I'm helping the Univ. of Arizona Management Information Science dept
start a new course on Managing Online Communities
.It started out as an idea through my involvement in the IBM Academic Initiative
.In a meeting with the IBM AI Director, Kevin Faughnan, the U of A MISDepartment Head, the U of A Computer Science Dept Head andothers, we were exploring ways of how academia is keeping up with theIT and CS topics of interest to incoming freshmen undergraduatestudents. My point was that the MySpace Generation is already wellentwinned into the net today and actively participate in more onlinesites that older generations. You need courses that appeal to thisrising interest in online technologies, as well as being potentialfuture job possibilities in this field. I suggested the idea of acourse that touches on all the technologies involved in onlinecommunities and social network systems, and in particular, how tomanage such communities for a business.
This is our first step course to see how much people areinterested in the topic. It's 3 credits (about 3 hours a week) for a4.5 month-long semester at the third year Undergraduate (Junior) level, startingthis August. There are multiple goals but the primary idea is based onthe notion that many companies are finally beginning to create jobpositions of a Community Manager or other IT support role for creatingand managing online communities. They call it by different names butthis is essentially what they are pointing to. This is quite differentwhat people think of in terms of a Web site manager. The whole courseis an experiment but I think it has a chance of expanding to alarger/wider scale. This course will at least get them started in thatarea, but I think there will still be a lot to learn about thisevolving future.
I don't think it will be that hard or new for them to grasp consideringthat we are talking about the MySpace generation, but we want to showthem that this might become a future work opportunity in the industryif they know how companies themselves are interested.
Aside from just getting the students up to speed on all the differenttechnologies and topics in social networking and community, there'd beassignments and group projects. The final project I think will beinteresting to many universities all over: the students taking thiscourse will subdivide into pairs, and each pair will be working with asmall group (micro-community) of 4-5 high school (secondary school)students from a school that we are partnering with. The goal is for ourstudents to teach some of these ideas to the high school students, andtry to build and manage that community (on a short term basis).
- our students get some exposure trying to work or organize others(is dealing with high school students ~= dealing with executives andexperts? :) )
- both our students and their students learn by doing
- we get a broader reach of the ideas (those high school students are potentially future college students the next year)
Other regularly/weekly assignments are of course, blogging or postingin forums on a regular basis to get them used to the rhythm.
We have great support from the head of MIS (Dr. Mohan Tanniru) aswellas the principal of the High School we are going to work with. I willbe helping the MIS Lecturer, Andrea Winkle teach the course; she hasbeen running SummerCamps for high school students on the topic of IT, so she hasexperienced working with them before, which as involved in the FinalProject adds a valuable aspect to the course. (Just working with somany highschool students is an interesting juggling act as it is)
The following is our general list of topics that we are basing it on.It's not complete but hopefully we should have a good range of topics:
- Overview of the role of online communities in business
- what businesses are doing in their online communities
- competing for mindshare
- user-generated/user-led vs. organizationally-developed content
- what are and are not online communities: community identity & interaction
- Overview of common types of community tools:
- What happened to just a simple Web page? - Web 2.0
- content & collaboration tools: blogs, forums, instant messaging/forums, wikis, etc.
- workflow, process and project management tools
- information organization: categorization, taxonomies, tagging
- distribution and syndication: RSS/Atom Web feeds
- Overview of community environments:
- forum-based communities,
- spaces-based communities,
- tag-based communities, etc.
- Community development & maturity:
- designing, launching, recruiting/populating, growing.
- what is acceptable, what is not,
- setting up member guidelines
- Encouraging your membership:
- Motivation and Inhibitors,
- reward mechanisms,
- Measuring your community:
- what metrics should you measure,
- how do you determine success
- Marketing your community:
- things to do to let others know about or join your community,
- search-engines, word-of-mouth/grass-roots marketing
In talking to undergraduate students in Computer Science, I find that a fair share of them joined this particular major because of their interest in game development. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be sinking into the mindset of the educators in many major universities. For them, its either simply below their radar, or just not as interesting as what they are interested in. Heck, they even ignore their own historical origins: one of the very first applications created for the Unix system, in the hands of its original creators, was a game.
On one hand I hear professors in this field describing the ongoing drop in enrollment in this field since the dot-com bust. They want to find ways of making their program interesting again and appeal to the students. Back back to my point, they are simply ignoring the driving force behind why these students want to become developers in the first place.
