Building Successful Online Communities (Spring 2021)

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Topics in Leadership: Building Successful Online Communities
COMMLD 570 A - Communication Leadership (MCCN Elective)
Instructor: Benjamin Mako Hill /
Office Hours: By appointment (I'm usually available via chat during "business hours.") You can view out my calendar and/or put yourself on it. If you schedule a meeting, we'll meet in the Jitsi room (makooffice) you'll get a link to through the scheduling app.
Meeting Time: Tuesday 3/30-6/1 6-9:50pm (Seattle time)
Course Websites:
  • We will use Canvas for announcements and turning in assignments
  • We will use our own Microsoft Teams instance for asynchornous 'group chat' to discuss assignments and readings, ask questions, and share information around the course material throughout the week.; and (b) synchronously for live video chat during the class period.
  • We will be doing our synchronous class meetings in Zoom. The link the Zoom channel will be placed in the Teams channel each week.
  • For the Wikipedia assignments, we will use this WikiEdu class page and dashboard.
  • Everything else will be linked on this page.
Course Catalog Description:
Before Wikipedia was created, there were seven very similar attempts to build online collaborative encyclopedias. Before Facebook, there were dozens of very similar social networks. Why did Wikipedia and Facebook take off when so many similar sites struggled? Why do some attempts to build communities online lead to large thriving communities while most struggle to attract even a small group of users?
This class will begin with an introduction to several decades of research on computer-mediated communication and online communities to try and understand the building blocks of successful online communities. With this theoretical background in hand, every student will then apply this new understanding by helping to design, build, and improve a real online community.

Overview and Learning Objectives[edit]

Online communities are central parts of each of our daily lives and have an important impact on our cultural, social, and economic experience of the world and each other. This course combines an in-depth look into several decades of research into online communities and computer-mediated communication with exercises that aim to give students experience applying this research to the evaluation of, and hands-on participation in, online communities.

If you have not done so already, I expect that most of you taking this course will, after graduation, work in jobs that involve communicating, working with, or managing online communities. This class seeks to inform these experiences by helping you learn how to use and contribute to online communities more effectively and how to construct, improve, or design your own online communities.

I will consider the course a complete success if every student is able to do all of these things at the end of the quarter:

  • Write and speak fluently about the rules and norms of our "model organism" community (Wikipedia) demonstrate this fluency through successful contributions to Wikipedia.
  • Recall, compare, and give examples of key theories that seek to explain why some online communities grow and attract participants while others do not.
  • Demonstrate an ability to critically apply the theories from the course to the evaluation of a 'real online community.
  • Engage with the course material and compellingly present your own ideas and reflections in writing and orally.

Class format and structure[edit]

Given the pandemic we've living through, this course will proceed in a remote format that includes both asynchronous and synchronous elements (more on those below). In general, the organization of the course adopts a "flipped" approach where you consume instructional materials on your own (or in groups) and we will use our synchronous meetings to answer questions, address challenges or concerns, work through solutions, and hold semi-structured discussions in the form of cases which I'll discuss in depth below.

The asynchronous elements of this course include two parts:

  1. All readings, recorded lectures/slides, tutorials, and assignments.
  2. Conversation and discussion that happens in the group chat over the course of the week.

I expect you to finish all readings and watch all lectures outside of our class meeting times before the class sessions on which they are assigned. Please note that this means I will not deliver lectures during our class meetings. Please also note that this means you are fully responsible for reading all readings and watching all recorded lecture material before you come to the associated synchronous part of class.

I expect you to check in and participate in our asynchronous group chat discussion at least 3-4 times a week and I plan to check and respond to conversation there at least daily throughout the quarter.

The synchronous elements of the course will be the two weekly class meetings that will happen via video/voice conference at the normal time on the course schedule. The synchronous sections will be conducted as described in the synchronous class setup section of the syllabus. Each session is scheduled to run for the full period although I will likely not use the full amount of time given that lectures will be pre-recorded. If we do use the entire time, I'll try to work in at least a couple breaks.

I will use the class meetings to do several things:

  1. Discuss and work through any questions or challenges you encounter in the materials assigned for that day.
  2. Discuss and/or answer questions about assignments that have come up over the previous work.
  3. Conduct each day's case study discussion(s) involving an instructor-mediated conversation with each of you.

Websites and Technology Expectations[edit]

Because this class is online due to the pandemic, there are a number of expectations that you will be able to connect to certain websites. In order to complete this class, I expect you to be able to access and use the following web resources:

