What (And Who) Makes a Network?
As HASTAC’s Webmaster and Online Community Strategist, I spend a lot of time ensuring the stability of a complex Drupal build so the the system that houses our network runs smoothly. But I don’t spend my entire day looking at admin screens and server logs. I also spend a great deal of time interacting with our members. I have an opportunity to see how the human network works at HASTAC every day. Moreover, I’m in a unique position to observe how the human and technology-based aspects of our community fit together. Neither works without the other and both are required if we are serious about “Changing How We Teach and Learn” and if we truly choose to move forward with “Difference as our Operating System.”
Lately I've been thinking about what makes a network work. HASTAC has been dubbed the world’s first and oldest academic social network. We’re older than MySpace and Facebook even. That didn’t happen by accident. What’s the secret? What are we comprised of? How do all the parts move and mesh, and ultimately come together? What can others learn from our success?
A Foundation in Community
One of the largest single facets of the organization and, by extension, the community at its foundation, is the HASTAC Scholars program. Scholars are students; they are the next generation; 80% are graduate students, 20% undergrads. They are by far, our most active group on site, producing an incredible amount of content, engaging in truly impressive feats of collaboration, and supporting the organization through direct and indirect means at events, conferences, in classrooms, at work, and beyond.
Scholars evangelize for the HASTAC cause through their work and actions both in their scholarly lives and beyond. Often they do this because, within the inherent silos of their chosen disciplines and departments, they may feel isolated. HASTAC’s network allows them to reach out and find others all over the country, all over the world, who understand what they are doing, push it in good directions, champion and critique, offer partnerships in projects, and in other ways become “colleagues” on their intellectual journeys. HASTAC Scholars are leaders, co-leaders, and, as they support the network, the network supports them.
Structuring Equality is Encouraging Leadership
We've been lucky to have HASTAC Scholars, the next generation, leading the way at HASTAC, nearly from the outset. But, it’s also been a little more than luck. It’s also been a principle. We like to say you cannot counter structural inequality with good will; you have to structure equality. The way we have done this at HASTAC was by investing the HASTAC Scholars - the program and the individuals - with an intellectual leadership role, and respect, and a lot of autonomy from the outset. One very important way we’ve worked to live this concept of structured equality is that the Scholars Director has always been a fellow student.
The first HASTAC Scholars Director was Erin Lamb. She got us started, including coming up with the original institutional membership and nomination idea. Since July 2009, HASTAC Scholars has been led by Duke University Literature Program doctoral student Fiona Barnett. Fiona’s inimitable leadership has been absolutely instrumental in the evolution and success of HASTAC Scholars - a force for the advancement of the program since its inception. And now that she's been joined by multi-talented Co-director Kalle Westerling in the last two years, our Scholars leadership team and, by extension, the program has become nothing short of unstoppable.
Institutions Supporting Scholars and a Network
But what makes the HASTAC Scholars Program itself possible? It's not just that we host these amazingly talented individuals online at HASTAC or create opportunities for collaboration and participation. How is it that the Scholars have the time and the latitude to engage in our program? What allows them to be a part of the Scholars while they are deeply engaged with serious academic pursuits at their various home institutions? Under what auspices are we benefiting from their collective intellect and insights at HASTAC? The key to all of this - the success for the program and the participation of the individual Scholars - is the institutions themselves.
When an institution nominates and supports a HASTAC Scholar to join the program, they are not only offering their financial and moral support to Scholars and their pursuits. That supporting institution is signaling a belief in Changing the Way We Teach and Learn and an intention to support that belief proudly and publicly, through specific actions. This is meaningful is so many ways, not the least of which is an acknowledgement of HASTAC and all it represents as a community and as an idea. It's for that reason that we have an Honor Roll of sorts - a thank you list of all such institutions, perhaps not recognized or lauded often enough.
With that, I'd like to honor and thank the many supportive, forward-thinking institutions that have become Institutional Members of HASTAC over the years. Without them we'd be unable to exist as we do. They've certainly made HASTAC a better and richer place and have worked with us to advance the scholarship and careers of their many nominees, whom we've been proud to call HASTAC Scholars over the years.