If I knew better, I would take last week’s Ocotillo Virtual Kickoff as a resounding failure. We had set up a series of 1-4 minute streaming video welcomes from not only our top executive levels, but more important;y, the faculty co-chairs leading our new initiatives on learning objects, eportfolios, hybrid courses, and emerging technologies. We invited people in our system (and beyond) to join some online discussion boards. We put the word out with system wide email announcements, plus individualized messages to specific target groups.
The goal was to meet the ongoing mantra that people do not have time to go to face to face events/meetings, so we set up what was thought to be a flexible format, hybrid if you will.
At week’s end, the video viewership was low, there were only 20 new accounts added to the discussion board, and the only conversations there were among our co-chairs.
Time for hari-kari?
No. This is exactly what I expected. over the last 8 years I know I have set up about 50 or more online discussion boards for projects and groups, and can remember on one hand the number that have had more than say 10 messages posted.
We first posted the Maricopa Learning eXchange in 2000 and four years later, with lots of demos, bribes, competitions, physical threats (just kidding), I know we have likely less than 4% of our employees contributing content.
Just building an online community, and announcing it will not make it happen. Sure, in a class, you make it required for students, but that carrot is not present.
It takes time, whole lot more than you would ever think is reasonable. Same for patience, and perseverance.
Our faculty co-chairs however are mystified, and wondering why their own colleagues could not spend say 5 minutes to read and post a comment to a discussion board. This underscored my belief that even in this electronic age, we need to go out there and talk to people face to face, or sit down with them at their computers, and spend a lot more time in real conversations to get them “in”. Our initiatives are all brand new, still forming, and people do not yet have a clear picture or set of expectations.
It fits very well with our Ocotillo metaphor, since what we are doing is very organic, not completely pre-planned, and will grow (or die) over time.
It takes much more than technology to build online communities.