  • wiki.communitydata.sciece — This website will host the syllabus for the course. I expect you to be able to visit it regularly.
  • This classes page in UW's Canvas — We'll be using Canvas for posting announcements, uploading course-restricted files, turning in assignments, and distributing grades.
  • UW Library Proxy — I'm going to expect that you can use the UW Libraries proxy to access material that UW subscribes to from off campus. You'll need to to get material to do the readings for class.
  • Microsoft Teams — Teams is a chat system that we'll be using in the course to stay in touch between class and to discuss things asynchronously. It has screensharing and video/voice chat as well which we are going to use for our in person meetings. There is a mobile app as well as a downloadable desktop app that you may find useful but you should be able to do everything you need to while using the web interface version with Chrome or Edge. The desktop app runs for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
  • Panopto — UW uses the video hosting service Panopto which I will be using to share all the lectures and recordings of the class sessions.
  • Zoom — UW strongly recommends that all courses be conducted in Zoom so I will be following their advice. Our case studies will involve Zoom.
  • English Wikipedia — Assignments for this course will involve contributing to Wikipedia. This means that you will need to have access to Wikipedia. Typically, Wikipedia blocks editting through proxies but if you contact me, I should be able to create an account for you and have it whitelisted.
  • Google Docs — I'll be using Google Docs to host a series of web forms. This includes the form you'll need to fill out to tell me that you're going to miss class. You will need to be able to access Google to use this.

These websites, in turn, use a range of hosting providers including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft. As a result, participation in this course requires students to access Internet resources that may not be accessible directly in some places outside of the UW campus. Anybody taking the class must ensure that they can access all Internet resources required for this course reliably and safely. For students who are off-campus and are in a situation where direct access to these required resources is not possible, UW-IT recommends that students use the official UW VPN, called Husky OnNet VPN. UW-IT advises students to use the VPN with the “All Internet Traffic” option enabled (see the UW Libraries instructions and UW-IT’s FAQs). Doing so will route all incoming and outgoing Internet through UW servers while it is enabled.

However, students who are outside the US while taking this course should be aware that they may be subject to laws, policies and/or technological systems which restrict the use of any VPNs. UW does not guarantee students’ access to UW resources when students are off-campus, and students are responsible for their own compliance with all laws regarding the use of Husky OnNet and all other UW resources.

Synchronous Class Setup[edit]

We'll be running synchronous class activity within Microsoft Teams. Instructions on joining the Teams Server are in the Class Setup Checklist.


During class time, I expect everybody to be online in Zoom. I will link to the Zoom meeting room each week in the Classroom Teams channel and I will share a scheduled event ahead of time.

When we meet, I will typically be sharing my screen and video in this channel during class sessions as we work through cases. I really hope you'll share your video too so it doesn't feel like I'm hanging out with an empty room, although I understand that are reasons why this might be difficult. In any case, I expect all of you to be able to both hear everything in the channel and to speak through your microphone when called upon (more on that below).

To find the Zoom channel, simply click on the Classroom channel in Microsoft Teams. If you every need to leave your computer during class, you need to leave the Zoom channel so I don't call on you.

Text Chat[edit]

Microsoft Teams also allows for text chat in channels. I will try to watch it during class but I do not expect students to be reading or following the channel during our sessions. In that sense, we are not going to be using the text channel to actually ask questions or as a backchannel during class. I've found that it's not possible for me to follow both in real-time!

Note About This Syllabus[edit]

You should expect this syllabus to be a dynamic document. Although the core expectations for this class are fixed, the details of readings and assignments will shift based on how the class goes, guest speakers that I arrange, my own readings in this area, etc. As a result, there are three important things to keep in mind:

  • Although details on this syllabus will change, I will try to ensure that I never change readings more than six days before they are due. I will send an announcement no later than before I go to sleep each Wednesday evening that fixes the schedule for the next week. This means that if I don't fill in a reading marked "[To Be Decided]" six days before it's due, it is dropped. If I don't change something marked "[Tentative]" before the deadline, then it is assigned. This also means that if you plan to read more than six days ahead, contact the teaching team first.
  • Because this syllabus a wiki, you will be able to track every change by clicking the history button on this page when I make changes. I will summarize these changes in the weekly an announcement on Canvas sent that will be emailed to everybody in the class. Closely monitor your email or the announcements section on the course website on Canvas to make sure you don't miss these announcements.
  • I will ask the class for voluntary (and anonymous, if you like) feedback frequently—especially toward the beginning of the quarter. Please let me know what is working and what can be improved. In the past, I have made many adjustments to courses that I teach while the quarter progressed based on this feedback.
  • Many readings are marked as "[Available through UW libraries]". Most of these will be accessible to anybody who connects from the UW network. This means that if you're on campus, it will likely work. Although you can go through the UW libraries website to get most of these, the easiest way to get things using the UW library proxy bookmarklet. This is a little button you can drag-and-drop onto your bookmarks toolbar on your browser. When you press the button, it will ask you to log in using your UW NetID and then will automatically send your traffic through UW libraries. You can also use the other tools on this UW libraries webpage.


This course is organized into two components that roughly span the first and second halves of the quarter.

Component 1: The Theory and Practice of Online Communities[edit]

Kraut and resnick-bsoc.jpg

In the first half of the class (Weeks 1-6), the readings will look to theories of interpersonal media by focusing on how and why online communities succeed and fail and how and why they grow or shrink. In each of the weeks in this period, we will read from the book we'll be using as a textbook: Kraut et al.'s Building Successful Online Communities (BSOC). Here is the citation:

Kraut, Robert E., and Paul Resnick. Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design. The MIT Press, 2012.

