The Most Interesting Thing About IHE Is You

Imagining our community.

October 6, 2016

The most interesting thing about Inside Higher Ed is you.

The fact that you are here - and that we are here all together - is something fundamentally new in our higher education community. How many other places do we have where anyone interested in higher education can easily gather and talk to one another?

I am relentlessly curious about your story.  As I type these words I am imagining who you are.

You are a grad student or a postdoc.  You are just starting your faculty career.  You are non-faculty educator.  You work for an educational technology company.  You are a part-time faculty member.  You are on the tenure track.  You have retired from a life in academia.  You are contingent.  You are tenured.  You work for a foundation.  You are in love with higher ed.  You are disillusioned with higher ed.  You are (if we are lucky) a librarian.  You work for the government.  You work in campus technology, or maybe student affairs.  You are a provost or you are emeritus.  You blog and tweet relentlessly about higher education. You never go on any social media.  Who are you?

Our higher ed world is just small enough that we all know each other - and just big enough that we can never really understand what is going on.

Every campus we visit we immediately understand.  The layout is familiar.  The culture is legible.  Yet, there are too many campuses ever to visit all of them.  And each school has its own story, its own challenges, and its own way of being in the world.

I want to visit and understand every campus.  Spend time at every company working at the intersection of technology and learning.  Hear the goals and plans of every organization working to improve postsecondary education.

None of this is possible.  There are too many of you - of us.  Too many higher ed people to know and too many higher ed places to go.

Higher education is simultaneously a close-knit community with shared values and a common language - and a diverse and sometimes divisive industry defined by structural inequalities and incompatible goals.

How can we ever make sense of higher education?

Maybe part of the answer is in our IHE community.  What do you think?

My enduring hopes and greatest frustrations with Inside Higher Ed - this place that we are gathering - are all about our community.

We are here together, yet we can’t easily see each other.

The only way that we can make ourselves known is through the distressingly imperfect device of comments. 

Our community is almost alone in the online world in that our discussions by comments are almost always collegial and productive.  For this we can thank the commitment IHE to provide the editorial resources to read each comment before it is posted - as well as (I hope) the norms of open-minded respect that align with our values in higher education.

But even the best commenting community, guidelines, platforms, policies, and processes will only get us so far.  Most of us don’t comment.  And those that do comment are not always representative of the thinking of our community.

What I wish for is some sort of real-time representation of our community.  I want to go on IHE and somehow see who you are.  See us in the specific and in the aggregate.

I’m curious about how you ended up in higher ed.  I want to know what we can do to help you with your work.  I wonder what we can learn from you.

Can we share, listen, disagree, and debate?  Can you help us understand how you think about the future of higher education?

Of course, the last thing that I want to do is trespass on your privacy. Many of us cherish our anonymity.  This is a space where we can share our ideas and opinions without fear of reprisal or censure.  Where those of us without the protections of academic freedom can exercise some academic freedom.  Where we can say things that are unpopular, that go against the conventional wisdom, but that we believe to be true.

So privacy is essential.  But can we imagine an IHE where privacy and community achieve the right sort of balance?

Can we conjure up some user interface (UI) that puts higher ed people at the center of the IHE experience?

Not a place where we go to perform, or network for jobs or status or whatever, but where we bring our authentic higher ed selves?

What are the metaphors and comparisons that would help us imagine this space?

A Slack for everyone in higher ed?  No - it would get quickly unusable and unruly.

Something like an cMOOC - a "discursive [community] creating knowledge together.” Is there anything that we can learn from open online education to inform our IHE community?

The reality is that what brings us to IHE is to read and talk about the editorial content on the site. The a News, Quick Takes, Views, Career Advice, and Blogs.  Lots of resources and effort go into creating that editorial content 5 days a week.  How do  you keep the focus and sustainability around that editorial content - while offering up new opportunities for community visibility and interactions?

Perhaps a mashup of the current IHE with features from the blogs that we (you) write and the tweets that we (you) tweet.  All integrated into digital spaces owned and curated by each of you - spaces aligned with the philosophical and technical stack of the Domain of One’s Own movement.  

Is this a technical challenge?  A design conundrum?  A problem of business models and sustainability?  A matter of goals and purpose?

Do you also long for closer connections to our IHE community?


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