Blog Post

How a Class Becomes a Community: Theory, Method, Examples For Your Hacking Pleasure

How a Class Becomes a Community:  Theory, Method, Examples For Your Hacking Pleasure

About three years ago, I began inviting my student-led, peer-evaluated, collaboratively structured classes to think about the shape of a course:  what defined it, what its participants could do to describe and circumscribe its practices, how a group of strangers, all enrolled in the same institutional experience of a “course,” could come together as a community of choice, mission, shared purpose, and mutually beneficial learning.   It was a student in “This Is Your Brain On the Internet,” an undergraduate class I taught at Duke in 2010, who said, “We need a class constitution!”   Now, in virtually every class I teach, we begin by jointly composing such a document.


By “we” I mean mostly the students.  I say “mostly” because it would be coy and even dishonest not to acknowledge my professorial role in what I find to be a fascinating and important document in making that transition from a gathering of students to a community of colearners. 


Others will find other, better ways to do this.   For now, let me describe our process and invite others to tell us other ways this might be morphed, remixed, hacked, modded, and mashed. 


First, my role was in setting this as an assignment and putting it on a collective Google Doc and inviting all members of our graduate class at Duke University (21st Century Literacies:  Digital Knowledge, Digital Humanities”) to contribute.   Second, I chose the “foundational text” for the class to morph, remix, hack, mod, and mash.  I have had classes in the past construct a set of community principles from scratch but it never works quite right.  We almost always go on line and find some open community whose principles might help inspire our own.  This time, I simply chose a document, asked if anyone had any better suggestions, and, in this very original and quite wonderful group, people simply decided to dig in on this one and work with it as the parameter.   Finally, I set the deadline.  These collaborative writing exercises can take over a life and we had much bigger projects for the term.  This was simply (and not simple at all) to set our community rules for the term.  


Occasionally, during the 10 days we worked on this, if things flagged, or got stuck, or came to a collaborative impasse, I would leave a note, a comment, a prod, or a provocation.  Remember, this was a group of eight students from three universities and eight separate disciplines, all drawn together by a course topic and method, but who were just learning to think and work and write and create together. 


So that’s what I contributed:  The tennis court, the rules, the net.   The rest was up to them.   And then, swoosh, there was the serve, right past my ear and I was left standing there impressed and amazed at the speed and accuracy.  And suddenly it wasn’t just a serve but a return, a volley, a game. 


And we were all winners.  A group of strangers was suddenly a community.  Within a few weeks, there were no longer separate projects, but one major group commitment to create a learning experience together.  Each student had a unit to define, assign, and lead.   And somehow we decided no exams, no term papers:  why not turn each unit into a chapter, the chapters into a book, and make this an online and maybe a print-on-demand open source guide that other learners and teachers, teachers and learners, could use to inspire new ideas, new course, new ways to morph, remix, hack, mod, and mash up.


Below, please find our “Duke 21C Community Manifesto.”  We welcome your feedback and comment.  Please also note that the original Google Doc still stands as an open document and will do so unless it ceases to serve its function as a constructive, creative place for learning together. 




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English //

21st Century Literacies:  Digital Knowledge, Digital Humanities



Course website:


al-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Duke21C is a graduate class at Duke University dedicated to thinking of the next generation of education as a “commons” and modelled on the idea of interactive, collaborative learning, whether in face-to-face settings such as our class or in global networks.   To that end, we started with the Mozilla Manifesto(which has a Creative Commons “share” license) and modded it to suit the community we call #Duke 21C.  We hope you will share it too!



You are Invited.  


Duke21C invites you to read, comment upon, or edit the principles we’ve set out below and to join us in seeking new ways to make our shared vision of the 21st century classroom a reality. We hope you will also share this with others dedicated to new forms of learning together.  This document may be used as a template for other documents, or may be edited here.

Duke 21C Community Manifesto


Duke21Cis an experimental collective committed to identifying, evaluating, creating and rethinking solutions to educational challenges that our changing society faces in the twenty-first century. We aim to seize opportunities to fully realize and harness the possibilities of twenty-first-century literacies, which we define as the mindsets, skills, and collaborative techniques needed to make full use of the Internet as a space of learning. We believe that the Internet and technology are changing how individuals and communities understand themselves and the world around them, and that this connected age offers a tremendous opportunity to make teaching, learning, and knowledge more accessible, more affordable, and more meaningful for everyone involved. Duke21C’s purpose is to examine the ways in which technology influences educational dynamics and to collaboratively propose and share new possibilities for the Information Age so that we--scholars, teachers, and students--can best respond collectively to the challenges this new paradigm poses for learning.  


We have committed ourselves to:


  • Experimental approaches to teaching and sharing for the benefit of student learning
  • Building a culture of openness, access, and respect in the pursuit of knowledge creation
  • Implementing a community-based approach to create:


  • Innovative spaces for knowledge production and play
  • Pedagogy that reflects new ways of learning in the Digital Age
  • New modes and methods for knowledge creation that harness the power of digital media
  • New opportunities to advance equality and access
  • Collaborative and cooperative learning that broadens the classrooms’ physical boundaries
  • Openings on existing paths to welcome greater diversity into university settings
  • Spaces where diverse voices have a better chance of being heard and incorporated into knowledge creation and production
  • Practice-based knowledge that is useful in individual’s lives
  • A framework to help inspire others to join us in rethinking education within the context of emerging and existing technologies
  • A dynamic setting that allows both theory and practice to continually evolve and improve


As a collective, we have distilled a set of principles that will guide us in reconfiguring the education system in this digital age:



1.  Knowledge is a public resource that must be open and accessible to all, regardless of geographic location or the availability of technological tools.