A digital version of the book is available at all UW students through UW libraries and ProQuest Ebook Central at the following link (requires a UW NetID):

If you would like a paper copy, MIT Press sells the book for $35 as a paperback. Amazon has a limited number of hardcover copies available, starting at $23 as of January 2020. They also have paperbacks starting at $31 and the Kindle version is $19. Wikipedia has this long list of possible book sources.

More or less following the organizations of BSOC, we will focus on these key drivers of participation in online communities:

  • Motivation: How do online communities incentivize participation?
  • Commitment: How do online communities build relationships to keep individuals involved?
  • Rules and Governance: How do online communities create norms, rules, and governance?
  • Newcomers: How do online communities attract — or fail to attract — newcomers?
  • Creation: How should one start a new online community?

In order to ground the theoretical readings during the first half of the quarter, there will be weekly assignments that provide a structured opportunity to learn about and become involved in Wikipedia.

You should keep in mind that the bulk of the reading in the course — and most of the most difficult material — will be front-loaded in this first five week period. The goal is to make sure that you have all the tools you'll need by Week 7 so that you can use this material to focus on your final projects.

Component 2: Examples and Challenges[edit]

In the second half of the course, we will focus less on theory and more on examples of online communities and on applications, examples, and challenges, associated with interpersonal media and computer-mediated communication.

Our reading during the second part of the quarter will be focused on cases studies. I will also focus on in-class discussions and exercises that prompt critical consideration of how online communities take place in different domains as well as the challenges associated with using online communities. Our goal here is to build up the ability to critically understand these communities in terms of the theory we covered earlier.

In general, readings during this second component will be on the lighter side and there will be no weekly assignments other than reading. The readings are lighter during this component because I'm expecting you to be spending most of your time fo the class (outside of our meeting time) working on your projects.


The assignments in this class are designed to give you an opportunity to try your hand at using the conceptual material taught in the class. There will be no exams or quizzes.

Unless otherwise noted, all assignments are due at the end of the day (i.e., 11:59pm on the day they are listed as being due).

Case discussion[edit]

The course relies heavily on the case study method which describes a particular form of instructor-mediated discussion. A standard "case" usually involves reading an example—perhaps up to 20-35 pages of background about an organization or group facing an ambiguous or difficult challenge. I will mark certain readings as "[Cases]" in the syllabus and I will expect you to read these particularly closely. It is important to realize that I will not summarize case material in class and I will not cover it in lecture. I expect you all to have read it and we will jump in and start discussing it.

Cases ask students to put themselves in the positions of individuals facing difficult situations to tease out the tensions and forces at play in the case and to construct—through group discussion—the broader lessons and takeaways. Cases are a wonderful way to connect the sometimes abstract concepts taught in many academic courses to real examples of the type of ambiguous situations that you will likely encounter in your career. Generally speaking, there are not right and wrong answers in cases.

Cold Calling[edit]

Cases rely roughly on the socratic method where instructors teaching cases cold call on students—i.e., instructors call on people without asking for volunteers first. I will be doing this in each class.

Because I understand that cold calling can be terrifying for some students, I will be circulating a list of questions we will discuss alongside the weekly announcements (i.e., at least 6 days in advance). I will only cold call to ask students for which you have time to prepare your answers. Although it is a very good idea to write out answers to these questions in advance, I will not be collecting these answers. You are welcome to work with other students in the class to brainstorm possible answers. Although I will definitely ask questions that I do not distribute ahead of time, I will never cold call when asking these questions.

I have written a computer program that will generate a random list of students each day and I will use this list to randomly cold call students in the class. To try to maintain participation balance, the program will try to ensure that everybody is cold called a similar number of times over the course the quarter. Although there is there always some chance that you will called upon next, you will become less likely to be called upon relative to your classmates each time you are called upon.

Assessment for case study discussion[edit]

I have placed detailed information on case study-based discussion on the case discussion section of my assessment page. This describes both the rubrics I will use to assess your case discussion and how I will compute the final grades in the course.


You will "hand in" two papers in this class. In both cases, I will ask you to connect something you have experience or knowledge about to course material. The "Writing Rubric" section of the detailed page on assessment gives the rubric I will use to evaluate these papers.

Project 1: Contributing to Wikipedia[edit]

In the first project, you will be asked to learn about Wikipedia, its norms, rules, and processes. With this knowledge, you will all be asked to research and write a new article in Wikipedia on a topic of your choice and to publish this article in the encyclopedia. As part of this process, you will interact with other community members who are not part of the class. Afterward, you will be asked to write a short essay piece to share with people at Wikipedia in which you will reflect on this process and to connect your experience to the conceptual course material where appropriate.

I will use material from the Wiki Education Foundation (WikiEdu) to help you learn how to participate in Wikipedia. Every Friday during this first component of this class, there will be a assignment due that corresponds to one step in the process of getting involved in Wikipedia. Most weeks this will involve completing learning modules and assignments in a website put together by WikiEdu. These Wikipedia participation assignments won't be synced up with the theory, but they will provide with you lots of opportunity to reflect on the theoretical work we are covering.

