When the Social, not the Medium, is the Message: Community-building and Research Collaboration in Virtual Spaces

On the internet, individuals, groups, and communities try to create–or to contribute to–spaces where they can communicate and build knowledge in ways beyond what is possible in the daily round of face-to-face interactions. Yet it can be difficult to navigate the changing technologies of social media, each with its own interface and device configurations.

As a designer of virtual (or partly virtual) spaces for interaction you might ask: How do we move across multiple communication spaces that meet a variety of purposes and serve diverse “audiences”? How do we support and enhance multiple levels of engagement and create pathways for movement between these levels? Moreover, do so for people with different amounts of time and technical skill? What are the possibilities for weaving together existing technologies? Where are the process and technological gaps? How do we maintain flexibility, adaptability, and individual choice in shaping communication messages?

As a participant or user you might ask: What does it mean to make “mindful choices” in the way that we present ourselves through social media? How do we develop our online presence and behaviors in order to encourage potential collaborators to take the risk of reaching out and making a more direct, personal connection? What encourages us to take that risk with others as well? Through this process of risk-taking, what is revealed about the connection between our online and “real” identities? What principles and practices can guide choices about online identity as we enter risky spaces in search of rewarding connections?

In short, this biweekly, interdisciplinary seminar [Fall 2012] will explore ways to facilitate personal development, group collaboration, community engagement and inquiry, as well as look for processes and mechanisms that are at once integrated but flexible and adaptable to multiple purposes and audiences. We look forward to the cross-disciplinary links, new friendships, and actions that grow out of the seminar discussions.

Basic CMYK


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

One Response to When the Social, not the Medium, is the Message: Community-building and Research Collaboration in Virtual Spaces

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    I am wondering what happened in this exploration from 2012. So much today is about “marketing” or “branding” oneself that we “sell ourselves short” of our value(s). I hope your group some way of traversing the levels and mediums to engage beyond the usual business of the internet.

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