Back to Blogging at a Big University

Even as I am neck deep in a podcasting and iTunes U implementation here at PSU, I am gearing up for the next BIG project for us. That project is figuring out how to create a platform can support all sorts of web-based content production — I had written a post about when is a blog not a blog that seemed to get quite a few people thinking and talking here at my campus and beyond. The big thing that we have started to really explore and explain is that the tools that support this whole blogging thing really have the power to support a lot of what is going on on our campuses. Let’s see, ePortfolios? Yep. Blogs? Obviously. Personal note taking? Sure. What else? Well, anything that relies on faculty, staff, or students creating and publishing content.

Just yesterday I was lucky enough to be in a meeting with an amazingly open-minded faculty member who was asking for a blog platform to support his writing course. No problem … but, the big thing here is that we were joined by the people who actually support enterprise applications on my campus — you know the smart guys who think in terms of 100 thousands users and routinely deliver. They were there and it made me think bigger about what we can do to offer a single solution to a single faculty member with a tiny class (25 students) that would teach us about how we could scale to say 5,000 faculty and 80,000 students.

If you look back at some of the requirements we were looking at a few months ago the last time the blog team got together, not much has changed. It still needs to stand up to the pounding that an application like this will get on a big campus — but now we are thinking a whole lot about building a platform that enables all the things we need. We are going to try and build some sort of personal content management solution that can support blogging, portfolios, personal web pages, resumes, syllabi, you name it. Call it what you will, but in my mind we are attacking a paradigm shift here — I am looking to tear down the WYSIWYG tool du-jour domination on our campus. What we want is a space that empowers people to think about content, information architecture, self expression, and self-reflextion instead of how do I do that with DreamWeaver, then SFTP it, and then … see what I am saying? It is time to move to the next level.

What I am planning to do is task several smaller, more focused groups to look at the needs behind ePortfolios, behind personal note taking spaces, behind personal website tools, and so on. We’ll then roll those requirements up to the larger PCM Platform team and start constructing a solution. We have a starting platform in mind that I think can really get us close “out of the box,” but we’ll see.

As we started to talk, it became clear that we can create a handful of custom apps that will glue our solutions together to create all sorts of novel solutions. If students are publishing into their personal webspaces, then we’ll have to find innovative ways of pulling content into other locations. Here’s an example … if a class is blogging, but they are doing it into their personal spaces, the faculty member will want to aggregate every student’s post into a single class blog that she can control and manipulate as if it were a multi-user blogging environment itself. That is where we build.

I know this is a rambling mess, but my thoughts are still coming together. As they develop, I will share more. Any thoughts for me so far?

8 Replies to “Back to Blogging at a Big University”

  1. ummm…. Drupal? πŸ˜‰

    Seriously, although everything’s looking like a nail now that I’m pretty comfortable with my hammer, it’s looking like Drupal could to almost everything you mention. Scalability could be fun, but not rocket surgery.

    We’ll be playing with much of this as part of the big Drupal roll-out here at UCalgary. I’ll keep you posted…

  2. No can do … there is a need to publish sites into faculty/staff/students’ personal webspace. It is also critical that they actually get HTML files — in the case of ePortfolios they will want to take them with them. Drupal was our first and only multi-user environment, but the requirements blew that up quickly.

    Other thoughts?

  3. hmmm. must be other options. we’re also using Drupal in an authoring way, then “freeze-drying” some sites as static HTML. That method might work as well…

    Or, iWeb? Sandvox? Does NVU have templates that are usable? Don’t think you’ll want to unleash Dreamweaver on the masses.

    The static files thing makes it interesting… For our ePortfolio project here, I REALLY wish iWeb had been released in time for the launch – I’d have totally recommended that over Pachyderm, even!

  4. At the moment we are investigating Moveable Type. It is a modern blogging environment that can do the html publish thing. We’d love to have control over the publishing options, but that is where templates come in.

    What is NVU?

  5. I’m starting to settle in to the idea of using MovableType.. It seems like that’s going to solve a lot of our scalability issues. And realistically what we’re inevitably going to see happening is a lot of people (a lot as in potentially 100,000) with their own blog/PCM/whatever publishing to their own personal web space. The trick is going to be pulling these individual spaces into meaningful groups, i.e. classes, teams, departments.. and that’s going to have to be very very easy for the user to do. I’m thinking something like taxonomies on steroids, something where users are tagging the content in their own space as a way to direct aggregation up to the groups. Then the app we build is just there to handle the filtering and access controls that define the group, and all the data gets passed around via RSS – overall a pretty lightweight setup. ..and people always maintain ownership of their content so they can take it with them when they move out of the system.

  6. Hi Cole, I love the thoughts. I’m stilling pushing on many of the same ideas. I tried Nvu and didn’t care for it. It’s a free web editor, but has too many bugs to use in the classroom. We decided to use Drupal for our site but as far as the students are concerned, I still don’t have a solution I love.

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