Although only Task #7 includes anything that you will need to turn in, you will need to be actively participating in Wikipedia each week. I will be able to see this activity and we will help and interact with you along the way. I will take time each week to discuss our progress and experience with Wikipedia in sections on Friday and to connect it explicitly to the theoretical concepts we are covering.

Wikipedia Task #1[edit]

Create an account and start orientation
Friday April 2
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Complete the WikiEdu training.
  • During this training, you will create an account, make edits in a sandbox, and learn the basic rules of the Wikipedia community.
  • Once you have created an account, you must enroll in the course so that your account on Wikipedia is associated with the course and so that I can track your activity on Wikipedia. click this link and then click "Join" to enroll in the course. If you are asked for a passcode, you can enter rzopqxmn.
  • Once you are enrolled in the course, you should begin the training modules and complete the first two, Wikipedia policies and Sandboxes, talk pages, and watchlists.
The biggest pitfall in the past has been failing to enroll in the course. Make sure that you have created an account on and are logged in. Then click the link above and click "Join".

Wikipedia Task #2[edit]

(1) complete Wikipedia orientation; (2) introduce yourself to me and a classmate to practice communication with other editors on Wikipedia; (3) choose article topic; (4) evaluate article
Due Date
Friday April 9
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard

(1) First, complete the online training topics for week 2 in the the class WikiEdu dashboard.

(2) Second, to practice editing and communicating on Wikipedia, introduce yourself to Mako and at least one classmate on Wikipedia (it can be anybody). My username is Benjamin Mako Hill and you can find a list of all of your classmates on the WikiEdu class page.

(3) Third, decide on an article in Wikipedia that you would like to significantly expand and improve. If you really want to write a new article from scratch that's also possible, although it will be more difficult.

Please choose an article that is as short and simple as possible and I strongly recommend that you choose a "stub" article on Wikipedia. Because some people are going to start with articles that are better than others, we're going to assess you on the amount to which you can improve the article—not on the final state of the article.

You can find a list of Stub articles arranged by topic here (there are literally millions):

  • List of Stubs — This is an extremely long list of articles that are currently stubs and which is also sorted into categories and then subcategories. It might be a little bit out of date so be sure to click through before you decide on an article.

If there is a topic you know you are interested in writing about that doesn't have an article, that is also possible but will be more difficult so we're recommending against that relatively strongly. If you're committed to doing that in any case, there are a few resources you might find helpful:

  • Requested Articles — This is a list of articles that others have asked to be created. It is sorted into categories and sub-categories. When you're looking at the list, remember that it's possible that somebody else has "gotten" to them first and forgot to remove it. Remember that a red link indicates that there is no page with that name.

When you're done selecting an article, you'll see that there is a "Choose your article" exercise on the WikiEdu dashboard that will end with you being prompted to fill out a page on Wikipedia with a list of articles you want to work on. You only need to fill out the top option but it might be nice to list a few options in order of preferences. The page will ask for "Evaluation" and "Sources" but we're going to get to this in the next step so you can just leave this blank and just list the articles.

You should also enter the article such that is assigned to you in the WikiEd dashboard.

(4) Fourth, you should evaluate an article. I strongly recommend that you evaluate the article you plan to improve! After following the tutorial material on WikiEd about how to do an evaluation, you'll see that there is a corresponding exercise called "Evaluate Wikipedia" in the WikiEdu dashboard that you should complete.

If you run into any trouble, find me in the Teams chat well in advance of the deadline!

Wikipedia Task #3[edit]

Compile research and write draft
Due Date
Friday April 16
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  1. Complete online trainings for week 3
  2. Compile a bibliography of relevant research.
  3. Write at least two 2-3 new paragraphs for your article—with citations—in your Wikipedia sandbox.

You will need to make sure you have assigned your article to yourself in the dashboard. You can do so by (a) going to the WikiEdu course homepage, (b) finding the section entitled My Articles, (c) clicking on Assign myself an article, and (d) entering the article title as shown in Wikipedia and click Assign.

Once you have selected an article to work on, the "My Articles" section will show you a number of steps and links. The two links to focus on right now are the bibliography and article sandbox which correspond to the two key tasks above. You will need to:

  1. Add the sources that you've found to the bibliography page which will be created when you click on the "bibliography" link. As a reminder, while academic sources are the "gold standard", match your citations with the content. If your article is about a movie star, you will likely be citing interviews that were published in magazines or on the radio. Try to vary the types of sources and select the more notable ones. Additionally, if you are having difficulty finding sources, reach out to a reference librarian. they are a great resource!
  2. Create a copy of the current page in your sandbox through the following steps:
    1. open the article sandbox and the article itself in two separate tabs
    2. in the article tab click Edit
    3. change to Source editing mode by clicking the pencil icon in the top right
    4. select all of the "wikimarkup" (Article content code) and copy it
    5. click the Create tab on the article sandbox
    6. paste the cloned/copied content over
    7. click "Publish page"
  3. Begin editing, drafting, and generally improving the article sandbox page!

