Today I’m here to talk about community, specifically the technical way we at WCET are working to build a community for higher education professionals and how we plan to support that community.
As the Community Manager for wcetMIX, our online community platform, it’s a major part of my job not only to understand the technical side of our system, but to develop ideas for engagement with that platform. My team has outstanding ways they want to provide resources and activities to help our members engage with each other and learn new things to help them achieve their professional and personal goals.
Mixing it Up in MIX!
In January 2019 WCET launched our online community platform wcetMIX. MIX was most importantly a product replacement for our listservs. We had used email listservs for our WCETDISCUSS and WCETNews email lists. But, the program that ran the lists did not have all of the features our members (and WCET staff) wanted. So, we turned to MIX to provide functionality for our email lists PLUS better engagement for our members moving forward. Funnily enough, I actually went into labor the day before we officially launched the platform, which I think was my colleague Sherri’s worst nightmare. Luckily, both the baby and Sherri are now fine.
The MIX platform helps us send our DISCUSS and NEWS email. But it also has some other amazing features:
- Member Directory (find contact information for other WCET members),
- Member profiles (great way to learn about your connections plus share about your education and experiences. You can even highlight your interests in various education topics and then connect with others with similar interests),
- Community libraries (upload to share resources or view and download resources shared by other members or WCET staff),
- Ribbons and badges (we use these to reward participation in our events and in MIX or to highlight those that volunteer with us, like our Steering Committee members),
- Display information about upcoming events,
- Set moderation for discussion posts to full moderation (all content is approved by a moderator before it is published), self-moderation (users can report content to be reviewed), or no moderation (content is published immediately),
- Search for resources, discussions, and posts using keyword search or by using tags.
My thoughts on Best Practices in Community Management
Community is an interesting word that means different things to different people and in different contexts.
“a unified body of individuals such as people with common interests living in a particular area or a group of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society.”
In our context, I’m considering the WCET community to mean a unified group of those working collectively to improve the quality and reach of technology-enhanced learning programs. My goals as the community manager are to encourage interaction and facilitate conversations and shared online experiences.
Community Management is, honestly, new to me. But I’ve been learning a lot. This field is full of new and exciting research, supportive professional organizations, and helpful articles, videos, and podcasts to learn from.
So far, here’s some of the techniques I’ve learned that I would consider best or promising practices to manage a community. I think many of these can be applied communities like WCET or even to a campus or class community.
1. Outline community guidelines and expectations for interaction.
Make sure your members (or students! Or staff!) understand your expectations for them.
We outlined these in our Terms and Conditions with community rules and etiquette.
We ask that members be respectful of each other, being concise and clear, not sell anything, etc.
2. Check in on your community regularly.
By regularly, I really mean many times a day. I visit the MIX page many times a day as do many of my team members. This definitely reminds me of being present in online courses.
3. Provide easy to access instructions.
This is something I am still trying to improve for MIX. I’m happy to provide instructions personally when someone is struggling to accomplish a task. We have a fairly thorough FAQ section. But, things could be better. I’m working on some how-to videos. I’m open to suggestions for making things easier.
4. Make things fun.
I LOVE when a course or activity is somehow gamified. I’m a sucker for earning badges or completing challenges. My Fitbit is my favorite accessory because I can “compete” against friends and family for my daily steps.
So, gamify engagement with your community. In MIX, we have cool badges for those who engage in MIX by posting, replying, downloading resources, updating their profile, and more! We even played a virtual Bingo game in our Policy Summit, which took place within MIX. here are example badges from the Summit:
5. Get feedback and make things better.
I am a huge believer in getting feedback from members, audience, students, team, your pet, your kid, etc. and then using said feedback to make things better. I mean, what’s the point in gathering data if you don’t use it for something? I love to hear what’s going well in MIX and I want and need to know what isn’t going well. That’s the only way I can improve the platform.
What’s the future of MIX?
Oh, I have so many ideas for the future of wcetMIX. I’m planning for a special group of individuals who test new features in MIX, act as ambassadors to the rest of the community, who even moderate some of the discussions, and more (should I call them Mixers or is that too kitschy?). We’re working on the how-to videos, engagement-athons, MIX branded swag, virtual scavenger hunts, event communities, new small communities for member’s based on topics of interest, and more!
We’ll be launching some of these over the rest of this year! Stay tuned!
Not a member? Check out more info about joining.
Have feedback on the communities? Let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
Interested in learning more about community management? Here are some excellent sites, blogs, etc. that I’ve learned from:
- FeverBee – online community consultancy.
- Vanilla Forums Blog.
- Higher Logic Users Group and Blog (Higher Logic is the vendor we work with).
- Books on Community Management.
- Community Roundtable.