These answers were provided by Joanne Riley, the University Archivist and Curator of Special Collections at the Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston.
For people who aren’t familiar with this community, where should they explore to find out more about it?
The community site itself, http://mastudies.ning.com
What are a few of the most interesting features of this community?
This site was founded to explore – way back in 2007! – whether humanities professionals (at the time a not very social media-savvy crowd) were interested in participating in an online professional community.
What’s it like to participate in this community?
Activity in this community waxes and wanes in direct proportion to the amount of attention given to it by its administrators.
What do participants put into it?
Very low key – they can do whatever they like – start an interest group or a discussion, add events, notes, photos, comments on others’ profile pages.
What do they get out of it?
Networking connections with others in the humanities and cultural heritage fields.
How did this community get started?
As an experiment that we wanted to try here at UMass Boston to see whether humanities and cultural heritage professionals were interested in participating in an online professional community. This was back when Facebook was just getting going, and most adults and many cultural heritage professionals, were extremely hesitant about using social networks for their work. One thing we did that helped was that I laboriously changed the back-end language on the NING platform so that “friend” became “colleague” and “blogs” became “journals”, etc – that made many members more comfortable, to ask someone they knew professionally to be their “colleague” instead of their “friend.” See the grant proposal attached for much more specific information about the goals and objectives of the network.
What kind of steps were involved?
We wrote a grant proposal to the NEH, which was funded, and then put out a call for members and got a wonderful response. The network now has 708 members, although new memberships have dropped off.
What do/did you do to maintain this community?
In the beginning we were very active in administering the community, but that has fallen off considerably in more recent years, particularly since everybody in the world got comfortable with participating in social networks via Facebook!
What kind of issues do/did you have to troubleshoot?
Lost passwords and spammers. Other than that, the community was very cordial, collegial and civil.
What other advice can you offer about online learning communities?
They need care and feeding! A welcoming administrative presence makes a huge difference in encouraging participation.
Joanne also generously shared a PDF of her slides from a presentation about this community in 2008.