Encouraging Web Interaction for University Students

So today I would like to tell a story that really shows why the internet is an amazing thing. This month’s articles on A List Apart focused on web education for universities and I’d like to share a story about one way to empower students and show them the power of the internet. Teaching people to create for the internet is a great goal, but teaching people the power of the internet by example is something amazing as well. It is hard to motivate people to create things on the internet without the understanding of how that has value.

So this all started (like many things these days) on Twitter. I got a tweet from a professor at my old school, Jim Groom. It linked to an article from a student in a Graphic Novels class, who had a blog post about garfield. His post was about garfield dying, and had some really great analysis of the content. It was a genuinely interesting piece, and something that I thought that the rest of the world should see.

In a normal context, this work simply would have been given to a teacher, and I would never have seen it. Luckily I know people that are still at the school, who happened to link to it, because it happened to be online. The university actually has a thriving blogging system they are pioneering (which is linked from the front page!). Students think that these blogs they are publishing are silly, and there is little reason for it. Once things are online, they are searchable, and others can seek out the valuable content created by students.

This story doesn’t end there though. I submitted the blog entry by the student to Hacker News and Reddit. I figured that people like me read these sites, and would appreciate it as well. I was correct. The article stayed on the front page of Hacker News for over a day, and gathered 51 votes (which is very high) and got 15 up votes on reddit.

This lead to a surge of traffic to the post! This information was being spread and a student was quickly learning the value of publishing things online. In a follow up post, Jim says that the post was viewed over 7,000 times in 3 days! Imagine being the student when he is told that something he wrote for a class was viewed by more people than the entire student body of the school you attend! How Impowering!

If more people had experiences like this, I think that a lot of people would find more value in learning how to create things on line. I can’t imagine that the student isn’t now extremely curious about how all this happened, and how he can make it happen again. It breeds curiosity and excitement over the internet, instead of wonder and fear. These are the kind of experiences that we should be fostering.

I agree that you should go volunteer and talk to students in classes that are already interested in the subject. However, it is much more important to show people the value of spreading information. Show the power of the internet through example (this one or others), and foster creativity and the ideals of public information. Things on the internet are forever, and that is scary if it’s a picture of you drunk; but if it is knowledge that you created, then that is priceless.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!