Guest Post: A.L. McMichael on Open Source Announcements

Author: A.L. McMichael

To celebrate five years of Humanities Commons, I’d like to highlight one of my favorite ways to use it: simplifying administrative outreach. You can use a group’s “Discussion” feature as an alternative to a listserv or newsletter (for a lab, a project, a class, or any other organization).

As a lab director, I often need to disseminate news and announcements through several avenues for the Lab for Education and Advancement in Digital Research (LEADR). The lab is geared toward student research in the History and Anthropology departments at MSU. We work with classes and individuals and have open hours for our students. We teach workshops and host events. Our stakeholders include faculty and students across MSU, and we work closely with the DH@MSU community, alumni, and researchers at other institutions. For a small lab, this is a wide range of people who need to be kept in the loop! Streamlining announcements is key because I don’t have high enough volume of messages to maintain a separate newsletter service or emailing list. For a simpler news option, I use the discussion thread in a Commons group.

The best part of using the extensible workflow of Humanities Commons groups is that users have agency over how to get updates. LEADR’s group is on MSU Commons, but Humanities Commons groups will function the same way. Here’s the notice I posted for users:

“Members of this group can adjust email settings by clicking “Email Options” above. You can receive every announcement or a daily summary. If you are not a member of MSU Commons (or not at MSU), you can bookmark the group’s page in your browser to check for updates.”

A public group also works well to reach people at multiple institutions. It’s free and there is no limit to the number of subscribers. I especially like the “Topic Status” feature for each post. A topic can be marked as “Open” to allow follow-up comments, or “Closed” as a static announcement. Members can post their own announcements, and members can easily be upgraded to Admin (or change roles, or even blocked, if necessary). And one more giant advantage to using an announcements group—it’s easier to avoid an accidental reply all!

For teaching, I have used the group discussion board similarly to communicate with students (in lieu of proprietary content management systems). I acquaint them to the discussion board’s interface by asking them to introduce themselves in a comment on the first day. The discussion thread is a good place for students to ask questions so that I can answer them for the entire class at once instead of fielding a series of emails. In some semesters I’ll add a WordPress blog to the group for longer posts, but other times we just use the discussion threads for short communications instead.

It’s easy to let to-dos like announcements get swept into the fray of busyness or the crunch of a semester. But I like to think of administration as “ethos in action”— even a mundane task carries the weight of ethical decisions, community outreach, and multi-faceted communications. I appreciate having an open source tool that lets me communicate freely and conveniently with anyone who wants to share in the lab’s news and activities.

Want to be included? Join or bookmark the LEADR Announcements group to follow along.