Take in comparison, the movie and theater industry which has long been established over the centuries and is available in most universities with an arts programs. The schools are not keeping up with the fact that traditional entertainment-going audiences are continuing to drop across the board. On the other hand, the software game industry is continuing to grow, in some cases bigger than some of the largest movie or music hits. Even traditional media stars are starting to recognize this, as they transition to roles in animation and game titles. On another front, the number of game development books on the shelves continue to be some of the most popular published titles around. All this means a good future for jobs in this industry, and because of its very technical nature, a good market for education.
The good news is that newer schools and smaller colleges are appreciating this. Jay Clark
who has just started his blog on our site writes to this fact; and here in the Southwest US, I see commercials for game design and development from independent technical and design colleges as well.
The basic industry is evolving. Even after three or four decades, it is still young. E3 and other major conferences have shown it to be a huge market with lots of players, but most academia, which are far behind do not see it as a priority. What it needs first is a generational change, but more importantly, it needs the actual properly skilled educators to come back from industry to teach the subject. For industry members:
you can't complain that there aren't a general pool of skilled developers in proper techniques, if there aren't enough people to teach the next generation the subject. Send your best teachers and managers back to train the future.For educators:
this is where one part of the industry is heading which involves deep programming experience in many different areas including software engineering, programmed/artificial intelligence, network & distributed programming, graphics programming, and more. You need students. Students want to learn what is involved to get into this industr. Figure it out!
I've certainly been slow blogging this month, and I'm using the "new baby" excuse :) Not entirely true, but I'm catching up with things at work and the on-going projects we have.
The UofArizona MIS 300 course is going well. We're about a month into the semester and the enrollment has been at 37 students. It's larger than we expected but not unmanageable. Per my previous post,
this course is on preparing students for roles in community management. We certainly have hands-on work with social software tools, but the overall goal is more around designing and planning your community, how to keep it growing, how to market and measure it.
The course is also about cooperation, communication, and leadership, so there are other in-class exercises when the Junior level undergrads have to do activities like presentations, pair tasks, group tasks and of course the final project of building a community of other real students and helping to train their community. It helps also to make it fun.
The hopeful outcome is a base level of understanding where they can go into a new entry level position as community manager for a company. Since these roles are still quite varied and evolving, there would be a lot of learning on the job that still needs to happen, but at least they will understand the basics and the personality aspects required of them.
My other hope is that we can reach out to other companies who are looking for such people for coops or internships with these skills.
This week we've started everyone on blogging. They each have to post several times a week on Wordpress accounts and connect with other bloggers, and continue doing so for the rest of the semester. This will likely be trivial for some but not for others. It takes a bit of motivation to blog on such regular frequency and that depends upon the people. Hopefully later this year, I'll demo some of this. This is so they understand what they are asking of a potential blogging community, learn the components of blogs, and experience the issues themselves.
They will also go through assignments to collaborate on a wiki, create their own podcast or videocast, and so on, all the let them become familiar with these from a users perspective.
As part of the Managing online communities course, students have a semester-long assignment to blog weekly. This is to force the habit of writing on a regular basis and feeling the experience for themselves. As a Community manager they would have to try to encourage other people to blog regularly, but as most bloggers know (most blogs fail due to lack of updates) it isn't trivial to write on a regular basis. When you hit the workforce, it becomes even more difficult.
In any case, all our MIS 300 blogs can be read by the public
. I think only the first 38 of those blogs are operational (the number of students we have). You'll find varying degrees of creativity and coverage, but that is to be expected.
Other tools-based assignments include those on forums, group editing a wiki, and creating a podcast. I'll try to point to those when they are ready.
I do get requests from others on what the notes for this couse contains. The course is definitely one "in the moment", as in, "it's trying to keep up with the latest." The topics we discuss does involve tooling but more for experiential purposes than core training. Because it's so recent, I have not found a single book that could apply across the whole topic. I found about a good 15 books or so that could do it, but I don't think the students would enjoy having that much to read. Nonetheless, there's a need for a book and the students expect it.
In the meantime, the course is a combination of :
- many slides - often with too much detail on them (not great for a business pitch but perfect for a class)
- lots of reviews/overviews of Web2.0 sites (by us and by the students)
- short in-class skillbuilding activities - for communications skills
- assignment and in-class presentations - do research on a Web2.0 site and present to class - encourage presentation-giving skills
- guest speakers - give industry perspective on different aspects of the course.