In general, you should refer to the WikiEd Foundation's guide to editing which I've found extremely useful.

Wikipedia Task #4[edit]

Peer review other students' articles
Due Date
Friday April 23
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Select two classmates' articles that you will peer review and copy-edit. To sign up, you can mark this in the dashboard by using the Assign a review button. Try to pick articles that other students are not yet reviewing.
  • Peer review two of your classmates’ articles. If you click on the "Peer review" link next to the assigned review article on your student page in the WikiEd dashboard, you'll see that it pops up a template that will create a sub-page on your classmate's sandbox and prompts with you a bunch of questions. If you do fill out that template, be sure to leave a message on the users talk page so that they know you created the sub-page with your peer review! Using that template will probably be useful but it's not required. What it's important is that you engage in the peer review and get your classmatge useful feedback. I don't care too much about how you do it.
  • Improve and copy-edit the two reviewed articles to help fix issues, improve sourcing, create a more neutral or encyclopedic tone, etc.

Wikipedia Task #5[edit]

Incorporate peer feedback
Due Date
Friday April 30
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Respond to your peer review. Consider their suggestions and decide whether they makes your work more accurate and complete.
  • Continue improving your article. Refine your text, do more research, make sure things are well organized, think about adding images, infoboxes, and templates. If you add images be sure to complete the WikiEd material on images and media.

Wikipedia Task #6[edit]

Make article "live."
Due Date
Friday May 7
Make contributions in Wikipedia and the class WikiEdu dashboard
  • Polishing your article, it should be ready for public consumption.
  • Move sandbox articles into the "(Article)" name space.
  • Once you have moved the article, visit the list of students in the WikiEdu dashboard and make sure that you are assigned the live article URL. If needed, remove the old one by clicking the "+" button to open the menu and using the "-" button next to the old "sandbox" copy of your article, then press "Save" at the top of the page once you are done.

Wikipedia Task #7[edit]

Finalize article and turn in report
Due Date
Friday May 14
  • Finish article in Wikipedia and turn in a URL to the finished article in Canvas.
  • Turn in report as subpage of your Wikipedia userpage and turn in the URL in Canvas.
Maximum length for report
2000 words (~8 pages double spaced)

Turn your report your reflection essay as a subpage of your userpage. For example, I would create mine with as the URL. Of course, you should replace "Benjamin_Mako_Hill" with your Wikipedia username. You can also just go to your userpage by clicking on your username on Wikipedia and then adding "/Report" at the end of the URL.

When you go that page, it will say Wikipedia does not have a user page with this exact name.

You can create the new page by just clicking the "Create" tab on that page. When you're done, you can paste the URL into Canvas.

Assessment: Wikipedia Assignment[edit]

I will use the following criteria as a rubric for assessing your work on the contributions made to Wikipedia:

  1. Substantial new article text shows fluency in Wikipedia norms — A student fluent in Wikipedia norms will have created an substantial article or brought an existing article at least one quality class to a higher one in the eyes of most Wikipedia members by adding new encyclopedic text, adhering to policies on tone, adding references for statements from reliable third party sources, and so on.
  2. Peer reviews of other student were thoughtful, critical, and constructive.
  3. Deadlines for tasks #1-7 were met in a way that allowed for the interactive and collaborative aspects of the class (e.g., draft was published to allow for reviews, peer reviews were made on time, article was published live on time, and so on).

Assessment: Wikipedia Reflection Essay[edit]

In addition to finishing up your Wikipedia article, everybody should turn in a report reflecting on your experience contributing to Wikipedia in light of your experience and the course material and, most importantly, offering advice to the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia Community on how to improve their community. I want you all to treat this as a dress rehearsal for your final projects.

Your report will be evaluated, first and foremost, on the degree to which it provides useful, informed, and actionable advice to the Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation. It will also be evaluated on the degree to which you engage with the course material. See the writing rubric for details on my expectations in terms of the content of the papers. A successful essay will do the following things:

  1. Provide detailed, concrete, and actionable advice to the Wikipedia community and the Wikimedia Foundation. What should Wikipedia think about doing? What should they think about changing?
  2. Comment directly on your experience in Wikipedia. What did you do and what did you learn?
  3. Connect your experience in Wikipedia explicitly to the concepts in the course material we have covered. Justify your recommendations in terms of the theories and principles we've covered. Why should your recommendations be taken more seriously than just random advice from one new user?
  4. If possible, reflect on what parts of the theories or concepts we covered applied or didn't. You don't have to take everything taught in the course for granted. What would you change or add based on your experience? What is unique or different about Wikipedia?

I will give everybody in the course feedback on their assignment. The basic structure is shorter, but extremely similar, to what you will be doing in the final project. As a result, you can treat this as a "mid-term" and make adjustments based on feedback.

Project 2: Consultant's Report[edit]

For the final assignment, I want you to take what you've learned in the class and apply it to a community you have observed or participated in. This project will involve two written assignments and a presentation.

