given by 48 different backers. Crazy! As usual the ds106 community represents, I know #4life gets old for some, but its true in my heart. You rock!

What’s more, the whole experiment of putting together a Kickstarter campaign has been a blast. All credit goes to Tim Owens who had the idea last week and subtly pushed me to try it when I told him I needed to find a way to pay for the ds106 server migration (I am perpetually broke). He blogged his thinking about the whole thing here, and while at first I balked at the idea of a Kickstarter because my first reaction was that money can only invite the Snake into the Garden. But after more conversations around DTLT it became clear that if ds106 is a community course then why shouldn’t it be funded by the community? Currently ds106 has seven colleges using it as a framework to varying degrees, so it’s much more than a couple of UMW classes—and this doesn’t even take into account the open, online students. So why should UMW have to pay for it? Why have CUNY or SUNY or any of the institutions pay? Why not share the costs of the class as a community? This way we can maintain the freedom we currently enjoy without worrying about losing our infrastructure, at least for a year or so.

After we worked through actually doing it, first thing was to make a video to communicate what we needed and what folks would get in return.  And given this is video week in ds106 at UMW, what could be more appropriate? Tim and I worked on the script, the prizes, and the general tone of the whole campaign over the weekend and then shot the video and edited it on Monday and Tuesday. It all came together so very quick because Tim had the whole thing in his head fully formed, and I just went along for the ride. In Tuesday night’s ds106 class I got feedback from students on what worked and what didn’t work in the video we created—and as a result the whole class was dedicated to talking about Kickstarter as an alternative means of funding, as well as thinking about how video can be used to communicate your story and to get your point across. Making the video was fun as hell, and it also marked my first foray into the new Final Cut Pro, which I personally love. I’d love to know your take.


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8 Responses to The ds106 Kickstarter: Classes for and by the Community

  1. rowan_peter says:

    I think it’s reasonable and responsible for members of a community to pay for their play. In the case of DS106, it’s the ultimate form of edutainment and is worth every dollar of the pledge. Thanks for asking us to back you and the DS106 community.

  2. Boone Gorges says:

    Cool idea, Jim et al. I am excited to see what emerges from this community funding model.

    I’ll also say – a bit hypocritically, since I’m currently a contractor who formally works outside the university – that it’s a bit sad that the way to foster connection between people across institutions is to bypass the institutions. While there’s a huge open, drive-by aspect to DS106, a crucial part of it is tied to UMW, CUNY, etc, qua universities, which is not reflected in the Kickstarter model. The fear is that if you’re too successful funding like this, the institutions will figure “hey, why buy the cow?” and continue down the path of defunding.

    I guess in an ideal world, you might have a situation like this: One school’s IT dept does the actual hosting (provides the machine and the server-level support). Other schools who have on-the-books classes running in the DS106 infrastructure will pony up their fair share. And there’d still be a tip-jar or Kickstarter method for non-institutional participants.

    It’s not just about spreading the responsibility around so that one school doesn’t have to shoulder it (though it is partly about this). It’s also about institutions putting their money where their mouth is, showing that they value the community infrastructure not just in the words they say, but in the resources they allocate. Give them a vested interest in the success of the project, or they risk being drive-by participants – but in a leech-ish way instead of the good DS106ish way.

    Having worked in a university, I know how this vision is more or less impossible from a bureaucratic point of view – the idea of sending a couple thousand bucks to an unrelated school seems almost ludicrous, unless the payee can paint himself as a “contractor” or “provider of services” or some other sellout term that I know so much about. But at the same time, I think it’s worth looking for these kinds of formal inter-university channels for collaboration. Because if you think that the walled institution is problematic, but you also love the institution and its purposes, then you should find ways to poke holes in the walls rather than just setting up your own tent city.

  3. Martha says:

    I think it’s worth noting that the institutions involved (UMW, CUNY, etc) HAVE supported the courses — at least the credit-granting courses. Jim, Alan, Michael, and Scott are all paid salaries for their work as instructors of these classes (I won’t get started on whether those salaries — adjunct in some cases — are fair 🙂 )

    I don’t think this model suggests that institutions shouldn’t provide financial support. Rather that in a case like DS106 (which is, granted, a very special case) the open, online community bears some responsibility to support itself. I think that model is fair, and, ultimately, can be a way to build an additional sense or responsibility and shared ownership within the community.