- tools assignments - blogs, wikis, podcasts - get used to tools
- final project - students get a group of others to work with and organize into a community, teach the tools
This is as much in the delivery and activities as it is in the content. We tell them it's a course on leadership and working with people. They may learn the tools but this is not a technical development or a software training course. The slides are plentiful and can be expanded into more written information.
I'll ask the public: do you think I should put this information together into a book?
I've written or co-written about 6-7 books already but they are always so much more work than the time/payoff. There are a lot of books out there but as I said, this is a how-to course and not specifically on tools or a particular category (e.g., blogging). Anyway, let me know what you think.
So far, I have not mentioned more details of the final project because we have not yet told the students--if you're reading this--what it entails. We'll probably describe this in the next week or so, and I'll post it then.
I've asked our dev team to set up a wiki for me and hopefully should have one soon. I'll see about post the notes, and files there.
We talked about crowdsourcing as a particular community use-case. It definitely counts as a use-case because of the use of multiple community services, tools and need for potential CMs.
(I looked up Wikipedia but there's no entry right now, so perhaps I'll have to add one)
The concept itself is far from new but the delivery is. The core idea is that you pick a topic, invite a crowd to discuss or brainstorm on it, pick top ideas, let people vote on it. The way it's being applied in online communities is interesting. Take a look at a recent Businessweek story
on this (and an earlier one
The following is from our slide on this item that draws some from this:
- nInviting the audience to brainstorm, design, or build an idea, product, or service.
- qDefine the key problem or issue you are trying to solve. Be specific.
- qIdentify your metrics for success beforehand
- qDefine your interval for how long this project should run
- qIdentify an appropriate reward for the group
- qSet up a filtering process
- qTap the right audience
- qHave community managers to guide and build the community
- nThe implementation can vary significantly but the model is what is important.
- qIBM Global Innovation Forum (www.globalinnovationforum.com) and ThinkPlace (internal) – 57,000 members using discussion forums
- qFluevog shoes (www.fluevog.com) – submit a shoe design - 20,000 submissions through submission site, user ratings of submissions
- qInnocentive (www.innocentive.com) – solve scientific challenges – 100,000 members, problem statements and rewards notices, submission forms
- qSecondLife (secondlife.com) – design a 3D world – 650,000+ members use 3D tools to roam, design, develop objects, buying/selling objects (virtual dollars to real dollars exchange).
There are plenty of other examples I'm sure that I left out.
No end of activities going on for me. I just returned from a trip to talk about Web 2.0. Lot's of interesting discussion and actually the bigger interest was on how dW manages a community.
I should be heading out again to the Web 2.0 conference by O'Reilly in November
. (If you are at the show please come by the developerWorks booth and keep me company for a few minutes.) Things are obviously heating up for the startup market in this area. I'm going to have to take a closer look at some of the companies going to the conference.
One question I do get about our MIS course
is what Web2.0 products we use and talk about. We use mostly open source tools like MoinMoin
for a wiki, Wordpress
for blogs, and Audacity
for recording podcasts. However, we do talk about a whole lot more sites and products than what we use. Obviously it is hard to put all of these into use for several reasons: (a) time, (b) longevity, (c) utility, and (d) topic.
Even with a 14-week semester course there is a whole lot to discuss in this space. Any tool that you put into the course requires us to at least have a half-class on using the tool (as well as time in followup classes to discuss uses), and preparing a proper assignment for the tool. Next, the Web2.0 market is changing so rapidly, today's players may be tomorrow's laggards; it's hard enough to follow. The utility of the tool may depend on the environment we have; not all tools are readily something you can use for a class environment. Finally, the most important is if it fits into the overall topic. This is not intended to be a tools or programming class and we want to build a general knowledge about the types or categories of tools that are the most prevalent or significant.
This is why the majority of the tools mentioned in the course are discussion or presentation items only. In time, we may accommodate more tooling but that is still secondary to the knowledge we want the students to gain.
So for the Web2.0 conference, I'll be keeping an eye out for dW, for this class, and just for general interest too.
Several people have asked me where this news about the MIS course went out, so I've compiled a list and placed it on my wiki
. There are at least 10 articles in traditional media and a bunch of blog entries.