Community Identification[edit]

Maximum Length
300 words (~1 page double spaced)
Turn in through Canvas
Due Date
Friday May 7

In this assignment, you should identify and the community you will be working with for your final project. In the essay part of this assignment, I am asking you to write several paragraphs explaining which community you will be working with and why you think it will be an fruitful site for applying the course material. If relevant or possible, it might be useful to also provide a link to any existing community or to the organization.

I am hoping that each of you will pick a community that you are intellectually interested and invested in. If you want to the community something you are involved in your personal and professional life, that's ideal. Although I'm encouraging you to connect to your work lives, you should also keep in mind that you will be presenting this publicly to the class. If you don't know of such a community, Alex Stonehill (in his capacity as Comm Lead staff!) should be able to help connect you to businesses that are interested in advice on growing, improving, or starting an online community.

I also want to make sure that the organizations you are going to be working with are on board. I had considered asking you all to bring a signed copy of this memorandum of understanding but I've decided that it's not necessary. You should read that document as soon as possible to get a sense of what you'll be asking organizations to agree to and you should make sure that the organization you plan to work with is on board.

You will be successful in this assignment if you identify a community and clearly explain why you think it would be a useful community to study using the concepts we have covered in the class. I will give you feedback on these write-ups and will let you each know if I think you have identified a project that might be too ambitious, too trivial, too broad, too narrow, etc.

Final Projects: Consultant's Report[edit]

Final Presentation Date
June 3, 2021 (11:59pm)
Paper Due Date
June 11 @ 11:59pm
Maximum paper length
4,500 words (~18 pages double spaced)

For your final project, I expect students to build on the community identification assignment to describe what they have done and what they have found. I'll expect every student to give both:

Each project should include: (a) the description of the community you have identified (you are welcome to borrow from your Community Identification assignment), (b) a description of how you would use the course concepts to change and improve the community.

Each report should include the description of the community you have identified (you are welcome to borrow from your Community Identification assignment), and a description of how you would use the course concepts to change and improve the community.

Once again, your report will be evaluated on the degree to which it provides useful, informed, and actionable advice to the client organization and on the degree to which you engage with the course material. Please make sure you do the following things:

  1. Provide detailed, concrete, and actionable advice to the client organization. For example, what are they doing right? What should they change?
  2. Justify your recommendations in terms of the theories and principles we've covered and include references for your readers who won't have your background. Why should your recommendations be taken seriously?
  3. Remember that you don't have to take everything taught in the course for granted. What is unique or different about the client organization that causes you to have to think and read beyond the course material we've covered? What are the big open questions and risks they will be facing?

You will be evaluated on the degree to which you have demonstrated that you understand and have engaged with the course material and not on specifics of your community or the content of your advice.

A successful project will provide good advice that a client would be happy to have paid a consultant for, tell a compelling story, be clearly written, and will engage with, and improve upon, the course material to teach an audience that includes not only the client but me, your classmates, and students taking this class in future years on how to take advantage of online communities more effectively. The very best papers will give us all a new understanding of some aspect of course material and change the way I teach some portion of this course in the future.


I will follow the very detailed grading rubric described on my assessment page. Please read it carefully I will assign grades for each of following items on the UW 4.0 grade scale according to the weights below:

  • Case discussion: 30%
  • Wikipedia assignments: 15%
  • Wikipedia reflection essay: 10%
  • Community identification: 5%
  • Final Presentation: 10%
  • Final Paper: 30%


March 30 (Tuesday): Introduction to the Course[edit]


Required Reading:

  • BSOC, Chapter 1, pg 1-17

What? Where?

Let's meet in the Classroom Channel of our Microsoft Teams group during the course time (6pm Seattle time). We will very likely not be using the entire time time.

Goals for the day:

  • Collect some basic information from you all
  • Provide an introduction and some context for the course (and hopefully get you excited about the rest of the quarter)
  • Review the course objectives and requirements
  • Answer your questions about the class

April 2 (Friday): DUE: Class Checklist & Wikipedia Task #1[edit]

  1. Complete the class setup checklist. This will likely most of you some time (although likely not more than 30-90) minutes, so please plan in advance.
  2. Complete Wikipedia Task #1: Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

April 6 (Tuesday): Motivation[edit]


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

April 9 (Friday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #2[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

April 13 (Tuesday): Commitment[edit]


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 3, pg 77-115
  • Case 1: Reddit: In this case, we're going to be looking at five different "subreddit" communities within Reddit. In some of these cases, there is an enormous amount of material on the pages and subpages. Poke around for 10 minutes or so (please not more!) until you get a sense for who is participating and how and why people build commitment to the site such that you will be comfortable answering the questions in the reading note. Please do not post on the sites or disrupt them in any way. We're guests in their communities and you only need to look:
    • [Case] /r/aww — "Things that make you go AWW! -- like puppies, bunnies, babies, and so on..."
    • [Case] /r/udub — "the unofficial subreddit of the University of Washington"
    • [Case] /r/SeattleWA — "the active Reddit community for Seattle, Washington and the Puget Sound area"
    • [Case] /r/NoSleep — "a place for authors to share their original horror stories"
    • [Case] /r/CasualPizzaCats — a World of Warcraft guild

