Is the Grass Greener on the Common Side?
BY RAY STILL
It is the dawn of a new technological age at Evergreen. The ancient dinosaurs of the TESC Talk and TESC Crier listserv will soon be extinct, and the Greener Commons thread-styled forum will rule the campus as the new option for students to communicate.
The project to develop an up-to-date method of student and faculty communication started in 2012, after a campus survey revealed low student participation rates for both TESC Talk and Crier. Only 30 percent of students were signed up for TESC Talk, and TESC Crier fared slightly better at 46 percent, according to a student survey made by college staff.
Academic Dean David McAvity, who had been involved in the Greener Commons project, said those statistics could be misleading – just because students are signed up for TESC Talk and Crier does not mean that they utilized those services and usage of the listserv could be much lower.
“The charge [of the project] was, ‘how can we build community in a more active way?’ said Todd Sprague, the director of marketing and college relations at Evergreen. “We wanted to be able to get a tool that was more in tune with what students would use…and would make a place for conversation that wasn’t as intrusive as TESC Talk and Crier would be.”
Sprague said that even though Evergreen students are good at building community, it is very easy to be isolated at Evergreen. “If you are in a program with 50 people, you may just be with those 50 people all year, unless you’re involved with Student Activities or in a sport,” he said. He hopes that the Greener Commons will help students connect with each other across campus in more ways than TESC Talk or Crier could.
Around 300 students were invited to use Greener Commons before it was opened to the public this quarter. “I’ve used the commons 10 times more in the last two months than I ever did with TESC Crier,” said Seth Lueck, one of the pilot students.
While reading TESC Crier posts, Professor Zoltan Grossman noticed that a footer had been placed on all posts – “This list will be disabled March 31, 2014. Please post to the Greener Commons, accessible through the Community section of my.evergreen.edu.” Grossman emailed the TESC Crier email list as well as the staff and faculty list with questions and concerns he had about discontinuing the listserv system.
“I feel this would have a disastrous effect on building community at Evergreen, because campus event announcements (including program-based events) would not longer reach a wide audience,” he wrote in the email. “It is embarrassing enough that nationally known speakers come to campus and get small audiences, and the elimination of TESC Crier would only make the situation worse by making the potential audience self-selecting.”
Grossman finished his email by asking who was involved in deciding to discontinue TESC Crier, how the decision was conveyed to the campus community, and if faculty were consulted while making this decision. Professors Erik Thuesen, Steve Herman, Gilda Sheppard, Peter Bohmer, Lin Nelson, and emerita Helena Meyer-Knapp echoed Grossman’s questions and concerns over TESC Crier, asking for a delay in disabling the listserv.
Wendy Endress, the vice president of student affairs, apologized over email to concerned staff and faculty for “not getting information about our new platform…to [staff and faculty] earlier and with a more logical sequence.”
Also in response to those concerns, Academic Dean David McAvity responded to the TESC Crier emails, explaining that the Greener Commons is a pilot project. “If it doesn’t serve us well we will consider other options,“ he wrote.
The original date for discontinuing TESC Talk and Crier was March 31. However, Endress, Sprague, and Residential IT manager Noel McHugh decided to postpone the date indefinitely. A conversation thread about utilizing the Greener Commons so that the new system will act like the old listserv was also created for faculty, staff, and students who prefer the old system.
Professor John Baldridge also began a discussion over TESC Crier and the Greener Commons about the “erroneous labeling of this message forum as a ‘commons.’” Baldridge wrote that a true common area would at least allow students to create new categories for discussions. “It isn’t that I’m necessarily opposed to what the new communications infrastructure has to offer,” he wrote, “But I do object to it being falsely represented as a ‘commons.’”
Dawn Weber from Student and Academic Support Services replied to these emails through TESC Crier. “Please move this conversation somewhere else. It is filling up my inbox,” she wrote, echoing Sprague’s thoughts about the intrusiveness of TESC Crier and why the system needed to be upgraded.
What the Greener Commons have to offer
Unlike some college social media sites, the Greener Commons is strictly internal. For example, Western Washington University’s Viking Village can only be posted on by students and faculty, but can be read by the general public. The planning team behind the Greener Commons decided that only Evergreen students, faculty, and staff should be allowed to read and make posts.
The Greener Commons gives students more options in what they want to pay attention to on the forum. While TESC Talk and Crier sent students everything from lost graphing calculators to bears in the woods, the Greener Commons lets students filter out the categories they won’t read, and focus on topics that interest them.
Categories include Community Events and Announcements, Campus Life, Action and Politics, Academics, General Discussion, Lost and Found, Rideshare (for students looking to carpool), For sale/wanted (for students looking for or selling certain items), Off Topic (for anything not for any other categories), and Meta (for problems or questions with Greener Commons).
The Greener Commons lets users choose whether or not they want to receive any emails about the Greener Commons. You can get Greener Common digests daily, weekly, every two weeks, or not at all. And arguably the best part about the Greener Commons – no “reply all” button for students to abuse.
What you should look out for on Greener Commons
Because the Greener Commons uses your Evergreen information to login, your username will start out as your Evergreen username – the first three letters of your last name, the first three letters of your first name, and the day you were born. For many students, this is pure gibberish. You can change your username to something reader-friendly, but this will also break any quotes or conversations you were having with other Greeners at the time, so beware.
Any emails that you will get from the Greener Commons will go to your Evergreen email account. This cannot be changed, so students should check their Evergreen account regularly, or learn to have their emails forwarded to a better email service provider than Microsoft Outlook Online.