The point of the recent Open Forum was always to stimulate ongoing discussion, so that thread is now closed, but this one hopes to draw attention to important issues arising from it. Here is what Fran Barone had to say when summing up the Open Forum.

I would like to see similar developmental discussions continue and perhaps even diversify with more participants and varied media.

Dumbing-down and smartening-up

I admit that sometimes the erudite commentary by senior academics here can be intimidating to those just starting out or with a passing interest in a subject. But I think it's against our ethos here to fragment contributions by encouraging newcomers to remain afraid to participate. That was an old way of doing things that the OAC's creation intended to reverse. Plus, it's very difficult to learn new things if people only wish to discuss what they're already an expert in.

Similarly, since we have been on the topic of group management throughout this thread, it’s important not to encourage groups to separate themselves from the rest of the site. All group content is public and everyone can respond to it. All parts of the site will always remain open to everyone. Perhaps instead we can encourage those who wish to share more relaxed thoughts to start a blog here. Blogging is a great way to voice your opinions with less formality.

Technical

1. Adjust/re-organize the menu bar and its layout to improve site navigation
2. Possibly add a floating sidebar for enhanced navigation
3. Pare down the Latest Activity feed
4. Consider accessibility options - both site-wide and on the part of individual members (e.g. uploading videos with subtitles)
5. Translation now added!

Organization/Management

5. Prune and review the Groups (essential!)
6. Review the Wiki or a wiki-like function for collaboration (this would include the ability for members to upload syllabi and lecture notes)
7. Awareness and highlighting of site-wide activity, from groups to blogs to eSeminars and book reviews, keeping members and new visitors informed
8. Spam removal: Membership is now moderated for a spam-free OAC!

Participation

8. Putting the C in OAC – What kind of collaboration do we want to encourage here?
9. How to increase participation in general?
10. Making the best of our multimedia capabilities. E.g. I like the video that Rachel made. We should encourage members to contribute more helpful items like that to put on the About page. It can aid participation by illustrating how this site works and what it has to offer.
11. Publicizing and recognizing the accomplishments of others – how to do this? E.g. I’m presently looking into any services Ning provides to potentially add an interactive box on the homepage for "voting up" content, Digg-style. More on this soon.
12. Encouraging members to develop new initiatives within the OAC or connect the OAC to their external activities. E.g. blog cross-posting, interdepartmental collaboration, student participation/projects

Where to go from here?

Many of the items above are suggestions with no clear plan for action, so that’s where to go next. I believe that the groups issue is extremely important, as is the question of cooperation and collaboration. Both areas come down to the overarching issue of site activity, how to harness it and how to engage members in more productive ways.

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I personally think that the site is working very well at the moment and that everything is laid out for people that want to post. The only problem is that not very many people want to post.

We can look at some of the reasons why only a small proportion of the 4000 members actually write anything on the site - discussions feeling too intellectual, the fear that your contribution isn't worthy, the site being dominated by a small group of contributors, inactive groups, people not being able to find other people who are interested in the same things, lack of inspiration - and these things need to be taken into account, but really it's down to the members themselves to get motivated and start discussions, write blogs, and get involved. The platform is there, people just need to use it.

The idea of "dumbing down" has been picked up as a buzz word but nobody would really suggest that members monitor their own posts. Nor could group discussions ever somehow be sheltered. Nevertheless the discussions are being stifled and potential contributors are turning away.
I am sensitive to the issue of activity being dominated by just a few. Yet, another way to view it is that these people constitute a core of contributors that makes a site like this active when it might otherwise be entirely slack. Even a site with 4000 members can die but for a committed few.

Also, when there is only a little activity, any new activity will be of immediate interest to these few. Anyway I think that it is often the case that people step in not because they wish to dominate a new discussion so much as a desire to see it flourish and not remain neglected.

But I think your points are well made, for the most part.

Is there anything you would like to see here? What would you like out of the OAC?



Nathan Dobson said:

the site being dominated by a small group of contributors, inactive groups,
1. What are the Groups for? Is our aim for the Groups to achieve continuous nonstop discussion on any given topic? Or, are Groups better thought of as place to meet others with similar interests, and as a resource to go to for questions on a topic?

2. Must we measure the success of the OAC by visible activity and statistics? Must we always equate a lull in visible activity as a sign of decline? Must all activity and discussion be visible to count? Much happens here in the OAC that does not always show up in the activity feed and site statistics. Folks discover others with similar interests, and make new friends and communicate privately or off the site. Others use the site as a kind of resource and peruse the site for specific discussions or references, or else use it to discover things in other fields that they didn't already know. Are there other ways of evaluating the success or failure of the OAC than the activity feed?
I am in considerable agreement with all three comments so far. 1. It is up to the members to participate if they want. 2. Those who do may be conceived of as inhibiting the rest or as keeping some sort of activity going. 3. There are more uses of the OAC than are measured as visible activity.

I am not interested in depicting our network as a success or failure. I agree with Nathan that we are improving the attractiveness of the site all the time and people keep joining from all over the world. But I believe that, for ideological reasons associated with an ethos of egalitarian democracy, we are missing an essential element. This is the role of a few leading activists in expanding the range and reach of the OAC network.

We have a core group of adminsitrators who do quite a lot to animate and develop the site, but most of our work is repetitive administration. There are at present three main ways individual members can launch a new initiative: by starting a Group, posting a Blog or a discussion thread in the Forum. All of these are verbal media. Individuals can also post photos, videos or announcements; but we don't make full use of the potential for multimedia here.

I would like to make it easier for members to launch new forms of exchange, collaboration, cooperation. I am coming round to the idea that we should make a facility permanently available, whether public or private or both, for members to propose such initiatives.
Keith,

We have a few distinct forums for different uses (e.g. the main forum, Offers). Why not create a new one for "OAC Initiatives I'd Like to See", and create a separate box on the main page to show the four or five most recent suggestions?
Paul, I like this idea. People can launch ideas and recruit like-minded others to get on board while we can all follow their progress.




Paul Wren said:
Keith,

We have a few distinct forums for different uses (e.g. the main forum, Offers). Why not create a new one for "OAC Initiatives I'd Like to See", and create a separate box on the main page to show the four or five most recent suggestions?

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