Website Encourages Campus Dialogue, Offers Prizes

'Blue Sky' offers way for Duke community members to share ideas

A look at some of the topics for discussion in
A look at some of the topics for discussion in "The Drawing Board."

On a campus full of staff, faculty and students brimming with ideas and expertise, Duke has a new clearinghouse for community members to share thoughts, interact and even get rewarded for it.

Blue Sky, an online message board community, is a new platform launched late last year aimed at bringing people together to discuss solutions to Duke-focused issues. On a monthly basis, the website poses approved topics from students and employees to garner feedback. Anyone can respond and comments are moderated.

Topics have ranged from discussing the future of teaching and learning to preserving Duke's legacy to asking members of the site "what would you 3D print?"

To participate on Blue Sky, a student or employee only needs to sign in and create an account with a valid NetID and password. Duke's Innovation Co-Lab, a creativity incubator exploring ways to enhance research, academic and service missions of the university, runs the site.

"We want Blue Sky to be a platform for inspirational interactions for Duke," said Michael Faber, manager of the Co-Lab. "Part of the value of Blue Sky is it's not just a Facebook wall post that fades into oblivion on some page. People who can make changes are paying attention and participating."

After logging in with a NetID, Duke community members can search through topics and comment. Currently, the main discussion area is within "The Drawing Board," where any and all ideas or questions are welcomed, as opposed to more narrowly focused topics like the future of teaching. Recent discussions in The Drawing Board cover Duke transit, book sharing and the potential of "nap stations" on campus.

As participants comment and ask questions, they can earn points to be used in a Blue Sky rewards store where they can purchase a variety of items from stickers and a T-shirt to high-end headphones or speakers.

As part of each pre-selected topic on Blue Sky, moderators may help steer conversations and interact with comments. Moderators then use discussions as a way to guide future programs or initiatives. So far, moderators have included Larry Moneta, vice president of Student Affairs, Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for Undergraduate Education, Cara Rousseau, manager for social and digital media strategy and more, including students.

Faculty and staff interested in moderating a topic can share ideas by emailing

"The value in Blue Sky is it allows the entire community to engage in a conversation and it's not dependent on an in-person focus group or meeting," said Joe Gonzalez, dean for Residential Life. During the spring semester, he used Blue Sky to solicit feedback from students about Duke's housing model. "There were some really good suggestions made, including new ideas that might help us make residential living better."

In the Blue Sky topic, members discussed ideas about providing more events for students and establishing a "house professor" to enhance student-faculty engagement.

Abhi Sanka, executive vice president of Duke Student Government, said he wanted to get involved with Gonzalez and Blue Sky in order to better connect students with administrators. He noted that discussions on the site have helped push more ideas for building a stronger community, both for students living on campus and broadly for students and employees. Next year, he hopes to partner with Blue Sky to address more campus issues aside from housing.

"It bridges the understanding between all the people of our community," Sanka said. "A lot of times students ask questions that government representatives may not be able to answer, but faculty or staff can answer. It reinforces that we're all a part of Duke together."