Giving my educational website the best chance possible...
January 6, 2012 1:56 AM   Subscribe

What qualities make a good, focused, online educational resource/community?

I'm working on a website that I hope will become an resource for college students up to established researchers, with easy-to-read articles on statistical methodology (contributed by multiple authors, I hope), javascript demonstrations, fora for asking questions, example computer code and data and more that I'm sure I haven't thought of yet. I'm in the planning and initial building stage now.

1. What should I do to encourage people to use the website? I want to have lots of content at launch, of course, but what else should I do? How can I encourage people to "hang out" there?

2. How can I encourage colleagues to collaborate with me on the website? I want people to feel it is a community resource, rather than "my" project, but how can I make that plain?

3. What websites do you know that have done this well (regardless of topic)? What do you think are the important things that website did to encourage you to use it?

4. And you have any web-design tips? I'm using Joomla; what kind of "look" should I strive for to make the site easy to use/read?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go where people already are.
posted by k8t at 2:21 AM on January 6, 2012

I've been thinking about this for a while, and had a discussion with others elsewhere who had similar ideas about education on the net. You can use it if you want. Here it is: is for music.

Librarything and Goodread is for books.

PhilosopherDirtbike's site is for ideas.

I'd differentiate from run-of-the-mill forums. Connect people to ideas. Much like people on Librarything are connected to their favorite authors and books. You aren't just connecting people up to general ideas like philosophy or ecology.

Go deeper, and specialized as well.

If I want to tag myself as interested in paraconsistent logic, embodied cognition, and model selection in statistics, I should be able to do so. Then later, I can see who else tagged themselves the same. I can start building a social network around ideas and people. Add reading lists from educational institutions. Show people on reddit.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 3:11 AM on January 6, 2012

PhilosopherDirtbike's site is for ideas.

I guess I should be more clear - this site will be focused on statistical methods. I have a body of pedagogical material after years of teaching classes and workshops. I will use this website for my own teaching, but also I'd like to reach a broader audience of people that do not have access to similar classes or workshops where they are. I'd also like to create a support community for people using the methods. That's the trick.

I guess I want it to be similar in spirit to, say, communities of homebrew programmers, where you can go to get howtos, demonstrations, and community help, but always focussed on something in particular.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:48 AM on January 6, 2012

Doh, I misread you then.

I'm a stats undergrad myself. Regarding communities of "homebrew programmers" (and partially related to question (3)), the other communities I know of are the R MeetUps (NewYork Example) on A homebrew community/hackerspace built around data analysis and stats would be an awesome idea actually.

You know about the Stats StackExchange as well right? Could always pop into the chat over there, and bounce some ideas off them.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 4:04 AM on January 6, 2012


Find out where the community hangs out. I'm pretty sure there are forums and other places where people discuss statistical methods. Get to know these places, interact with the people and figure out what you can offer them. I can guarantee you that if you approach these people BEFORE you do any serious work on this project, you will gain a lot of insights and save a lot of time.

Remove all interaction obstacles. Stackoverflow & co used to be really great at this; you didn't even need to create an account to ask/answer a question, just entering any bogus nick+email was enough. Reading stuff should always be a zero effort thing, contributing should only require a minimum of user screening and authentication (revisions are great to undo mistakes and griefing).

2 and 3.

By demonstrating the usefulness of your site and that this is a active project. Just like Khan Academy did by creating tons of useful videos.

Provide something of value. Nothing generates buzz as useful content from day 1. This means you initially will have to spend a lot of time writing, creating tools, etc. So many sites are launched with zero content, expecting "people" to do all the hard work. This is like putting up a tent in the middle of the desert and expecting business when you should be digging wells, planting trees, offer shelter, etc. Make sure your site is an oasis and not a desert.

Show you're alive. People need to know this is a project that's alive and kicking. No one wants to spend time on a abandoned or sinking ship. In my experience Twitter and Facebook sucks for very early project exploration, i.e. when you don't even know what you're actually working with. I prefer blogging because it's more intimate, users can easily interact and follow you, etc. More importantly, make sure you're part of the established community as outlined above.

As for involving colleagues, why don't you start with one or two that you work with? Chances are they find this project as useful as you do, so they might already have a stake in it.


What made you decide on Joomla? Have you looked at other solutions? I have nothing against Joomla, just want to better understand the requirements.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:05 AM on January 6, 2012

What made you decide on Joomla? Have you looked at other solutions? I have nothing against Joomla, just want to better understand the requirements.

Nothing, except for disliking Drupal, and not knowing what else is available, and that I use Joomla for my personal website. I'm not a web designer (although, funny story, I do share a name with a web designer who emailed me once to tell me that my websites suck and that I was hurting his good name).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:18 AM on January 6, 2012

I'd personally get engaged with MethodSpace before doing anything yourself.

And what about KhanAcademy?
posted by k8t at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2012

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