I appreciate this step. I hope your users will take it to heart. I was the educator who had my students try out Stack Exchange (“Find a SE community, get an account, make a comment”) and 10 out of 12 of them found it unwelcoming or downright unpleasant. The two who enjoyed it were hobbyists who already felt they had some level of expertise in their field.
I’ve been thinking this over and a few things I think would possibly help besides what you’ve already suggested. Note: I’ve noodled around in the general SE community a lot but don’t know the place inside and out and rarely interact on Stack Overflow specifically though I think some of this applies to the other subsites.
This is mostly from my own experience as an end user trying to figure out how parts of the place works, and giving and receiving some of my own answers in AskDifferent. You can see my profile there and see what I’ve tried.
- Some more badges for intermediate accomplishments? I made my first few badges early and then there’s a long way to go to get a lot more of them (check the site every day for a month? how about every day for a week?). Prosocial badges like upvoting other users, giving other users thanks or help or whatever (Wikipedia has a “thanks” feature and it really seems to encourage prosocial behaviors)
- Take some stuff out of expert realm. There are a lot of ways to help on SE that don’t necessarily require expertise in that particular community but also which require a TON of reputation (I am thinking about working on the tags and synonyms, etc). Maybe have more novice-level tidying jobs that can happen and also let people level-up. It’s hard to get reputation if you mostly come to the community to learn and can’t necessarily contribute and are maybe a little shy about asking questions, or just don’t have that many of them. So work on de-linking reputation and some of the community “rewards” or make it easier to hit certain milestones.
- No three word answers! I mean, I’m not sure exactly how many words, but encouraging people to use their words and not just reply with a command line command and a link encourages communication as part of the SE interactive experience. This is a thing a robot could do, which makes it appealing from a scalability perspective.
Above all, and you probably do this but in case you don’t: eat your own dog food and sign up as a novice user (or a marked female user, or whatever) with low reputation and try to get questions answered or give other people answers and see what you get for feedback from a less-privileged account/position. I was always surprised when I’d do this during my time at MetaFilter. Thanks again, best of luck moving forward.