For the past year or so, ever since I created a Ning community for the Instructional Design program, and helped/consulted on the creation of a Community for the Applied Linguistics online program, I've been advocating for a community manager for all online programs.
What I've noticed is that there is a void in-between semesters, especially for students who are all over the world, but happen to be a student in our Online Programs. During the semester they've got access to Blackboard and they get to "see" their classmates again, and meet new ones. In between semesters they lose contact, unless they happen to have people on LinkedIn or Facebook (or old school email) or something along those lines.
This was an interesting quote:
Look at how difficult it is to maintain a clear line between LinkedIn and Facebook contacts. Even though many of us use the former for business and the latter for more personal communications, few are able to maintain two distinct groups of contacts. These lines will continue to blur (e.g. Twitter) and our online identities will be a composite of activities in several communities / teams / groups / networks.
The effective community manager will be less of a manager and more a well-connected node in many networks of importance to the organization. David Wilkins takes this a step further and says that the entire business should be run as a community:
"It’s not about customer communities or workplace communties (sic). It’s about recognizing and fostering connections, and enabling information flow and information capture from multiple constituents."
My thought is that each program should have a community manager. In higher education, my definition of a Community Manager is as follows:
Someone who creates a Community of Practice (CoP), fosters connections between students, alumni, faculty, other CoPs and the academic department and enables the information flow and information capture from all of the aforementioned stakeholders.
This community manager (CM) for example will enable timely announcements to the students, provide a place for students to talk and express their views, or organize their own ad-hoc events. The CM enables alumni to network, share information resources, and is a link back to the campus for both alumni and online students who may come to campus once in a blue moon. In order for this to be done correctly, it is a full time job. I guess a CM is part techie, part educator, part advocate, part marketer and all around people person.
Each online program (and Hybrid programs as well) should have one.