Required Readings:

April 16 (Friday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #3[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

April 20 (Tuesday): Norms and Regulation[edit]


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

April 23 (Friday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #4[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

April 27 (Tuesday): Newcomers[edit]


Lectures: (watch before class)

Required Readings:

  • BSOC, Chapter 5, pg 179-223
  • Case 1: The citizen science community Zooniverse:
    • [Case] Visit Zooniverse and create an account. Then visit the Zooniverse project website and pick a project that interests you. I worked on Chimp&See but there are a bunch of projects (scroll down to see more) on a lot of different types of things. Spend 10-15 minutes on the site figure out how it works and make sure you both do a few tasks and look at the "Talk" or discussion and commenting features of each site.
    • [Case] Mugar, Gabriel, Carsten Østerlund, Katie DeVries Hassman, Kevin Crowston, and Corey Brian Jackson. 2014. “Planet Hunters and Seafloor Explorers: Legitimate Peripheral Participation through Practice Proxies in Online Citizen Science.” In Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 109–119. CSCW ’14. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Association for Computing Machinery. [Available from UW libraries] [Available free online]
  • Case 2: Eternal September on Reddit
    • [Case] Kiene, Charles, Andrés Monroy-Hernández, and Benjamin Mako Hill. 2016. “Surviving an ‘Eternal September’: How an Online Community Managed a Surge of Newcomers.” In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16), 1152–1156. New York, NY: ACM Press. [Available through UW libraries]
    • [Case] Lin, Zhiyuan, Niloufar Salehi, Bowen Yao, Yiqi Chen, and Michael S. Bernstein. 2017. “Better When It Was Smaller? Community Content and Behavior After Massive Growth.” In Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. Palo, Alto, CA: AAAI Press. [Available through UW libraries]

Optional Readings:

April 30 (Friday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #5[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

May 4 (Tuesday): Creating New Communities[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

May 7 (Friday): DUE: Wikipedia Task #6 & Community Identification[edit]

  1. Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.
  2. Details are on the #Community Identification section of this page.

May 11 (Tuesday): Interactions Between Communities[edit]

Guest Lecturer:

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

Optional readings:

May 14 (Friday): DUE: Final Wikipedia Tasks[edit]

Details are on the section of this page describing the assignment.

May 18 (Tuesday): Wikipedia Debrief & Online Community Founders[edit]

In the first part of class, we will have a visit from local Wikipedia group Cascadia Wikimedians (full disclosure, I am a member). Prepare to give a very short (~1 minute ) in-class presentation about your Wikipedia editing experience and also be ready with questions for them about your experience or about Wikipedia in general based on the readings and cases we've done so far.

Guest Lecturer:

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

  • Case 1: Wikipedia Debrief
  • Case 2: Online Communities Founders
    • [Case] Kraut, R. E., & Fiore, A. T. (2014). The Role of Founders in Building Online Groups. Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, 722–732. [Available from UW libraries]
    • [Case] Foote, J., Gergle, D., & Shaw, A. (2017). Starting online communities: Motivations and goals of wiki founders. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’17), 6376–6380. [Available from UW libraries].
    • [Case] Foote, J., & Contractor, N. (2018). The behavior and network position of peer production founders. In G. Chowdhury, J. McLeod, V. Gillet, & P. Willett (Eds.), iConference 2018: Transforming Digital Worlds (pp. 99–106). Springer. [Available free online].

Optional Readings:

  • Halfaker, Aaron, R. Stuart Geiger, and Loren G. Terveen. 2014. “Snuggle: Designing for Efficient Socialization and Ideological Critique.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 311–320. CHI ’14. New York, NY: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]
  • Morgan, Jonathan T., and Aaron Halfaker. 2018. “Evaluating the Impact of the Wikipedia Teahouse on Newcomer Socialization and Retention.” In Proceedings of the 14th International Symposium on Open Collaboration, 20:1–20:7. OpenSym ’18. New York, NY: ACM. [Available from UW libraries]

May 25 (Tuesday): Innovation Communities and Hackers[edit]

Lectures: (watch before class)


Required Readings:

Optional Readings:

June 1 (Tuesday): Guest Lecturers on Building Community on TikTok & Content Moderation[edit]


Required readings:

Optional readings:

  • Jiang, Jialun "Aaron," Charles Kiene, Skyler Middler, Jed R. Brubaker, and Casey Fiesler. 2019. “Moderation Challenges in Voice-Based Online Communities on Discord.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3 (CSCW): 55:1–55:23. [Available from UW libraries]
  • Kiene, Charles, Jialun “Aaron” Jiang, and Benjamin Mako Hill. 2019. “Technological Frames and User Innovation: Exploring Technological Change in Community Moderation Teams.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3 (CSCW): 44:1–44:23. [Available from UW libraries]


