Sustainability of networks and spaces #OER19 #femedtech

How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?

Two hands holding earth in which a small shoot is growing
Earth Pixabay

Steinmueller’s definition of virtual community is as he says minimalist.

“A virtual community exists when it is possible for a group of individuals to meet and interact with each other in cyberspace and these individuals voluntarily choose to participate in these meetings and interactions”.(Steinmueller 2002)

He offers three additional dimensions: recruitment, governance and sustainability with which to examine virtual communities.

Femedtech definitely fits his definition and all three dimensions are relevant to femedtech, but I am going to look sustainability in this post.

I developed my thinking about sustainability of virtual community (a term from around the turn of the century) when I worked with others on CABWEB, an international student and staff online collaboration project.

“When a social group is voluntary, its persistence relies on the perceived value it offers to its members, and there are many examples of deserted online ‘communities’ (Steinmueller, 2002).  Steinmueller focuses on the issue of sustainability by characterizing it as something that can be lost either when there is a coordination failure or when, for enough individuals, the costs of participation exceed the perceived benefits. Costs of participation include membership fees, costs of computer hardware and software, Internet connection charges, time spent in communicating. Benefits can be seen as social where participants enjoy discussion and forming relationships online; functional related to information seeking and gathering; psychological where participants can develop and express their identity, experience a sense of belonging and affiliation; and hedonic where they enjoy themselves (Wang & Fesenmaier, 2004).” (Bell, Zaitseva & Zakrzewska 2007).

In its short life Femedtech has experienced losses and gains in sustainability. is the second website for and the introduction of shared curation has provided an impetus for growth in the scope and impact of the femedtech network or virtual community, call it what you will. Femedtech is in a much better place than it was a year ago.

In her post Who’s responsible for the future of open? #femedtech #oer19 , Maren Deepwell identifies practical issues that can apply to Open in general and to femedtech and its individual participants in particular:

 “characteristics and questions around the lack of long term planning, questioning ownership and motivation and the need to appreciate different perspectives from which what we find challenging about open can be explored. One very generic sounding conclusion to draw is that the only rule is to make use of your voice, to continue to engage and question, not to become indifferent or disengaged no matter how difficult that can seem at times.”

One practical manifestation of  sustainable practices is authors cross-posting on and their own personal blog.  We hope that this Open Space will support the sustainability of femedtech and that femedtech can support the exploration of the challenges of Open that Maren recommends.


Bell, F., Zaitseva, E. and Zakrzewska, D. (2007) ‘Evaluation: A Link in the Chain of Sustainability’, in Lambropoulos, N. and Zaphiris, P. (eds) User-Centered Design of Online Learning Communities. Hershey,PA: Idea Group, pp. 186–214.

Steinmueller, W. E. (2002) ‘Virtual Communities and the New Economy’, in Mansell, R. (ed.) Inside the Communication Revolution: Evolving Patterns of Social and Technical Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 21–54.

Wang, Y., Yu, Q. and Fesenmaier, D. R. (2002) ‘Defining the virtual tourist community: implications for tourism marketing’, Tourism Management, 23, pp. 407–417.

This post is cross-posted at

Lurking and platforms: old conversations in changing contexts

I have recently participated (after a fashion) in a Twitter conversation about lurking, with a sense of déjà vu. I feel as if I have been in so many of these conversations over the years, and familiar themes play out whilst social and technology contexts shift. So what are the useful ways of investigating lurking, or learning by onlooking,  in the present, and where and how?


Lurk by Betsy & Ian F-R CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I remember a discussion 20 years ago in the context of an online list server called ITForum (now defunct). Fortunately, a summary of the discussion was posted by Steve Draper.  This discussion played out similar themes to those I saw in the Twitter conversation but, of course, in different contexts.

As I recall, there were ca 850 members of the ITForum list server who posted (or not) to the server that sent all, or a digest of messages according to member preference. If all members had posted frequently or a few had posted daily, I would have immediately unsubscribed, this being an example of one of the ways in which sustainability in a virtual community is lost “when the cost of participation exceeds the willingness to participate” (Steinmuller 2002).  Mass participation by frequent posting is not necessarily feasible or sustainable for the group as a whole.

I thought of all of this during my experience on the recent Twitter thread at the #HEdigID #OEP discussion.  I ‘lurked’ on the thread once I realised it had become a snowball thread (partially through my own actions). I then posted a blog post linked to the Twitter thread and carried on a (for me) fruitful conversation there with two people. From a learning perspective, I made a contribution with links on Twitter to published work that may have encouraged reading and reflection by other participants – who knows?

For me, the missing element in the Twitter discussion was the agency and motivations of platforms.  Of course it matters how people engage and encourage others, how they share information but the platform is also shaping who and what is more likely to be seen and it certainly had an impact on my and others’ experiences (even if the impact was not always visible).

The second condition that Steinmueller gave for sustainability to fail was platform failure and that is an interesting consideration in ways that he may not have imagined in 2002. When do we have rich discussions about how platforms may be failing their members even if they are economically viable?

Why would we assume that social media platforms are a given as learning locations? I feel really uncomfortable with any suggestion that the more people contribute visibly, eg via posts and replies, the better; and that minimal/absent visible contributions is necessarily a problem. It’s much more complex than that. In our research (Bell, Mackness & Funes), we found that some experienced digital learners stood back in certain contexts for very good reason.

I’d love to hear other views on this.


Bell, F., Mackness, J., & Funes, M. (2016). Participant association and emergent curriculum in a MOOC: can the community be the curriculum? Research in Learning Technology, 24.

Steinmueller, W. E. (2002). Virtual Communities and the New Economy. In R. Mansell (Ed.) (pp. 21–54). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Web Today, Gone Tomorrow: How can we ensure continuing access to OERs? #OER16

This panel from Vivien Rolfe, David Kernohan, Lorna Campbell, Pat Lockley, Simon Thompson and Leo Havemann explored in different ways  how OERs can be sustained.

The panel kicked off with a video from Pat Lockley @patlockley,  in character as Alex from Clockwork Orange moving on to the decline of OER production, access and use as funding declined, and institutions.


The Plight of OER from Pgogy on Vimeo.

Vivien Rolfe @vivienrolfe spoke from a more personal perspective of OERs she had been involved with that were being sustained by the work of individuals rather than institutional buy-in.  #oer16sustain

Questions surfaced issues of sustainability and how it might happen and be supported.

Simon Thompson discussed alternatives to official but ephemeral repositories. First he talked about that appears to be sustainable if not fully open and then suggested that Amazon Education could become an attractive alternative for under-funded institutions. This provoked lively discussion.

Leo Havemann shared research he did with Javiera Atenas comparing 80 different repositories across 10 quality indicators to see how repositories work?  Results were disappointing in terms of scoring on indicators (9 indicators under 50%). Discussion ranged around why this might be, and surprise at low use of licensing.


Lorna Campbell explained how the spike in OER shown in Pat’s video related to England, from UKOER funding that wasn’t active in Scotland but that practices and (people) expertise did migrate between England and Scotland that can be seen as a form of sustainability. Lorna speculated that repository activity might increase as it declines across the rest of the UK.

Discussion ranged around funding models and their relationship to sustainability.