  1. The purpose of education is to enrich lives and to help people achieve their individual and collective goals.
  2. Increasing access to meaningful education is fundamental, not optional.
  3. Individuals must be empowered to shape their own educational experiences; different perspectives can enrich learning experiences.  
  4. Free and open source modes of learning promote the availability of knowledge as a public resource, while open exchange of ideas gives knowledge value.
  5. Transparent community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
  6. Educators must develop methods of assessment that fit our digital age and prioritize lifelong learning.
  7. A model classroom environment draws on every participant’s unique expertise for the greater good of collective goals.
  8. There’s a difference between high standards and standardization, and it’s our goal to discover the digital possibilities to support the former and to transform the latter.
  9. No decision within a collective needs to be unanimous, but every final decision regarding overarching goals and final products should be supported by a majority.


Duke 21C Collective Goals and Practices for the Semester (Spring 2013)


  1. Create a continually evolving class website that serves as a resource for educators and lifelong learners who share our goal of making a top-notch education more affordable, accessible, and meaningful for more people.
  2. Engage with reading, writing, face-to-face-conversation and multimedia in ways that contribute to broader public discussions about how to improve education in the 21st century.
  3. Collaborate in a constructive manner as we assign, guide, and assess the work of peers.
  4. Practice judicious time management in assigning tasks to others and completing our own.
  5. Arrive to class on time, fully prepared to participate, having completed assignments on time.
  6. Represent ourselves and the class both online and face-to-face as engaged scholars who are committed to advancing the above principles.



And, with thanks to the Mozilla community, we also herewith reprint original Mozilla Manifesto from which the “Duke 21C Community Manifesto” was morphed, remixed, hacked, modded, and mashed

The Mozilla Manifesto


The Internet is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives.

The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet. We have worked together since 1998 to ensure that the Internet is developed in a way that benefits everyone. We are best known for creating the Mozilla Firefox web browser.

The Mozilla project uses a community-based approach to create world-class open source software and to develop new types of collaborative activities. We create communities of people involved in making the Internet experience better for all of us.

As a result of these efforts, we have distilled a set of principles that we believe are critical for the Internet to continue to benefit the public good as well as commercial aspects of life. We set out these principles below.


The goals for the Manifesto are to:

  1. articulate a vision for the Internet that Mozilla participants want the Mozilla Foundation to pursue;
  2. speak to people whether or not they have a technical background;
  3. make Mozilla contributors proud of what we're doing and motivate us to continue; and
  4. provide a framework for other people to advance this vision of the Internet.

These princ


iples will not come to life on their own. People are needed to make the Internet open and participatory - people acting as individuals, working together in groups, and leading others. The Mozilla Foundation is committed to advancing the principles set out in the Mozilla Manifesto. We invite others to join us and make the Internet an ever better place for everyone.


  1. The Internet is an integral part of modern life–a key component in education, communication, collaboration, business, entertainment and society as a whole.
  2. The Internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible.
  3. The Internet should enrich the lives of individual human beings.
  4. Individuals' security on the Internet is fundamental and cannot be treated as optional.
  5. Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.
  6. The effectiveness of the Internet as a public resource depends upon interoperability (protocols, data formats, content), innovation and decentralized participation worldwide.
  7. Free and open source software promotes the development of the Internet as a public resource.
  8. Transparent community-based processes promote participation, accountability, and trust.
  9. Commercial involvement in the development of the Internet brings many benefits; a balance between commercial goals and public benefit is critical.
  10. Magnifying the public benefit aspects of the Internet is an important goal, worthy of time, attention and commitment.

Advancing the Mozilla Manifesto

There are many different ways of advancing the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto. We welcome a broad range of activities, and anticipate the same creativity that Mozilla participants have shown in other areas of the project. For individuals not deeply involved in the Mozilla project, one basic and very effective way to support the Manifesto is to use Mozilla Firefox and other products that embody the principles of the Manifesto.

Mozilla Foundation Pledge

The Mozilla Foundation pledges to support the Mozilla Manifesto in its activities. Specifically, we will:

  • build and enable open-source technologies and communities that support the Manifesto's principles;
  • build and deliver great consumer products that support the Manifesto's principles;
  • use the Mozilla assets (intellectual property such as copyrights and trademarks, infrastructure, funds, and reputation) to keep the Internet an open platform;
  • promote models for creating economic value for the public benefit; and
  • promote the Mozilla Manifesto principles in public discourse and within the Internet industry.

Some Foundation activities–currently the creation, delivery and promotion of consumer products–are conducted primarily through the Mozilla Foundation's wholly owned subsidiary, the Mozilla Corporation.


The Mozilla Foundation invites all others who support the principles of the Mozilla Manifesto to join with us, and to find new ways to make this vision of the Internet a reality.




1 comment

I was coaching a young teacher in student-centered instruction the other day in a nearby coffee shop. At one point, to illustrate the argument, I pulled up a YouTube which, when played, informed the entire coffee shop of what you're talking about in much, much simpler - yet comprehensive - terms. Unlike the YouTube, I knew it wasn't a matter of Mary Martin.