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Remote Education: Creating community through shared experiences

Remote Education explores the challenges of organizing student communities and events online. We’ll be speaking with event organizers and community leaders in the industry and academics each week to help…

Remote Education: Creating community through shared experiences

Remote Education explores the challenges of organizing student communities and events online. We’ll be speaking with event organizers and community leaders in the industry and academics each week to help you bring your community online this semester.

Whether online or in-person, community is created through shared experiences. This can be as simple as getting a group of people with a similar interest in a room or meeting weekly for a course on campus. Online, the story is different. People on the internet expect to be entertained and don’t always show up ready to engage without more guidance.

So how did two teenagers captivate an online community of over 400 students for an entire summer? To find out, I spoke with two student leaders kicking off Summer of Making programs from home: Roshan Palakkal, a 17-year-old student based in the U.S.; and Sam Poder, a 15-year-old student based in Singapore. The goal of the program: a 6-week sprint to make something cool.

Summer of Making became a program of daily challenges, weekly events, and campaigns designed to support students building technical projects. Through Hack Club, a global network of student-led after-school clubs which Roshan and Sam are a part of, their team received support for funding hardware grants, organizing events, and connecting with mentors.

Here are three key takeaways from the student leaders themselves on creating an engaging student community, remotely.

Share updates of what you’re working on every day

Consistent, self-paced engagement was key to building a strong community around Summer of Making. Scrapbook, a virtual board where students post daily digests of what they’re working on, created the perfect platform for engaging at your own leisure. The site integrates with Hack Club’s Slack and allows students to post pictures in the #scrapbook channel showing off accomplishments. “Scrappy” then deploys updates to the Scrapbook website. Both Sam and Roshan said Scrapbook was the highlight of the summer, and the numbers seem to say the same.

  • 414 Hack Clubbers shared 5,628 unique creations
  • Contributors from 35 different time zones
  • 7,010 unique emoji reactions  🤯

Scrapbook is an open-source project maintained by Hack Club, and, as summer went on, students added new features to customize the experience. By the end of summer, they could customize their page with CSS and even bring back the embedded MIDI we’ve all been missing from the days of MySpace. And why was Scrapbook so successful?

Roshan: “It encourages interactions between people, like even people you don’t really talk with in other places. You can see what they’re doing, and you might find someone who shared the same interest.”

Sam: “How supportive people were. When I post in Scrapbook, people respond. And I think having a community like that; it just makes you want to post again. It is also fascinating to see what people around the world are doing. Through Scrapbook, I was introduced to Raksha Bandhan and many other cultures from around the world.”

Due to the success, Scrapbook will live on throughout the school year.

Create a sense of belonging

The values your community portrays come from who is intentionally, or unintentionally, made to feel a sense of belonging. Sam and Roshan care deeply about their peers and spent countless nights working to make everyone’s summer a success. Thanks to Hack Club’s dedication to supporting student leaders, anyone could propose and run a Summer of Making event. As Sam shared, the trick is often “letting people take initiative and do what they want, whilst being there to support them.” By empowering participants to take ownership of events, the community grew and stayed engaged. A few student success stories:

  • Cyber Security Capture the Flag (with Katie Paxton-Fear as a guest)
  • An Open Source Fiesta
  • Art Week and The Fine Arts Gala
  • A treasure island-inspired online scavenger hunt

Build a system of rewards

Tackling a large technical project can be overwhelming, especially when you’re first getting started programming. It’s important to break goals up into manageable pieces and celebrate each step along the way. Like a commit-graph on GitHub or Snapchat streak, Hack Club built participation streaks into Scrapbook to help students track their daily wins. A unique feature is that streaks reset after seven days, to allow newcomers to participate more in the challenge. The streaks were so motivating one student built an external service to track past the seven days reset. The longest streak? Ninety-one days of consecutive posts!

Looking for ways student communities are moving online? Check out more Remote Education.

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