Why Academic Commons?
SPU has supported web domain ownership and development for nearly 20 years. In that time, the energy and enthusiasm around using the web has been replaced with an anxiety about the increasingly complex domain knowledge necessary to code out websites, and an ambivalence towards building spaces that lack the quality aesthetic of professional sites and designs.
These obstacles are important to recognize, but they do not mean the power of web domain ownership and development is false. Rather, a person’s ability to build and develop a digital identity is paramount to their development as publicly useful and privately happy citizen. We recognize that people gain crucial skills for 21st Century citizenship when building and developing a digital identity rather than plugging information into a proprietary system. Moreover, this development is rich with the support of cognitive and critical skills imperative in society today: knowledge aggregation, social networking, information science, bibliographic curation, multimodal authoring, media creation and more.
These are the skills we sought to support in the late 1990s, but were unable to do so based on the exponential rise of technical knowledge. However, open-source software exists today that allows people to develop digital identities in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, fortified by a grounding in basic information science but focused on the development of character and wisdom. Our focus can be on knowledge creation and wisdom development in a communal and transparent environment, where every creator can be proud of not only the quality of their work, but the growth of their knowledge.
The SPU Academic Commons is an opportunity to provide students, faculty and staff the opportunity to practically engage the learning theories of Etienne Wenger (1991) and Seymour Papert (1993) by doing to learn to do in the spirit of digital identity. Built on a WordPress infrastructure with a social component known as BuddyPress, the SPU Academic Commons is designed around the creation of groups of interest. These groups can be for academic courses, departmental majors, faculty committees, book clubs, mission trips, studies abroad. For example of the many ways this can be done, see the City University of New York’s Academic Commons with over 1,000 active sites.
Each of these groups has access to shared documents (think Google Docs), discussion fora, a wiki, and a website. The website can host various contents:
Quoting VCU’s Professor of English and Director of Academic Technology Gardner Campbell was quoted in 2010 about how such a project could work for students:
[Students] would play with wikis and blogs; they would tinker and begin to assemble a platform to support their publishing, their archiving, their importing and exporting, their internal and external information connections. They would become, in myriad small but important ways, system administrators for their own digital lives. In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.
The benefit goes beyond students though, to the SPU community at large. The Academic Commons is an opportunity to share scholarship, best practices, pedagogies, faith and community with one another in a manner that can be synchronous, asynchronous, static or dynamic. Resources can be developed, collaborated upon, shared, posted, replied to, and redeveloped, all in an open and transparent space.