Online discussion produces quality ideas

Alicia Balog

Members of the Kent State community are now using the Civic Commons — an online social forum promoting civil conversations — to express concerns about the university since the launch of the website in early November.

Kent State’s Academic Affairs Strategic Planning Committee partnered with the Civic Commons to host discussions about different academic aspects of the university. The committee will use information gathered from the discussions to present a plan next spring to Provost Todd Diacon that will outline how best to run the university.

Daniel Moulthrop, curator of conversation for the Civic Commons, said a total of 131 people have commented as of Dec. 4. Of the six academic-related goals — such as “enhancing academic excellence” and “expanding research and creative endeavors” — by which the forum is divided, the largest is “ensuring student success,” to which 69 people have responded. Moulthrop said this should not come as a surprise.

“That is central to Kent State’s mission [:] educating students and preparing them for the world and work and citizenship … ,” he said.

Participation numbers since Nov. 5, 2012, according to President Mike Shafarenko of the Civic Commons

• More than 120 participants have written 450 comments

• More than 8,000 page views

Co-chair Stan Wearden, dean of the College of Communication and Information, said with an online forum, people can participate however they want while creating new ideas.

“The fact that people have the opportunity to go back and make another comment and expand upon things they’ve said and respond to other people — I think it enriches the whole experience of the discussion and gives us better quality information,” he said.

Wearden explained he is excited about the amount of people responding and is especially pleased with the amount of students who have participated.

“Because so many students spoke out, their voices will be heard very loudly in this process,” Wearden said. “As the Civic Commons begins to aggregate the data to identify trends in thought and major points that came out, I’m confident that a lot of those will be points that students raised.”

Wearden said a great amount of people visit the site just to read the comments, which also helps with the proliferation of information to the public.

“Maybe they don’t feel like they have anything particular to contribute,” he said. “Maybe they feel like it’s already been said, but they at least see what’s being talked about. It’s made the process much more public in that sense and much more transparent in that sense.”

Committee co-chair Carrie McDougall, associate professor of art for Kent State University at Stark, said the discussions are producing more meaningful ideas for the university’s plan than they would have received from hosting other events.

“In terms of quality and quantity, I think we’ve surpassed what we would’ve [gotten] out of a town hall meeting,” she said.

McDougall said because diverse groups of people are participating in the conversations, communication is being facilitated among people who usually wouldn’t interact.

“People are throwing out these ideas,” she said. “Other people are responding by sometimes adding to the idea or fleshing out maybe the ideas that are not as well developed …”

Mike Shafarenko, president of the Civic Commons, wrote in an email that the project with the university is one of the most successful he’s seen.

“We’ve been doing online engagement work for over two years and are very much aware of other organizations in our arena doing the same — this is the first time I’ve come across a major university using an online engagement platform to solicit input … and drive dialogue about its strategic plan,” Shafarenko wrote.

Moulthrop said the university has been a “dream partner.”

“What Kent State has here is not only hundreds and hundreds of data points to help inform the strategic plan, but they’ve also strengthened their community through this process,” Moulthrop said.

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].