In the first part of class (~6-7pm), we'll have an interview and question and answer session with graduating UW Department of Communication student Hunter Brown. Hunter Brown posted his first video to TikTok in late December 2019 and started the undergraduate version of this class (COM482) in the first week of January 2020. Over the quarter that Hunter was taking the class, he grew his followers to more than 15,500 using own creativity, intuition, and some of the concepts and techniques from the course. Hunter has since grown his TikTok community to more than 300,000 followers.
Check out Hunter's TikTok, linked from the syllabus, and come ready to ask him any questions you have. I'll start us out by interviewing Hunter about his experience growing an online community and then we'll open up to your questions.
In the second part of the class (~7-8pm), we'll hear from Charlie Kiene (a PhD student at UW) about his research on content moderation on Discord. He'll be talking about two papers that are linked in the optional readings above. You'll probably get more of the conversation if you read the papers in advance, but doing so is not a requirement. Your first priority should be your projects. Charlie studies governance and content moderation more generally and has been doing a bunch of work on Reddit so I'm sure he'll be able to answer questions you have about that as well.
In both cases, all I'm asking you to do is to be engaged and to ask questions.

June 3-5 (Thursday-Saturday): Final Presentations[edit]

Recordings of final presentations will be due at 11:59pm on Thursday June 3rd. Peer feedback on your classmates presentations is due 48 hours later (11:59pm on Saturday June 5th). Details information about the assignment is in #Project 2: Consultant's Report. Detailed information on the final presentations is available in /Final presentation

Administrative Notes[edit]

Teaching and learning in a pandemic[edit]

The COVID-19 pandemic will impact this course in various ways, some of them obvious and tangible and others harder to pin down. On the obvious and tangible front, we have things like a mix of remote, synchronous, and asynchronous instruction and the fact that many of us will not be anywhere near campus or each other this year. These will reshape our collective "classroom" experience in major ways.

On the "harder to pin down" side, many of us may experience elevated levels of exhaustion, stress, uncertainty and distraction. We may need to provide unexpected support to family, friends, or others in our communities. I have personally experienced all of these things at various times over the past six months and I expect that some of you have too. It is a difficult time.

I believe it is important to acknowledge these realities of the situation and create the space to discuss and process them in the context of our class throughout the quarter. As your instructor and colleague, I commit to do my best to approach the course in an adaptive, generous, and empathetic way. I will try to be transparent and direct with you throughout—both with respect to the course material as well as the pandemic and the university's evolving response to it. I ask that you try to extend a similar attitude towards everyone in the course. When you have questions, feedback, or concerns, please try to share them in an appropriate way. If you require accommodations of any kind at any time (directly related to the pandemic or not), please contact the teaching team.

This text is borrowed and adapted from Aaron Shaw's statistics course.

Your Presence in Class[edit]

As detailed in section on case studies and in my detailed page on assessment, your homework in the class is to prepare for cases and case discussion is an important way that I will assess learning. Obviously, you must be in class in order to participate. In the event of an absence, you are responsible for obtaining class notes, handouts, assignments, etc.

There are many students who have eagerly requested to join the class, but there are not enough seats. I want to include as many students in the class as possible, we will automatically drop anyone who misses the first two class sessions and try to replace them with unenrolled students who do attend. This is consistent with college policy and with the course description in the catalog.

Office Hours[edit]

The best way to get in touch with me about issues in class will in the Discord server via asychronous messages sent to one of the text channels. This is preferable because any questions you have can be answered in a way that is visible to others in the class.

I will hold synchronous, in-person, office hours once a week:

Thursdays 3:30-4:30pm in the Office Hours voice channel on Discord.

If my planned office hours do not work for you, please contact me in the Discord server or over email to arrange a meeting at another time.

Religious Accommodations[edit]

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Student Conduct[edit]

The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution. More information can be found online at Safety

Call SafeCampus at 206-685-7233 anytime–no matter where you work or study–to anonymously discuss safety and well-being concerns for yourself or others. SafeCampus’s team of caring professionals will provide individualized support, while discussing short- and long-term solutions and connecting you with additional resources when requested.

Academic Dishonesty[edit]

This includes: cheating on assignments, plagiarizing (misrepresenting work by another author as your own, paraphrasing or quoting sources without acknowledging the original author, or using information from the internet without proper citation), and submitting the same or similar paper to meet the requirements of more than one course without instructor approval. Academic dishonesty in any part of this course is grounds for failure and further disciplinary action. The first incident of plagiarism will result in the student’s receiving a zero on the plagiarized assignment. The second incident of plagiarism will result in the student’s receiving a zero in the class.

Disability Resources[edit]

If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to uw at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Other Student Support[edit]

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the graduate program advisor for support. Furthermore, please notify the professors if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable us to provide any resources that we may possess (adapted from Sara Goldrick-Rab). Please also note the student food pantry, Any Hungry Husky at the ECC.

Credit and Notes[edit]

This will be the fourth time this course has been taught at UW in its current form. This syllabuses draws heavily from these previous versions. Syllabuses from earlier classes can be found online at:

This syllabus was inspired by, and borrowed heavily with permission from, other classes on online communities taught by young academics whose teaching I admire and respect: