Communication and Technology

Your community will eventually need mechanisms for communicating with the outside world (e.g, website, public-facing calendar of events) as well as mechanisms for disseminating information to members and fostering communication between and among members.

Guiding Questions

What kinds of things does your community intend to communicate internally?

Consider:

  • Event announcements

  • Business (e.g., elections)

  • Discussions of teaching

  • Communications between leaders of the community

What does your group want the world to know about it?

Consider:

    • Statements about who you are (What is your name? Do you want a logo?)

  • Announcements of events

What kinds of communication structures are easy to maintain (for leadership team) and easy to participate in (for participants)?

Getting Started

While there are many many options out there for managing the communication technology of your COMMIT, this page suggests some practical options for using the Google suite of tools to manage your community's email, listserv, website, and calendar.

Choose an official name

  • Keep in mind the COMMIT network’s stance on using “IBL” in your name. From the perspective of the COMMIT network, one main reason to avoid IBL in your regional name is that it may imply that your scope is more narrow than you intend.

  • Pronounceable acronyms are kind of fun. Play around with different letters and see what you can come up with!

  • Make sure corresponding internet identifiers are available: e.g. google account / gmail address, web domain (at a good price!), google group, twitter account, twitter hashtag.

Make a google account for your group

This is optional, but this can ease any issues of particular leaders owning websites, accounts, or documents; it also gives you a branded and stable email address for contacting your group

Make a logo (optional)

Make a website.

  • Go to sites.google.com and click on “start a new site”. Suggestions of what to include on your website

  • Title: Name of region

  • What kinds of pedagogies your participants use

  • What is a COMMIT community?

  • Describe your region and leadership team

  • How to join your region and listserv

  • How to get information, requests, donations, support

  • An iframe of your COMMIT calendar

  • Event and activities descriptions (upcoming and past)

  • Upload a favicon with a version of your logo, if you have one (instructions for a google site)

  • Pictures. Remember to take pictures at your events, and ask participants for photo releases!

More examples of what to add to your website can be found at comathinquiry.org. The main website and individual COMMIT community webpages might be helpful as you start building your own.

Once your website is up and running email comathinquiry@gmail.com with the URL. We will then get your website linked to the COMMIT network main website.

Make a calendar

  • If you are logged into a general google account for your COMMIT, then you can use the default calendar that exists when you go to calendar.google.com

  • If you are creating the COMMIT calendar from a personal or professional google account, you will need to scroll to to “+” next to “Other Calendars” to create a new calendar for your COMMIT

  • In either case, when you hover over the created calendar’s name, you will see three vertical dots. When you click on that you will open a small menu that includes “Settings and Sharing”.

    • Once you click on that you will see the option to make your calendar public.

    • Under “share with specific people” you can include your leadership team members, as well as comathinquiry@gmail.com (so that your events can also be displayed on the COMMIT Network main page).

  • You can embed this calendar easily into a google site.

  • Make sure your events include your regional name so that they are clearly labeled when they show up on the main COMMIT Network calendar. (E.g., “AMiIBL Lunch Discussion” > “Lunch Discussion”)

Case Studies

AMIIBL: Using a university listserv vs. google group, why we changed.

When we first started AMIIBL, I (Nina White) set up a listserv through my institution. The advantages of this setup included: easy to add members, no one need to opt-in, emails would go to an inbox (rather than a promotions or spam folder). However, one small disadvantage was that no one could easily unsubscribe themselves. And a much bigger disadvantage was that no one else on my leadership team would be able to manage the listserv at the point when I leave the leadership team. This was a deal-breaker. So after a year or so of the institutional listserv, we made the important decision---for the sake of sustainability---to move our listserve to a Google Group. However, the Google Group comes with its own challenges, which are well-captured by the MD-DC-VA case study below.

MD-DC-VA: Google group ups and downs

One of our first leaders created a Google Group which has served as our membership list and main communication tool for years.

Advantages: It’s free and mostly works.

Disadvantages and workarounds:

  • The Google Group interface is a little fuddy-duddy and “un-modern” by current internet standards; navigating the system is NOT intuitive.

  • You can set it up so that members can add themselves, or you can add them directly. Both MD-DC-VA and AMIIBL provide a link / button on their websites for people to ask to join the group. This sends a request to the group moderators to be added; the user is prompted to include a reason they want to join the group. We use the link that Google Groups provides, but it is very buggy. However....

  • Not everyone can join the Google Group-- the user has to be logged into some kind of Google account (institutional or personal). Worse than that, some institutional Google accounts do not allow users to join groups outside their institution. Workarounds: 1. Many folks have gotten around this by using a separate email address to join the group. 2. Group managers can “direct add” an email address to the group rather than “invite”ing the member. This seems to allow most of those folks to participate in the email list, although some still find that the messages are marked as spam or just never appear. 3. When you are adding people to the Google Group, you can add just the email address, but it is better to add Firstname Lastname <email@address.edu> so that their name appears on the list as well. (Although the last time I tried this, 1/4/21, that didn’t seem to work either…--AEK)

  • Also, if you want to add a bunch of people at a time (for example, when migrating over from another listserv), you can only add 10 people at once using copy and paste; you can’t do something natural like import a csv file.

Sustainability

Whatever technological tools you choose to use, there are some considerations that will help make your technology suite more sustainable. In particular, you want the tools to be easy (not time consuming) and to be able to weather changes in leadership. Questions to consider:

Who is taking on the tech? And are your tools easy to use and maintain?

  • Will you have a listserv pinger? (see activated listserv article)

  • Will your leadership team have a “Communications” position?

  • What experiences do your leadership team members have with different apps or software?

What costs are involved in your tools?

  • A domain can be as cheap as $12/year. But a “fancy” service with nice templates can cost more than $100/year (not including domain).

Who “owns” the various accounts you use?

  • See the AMiIBL case study below on pros and cons of an institutionally-owned listserv.

  • You can add various google accounts as editors on a google site or google calendar, but there will be a unique google account who is the actual owner. To ease potential ownership issues, you can create a general google account for your COMMIT, based on your COMMIT name, as the owner of the various tools or sites you might manage.

    • Pros: This could help make leadership transitions easier; you will have a branded email address for COMMIT communications; top level COMMIT email will not clog your regular inbox.

    • Cons: it could be annoying for leaders to have to sign into a separate google account to access content; top level COMMIT email may go unseen (of course email forwarding can remedy this!); you will have to think about whether or not to change the password on this parent account during leadership transitions.

Also consider the ways that technology can improve the sustainability of your community. See, in particular, our description of an "activated listserv" on the Membership Base page.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

What does your website say about your commitment to diversity and inclusion?

See more about diversity and inclusion statements on the Membership Base page.

Does your website meet or surpass WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)?

You can see this introduction for a lot more details. A very digestible short version can be found here: https://www.w3.org/WAI/test-evaluate/preliminary/. Below is a subset of that list:

  • Pay attention to readability of text on backgrounds. Make sure to avoid text over images/photos. Here is a super helpful website for checking contrast ratios: https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/

  • Provide transcripts for any video and “alt text” for any images.

  • Make sure to use properly nested heading structures in your html script or within your website design app (e.g., Google Sites)

  • Avoid blinking or flashing

  • The website should be fully navigable without a mouse (this is typically built in to something like Squarespace or Google Sites --- but try it out!)

What norms do you have on your listserv that encourage participation, inclusion, and safety?

  • Some listservs, like Project NExT have specific guidelines about not sharing beyond the list, to allow participants to be vulnerable about job challenges, etc.

  • Some listservs have guidelines that call out prohibited behaviors: trolling, marketing, harassment, etc.

  • Some listservs have guidelines that call out positive behaviors: critical engagement, withholding judgement, asking questions, sharing openly, etc.


Further Resources and Ideas

  • Make a map of your community and share it on your website or as a poser at your events! If you have access to Google My Maps, you can create a map like this one.

  • There are alternatives to Google, such as sympa (https://www.sympa.org/) or other email listserv software that someone in your community runs on their computer.