According to a recent New York Times article
, Tim Berners-Lee
is partnering with MIT
and the Univ of Southampton (UK) to launch their Web Science Research Initiative. I don't have much more information than that but it sounds like a graduate level research space into a more modern version of social networking analysis. The key people are Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall (head of School of Electronics and CS at U of Southampton), Nigel Shadbot (prof of AI, Univ of Southampton), and Daniel Weitzner (principal research scientist at MIT).
Quote from the release
Commenting on the new initiative, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of theWorld Wide Web and a founding director of WSRI, said, "As the webcelebrates its first decade of widespread use, we still knowsurprisingly little about how it evolved, and we have only scratchedthe surface of what could be realized with deeper scientificinvestigation into its design, operation and impact on society.
"The Web Science Research Initiative will allow researchers to take theweb seriously as an object of scientific inquiry, with the goal ofhelping to foster the web's growth and fulfill its great potential as apowerful tool for humanity."
I'm pretty sure the web is already an object of serious scientific and even commercial inquiry, but more effort is always a good thing. In comparison, our undergraduate UAMIS class
seems much less conceptual. I'm sure those ideas will eventually trickle down to us too. Social network analysis is a complex enough task, and not a simple topic; i.e., it'd need a full-blown semester to teach.
The local ABC affiliate in Tucson (KGUN9) came by on Monday and recorded our Managing Online Communities class
. Our students were presenting their final project concepts at Howenstine High school at the time, so you won't see me in it. The video shows some of the students presenting as well as the high school students participating. They interviewed one of the high school students, their teacher and the UAMIS teacher, Andrea Winkle, talking about the event.
It was a little chaotic from the students presentations' perspective: power was out for half the workstations and they were trying to fix it in the middle of class; the media crew and later the photographer (hired by the University) were all around; the high school Internet access blocked some of the sites that our students built their project on; and people just kept coming in and leaving for random reasons. Anyway, I still think it was successful but we may need to rethink the format a little and perhaps the tools our students can use.
Their final project requires them to create and build a concept for what their audience may want to use out of any combination of Web 2.0 tools they want. Some of our students are more technical than others so some actually wrote the software, while others used the service apps we had or on other sites. We can't show the projects until our students are done with it but I can describe some of them:
- a site that pulls in what local radio stations play in different locales around the country and have forums to discuss the regional differences and tastes
- an online social poll, where anyone in a small team can set up, answer, or even change the poll questions.
- a dual wiki/blog format for content offering different interaction means to the same data (and seeing which one is more popular)
I think next semester we need to pick out a selection of free resources they can build their project on. From the Web 2.0 Summit, I added to my list of such resources that let you build your own social network on their service: Ning.com
's ecosystems, ITtoolbox.com
I'll keep looking for more; we want to offer people a number of different options so they can work on innovative ideas. Again, this is not a programming class, and we don't expect that they'll build one of their own or modify these extensively, but you never know what will happen.
We'll be upgrading the Managing online commuities course
next semester. The last I heard, the new course number will be MIS 424/524. This means that it will be a both undergrad (senior) & grad level course. Partially it is administrivia: grad students and professionals want to take it and can't do that as a 300-level (junior) course. Next semester, you don't have to be a degree-seeking student to register for this course, but yes, it is still local (rather than an online course) and a full semester long.
To go with that we will need to revise some of the cirriculum as well as add additional work appropriate for graduate level students. Unfortunately, I have not had much time to think about that and may not have it done before I leave on vacation in two weeks. I guess I get to take my laptop along and work a little over the holidays.
One of the regular assignments we have is analysis of news articles and papers on Web 2.0 and social projects and sites, and a presentation to the class. This semester has been more freeform to see what students will come across. For the grad level, I think we will need them to provide greater insight into the site they review: what is their business model/how do they make money or pay for it; how do they attract/retain visitors; how do they reward members; etc.
The final project also needs to start much earlier to give our students more time to complete the work. Apparently there was some confusion on what they were supposed to do. Also the selection of tools at their disposal were not sufficiently varied. We'll try and look for more tools per my previous note
We like the aspect of interfacing with high schools, but we may need to expand to more schools to have a larger user base. The complication is that each trip to the high school has some overhead involved for both parties; the high school computers have firewalls/filters for some sites which are relevant; they may not be adequately equipped for enough students; high school classes may have a lot of movement (people come in and out of class often). A better way would be to bus the high school students to a controlled environment like the Hoffman ecommerce lab
In the mix of the travel and other things, I'd almost forgotten about this dW podcast
interview I did earlier this month. Scott and I talk about the online communities course in this interview