    I think what would be REALLY cool is if the institutions themselves also contributed to the Kickstarter. The point Boone makes in the last paragraph is one reason why this can’t happen (particularly at a state institution). Providing payment for anything is wrapped up in layers and layers of red tape and bureaucracy — I can’t imagine how that would work for a crowd-funded community project in Kickstarter.

  4. Mandi says:

    I think this is a great idea. As an open online member of ds106, I’ve always felt bad that I didn’t have to pay for the class. Happy that there’s a way that I can contribute!

    I think the success of this Kickstarter project would actually be good for the university, in that it demonstrates that us “outsiders” are getting so much value from their open courses that we’re willing to put money behind it. (Money that they might be able to profit from.)

    Actually I was just telling someone about ds106 today, and was remarking on much I admired UMW for supporting the open online experiment. Many universities would be too afraid to do that. So it’s good for their brand as well.

    While I think it’s important to keep open online classes free, I hope the success of this Kickstarter project might give more university administrators the confidence to open up their classes online.

  5. Tim Owens says:

    “a crucial part of it is tied to UMW, CUNY, etc, qua universities, which is not reflected in the Kickstarter model.”

    This was definitely purposeful. It would have been a big risk to include UMW in the campaign in any other way than the historical context of where the course began. This funding goes directly into Jim’s bank account and the idea of “using the universities image or name” to raise money would certainly have been called into question. As Martha said the very fact that UMW runs these courses and pays professors to teach them is some level of support. We recognized that the larger community building up around the site and idea were indeed separate from the institution and at least for the purpose of this campaign should remain segregated.

  6. Reverend says:

    That’s edutainment! I love that model, I know the haters are gonna hate, but when learning is fun, we have accomplished something awesome. This kickstarter is just a small instantiation of that.

    I’m really glad you brought this up because it is a crucial element of this discussion that needs to be engaged. I would hate to think that this model would lead to public education being further stripped of funds, and this is an idea that keeps me up at night, especially after EDUPUNK. At the same time, we all have to recognize that the gutting of public education has been rampant for close to 30 years now, and it is not going away unless we do something radical about it. And your analogy of a tent city is important in this regard, UMW is funding ds106 insofar as it pays for adjunct professors to teach it. It is not funding any of the infrastructure for the ds106 site because that was an experimental framework that would have crashed UMW Blogs for sure. What’s more, the UMW students are not using the ds106 site directly, they all pay for and setup their own webhost and domain names, and we simply syndicate in their work, along with anyone who want to share their work whether inside or outside an institution. It is that idea of the site as a kind of institutionally neutral node of the community that I think presents a really interesting space that people can experiment in. Like @Martha noted, I would love to see CUNY, UMW, Temple, SUNY, etc., donate to the Kickstarter given their respective institutions might benefit as a result of their students being brought into a community that helps them get feedback, a sense of the value of their work, and access to a much richer and larger community than any one of those institutions could provide individually. A consortium, if you will. That said, no institution should really own the framework, that should belong to the open online community because they are the folks who keep some sense of identity and consistency to a community—both of which are critical elements to a successful community like ds106. I think this Kickstarter being separate from an institution is key in that ds106 understands itself as a community first and a course second. Does that make any sense?

    Now as to the adjunct wages and the ways in which institutions defund public education through classes like ds106—well that’s another thread we can and should pursue in more depth and it is my hope that a demonstration of how much the community values such courses might resonate with institutions, as @Mandi notes. I want to think that institutions have the ability to recognize the power of the open, online course for their brand in this historical moment of the web and education right now, but ultimately that depends on vision and investment—if they want to make it, and they have the ability to, then that’s awesome. And excuses like funding, budgets, and bureaucracy bore me because those are excuses, it just takes will. And if institutions keeping failing that, we have no choice but to route around them in the end—and that is deeply sad to me.

    I really apprecciate that comment, and I hope the administration at all the respective schools associated with ds106 also appreciate how powerful your relationship ds106 is for their schools and its future. But whether they do or not, I know you rock! I mean, Shawn Humphries, an econ professor got a promotional video from you because of your relationship to this class. It has brought you into our space, it has made you part of our learning community, it has made you interested in UMW—that is awesome, how can anyone not see that?

  7. Ben Harwood says:

    You hit the nail square on the head: “A consortium, if you will.” If you build it, others just might hop on the bus.

  8. Pingback: Crowdsourced funding: Open education for the people, by the people – MASHe

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