RAP and the future
What will happen to RAP?
This is a question we often ask ourselves. And generally we only have questions in reply.
Wrapping up RAP, in fact, has kicked up some of the most interesting questions so far about the use of this kind of tool, such as: How long does Bowdoin College commit to the regular maintenance of one (quickly outmoded) instance of an application like this? The site takes up room on a server, after all, and must be tended, requiring precious tech resources. New buildings, new scholarships, new library funds are all gratifyingly tangible expenditures for a college; the wherewithal to maintain or archive electronic projects is, for the foreseeable future, a tougher sell.
Given RAP's modularity, what should its archived form look like, anyway? And what might it offer interested 'outsiders' who stumble across it? Who in fact 'owns' the project? Can or should it be copyrighted or somehow protected? Do students have the right to control use of their words in the distant future?
If a wiki project were granted the institutional and technical support — and were built with sufficiently stable, upgradeable software — we can imagine that it could develop over time in particularly interesting ways. A later class could build on the lead of their ghostly predecessors at the school, entering into a dialogue over time. RAP2, for instance, could develop on top of the work already posted in RAP. Indulging in wishful thinking, one could imagine various layers or instances of a wiki, each built by different classes. Such layers might be toggled on and off, according to instructor and student preferences: RAP 1 alone, RAP 2 alone, or the accumulated postings of RAP 1 + 2. Such a project would represent a collective production of the institution, evolving as generations of students understood its subject, acting as a practical and dynamic archive. At what point would such a project be deemed 'full,' its source material saturated by commentary and illustration? Might later classes come to envy the primacy of the wiki's first users?
As wikis come into use in academic environments, many such interesting scenarios and questions are bound to arise. For them to be addressed, determined support for collective student work in a digital context must be established. Ten years ago, Sven Birkerts, in The Gutenberg Elegies, bemoaned the lack of substance in electronic environments. It remains the case that without institutional and technical backing, the example of student thought and pedagogical innovation that RAP now represents will simply — and suddenly — vanish.