I am still struggling with what we really should be calling the Blogs at Penn State initiative. When we were making the case for investing in a platform I made the call for us think critically about how we should be thinking about this opportunity as so much more than a blogging service. I think some people got it right away, but we are still trying to figure out what the right language is to support our thinking.
Really in the last six months or so that original vision is coming to fruition — the Movable Type environment we selected is truly empowering publishing across lots of areas. I’d like to share a couple of them and ask that you help me think about what is the best way to market and communicate it. There are lots of people now saying the Blogs at Penn State name is limiting peoples’ imagination.
Two weeks ago we worked with the ITS Training Services group to completely redesign their public website. What is unique about it is that we used MT to do it. The resulting site doesn’t look much like a blog, but it is built using our blogging software. What we discovered while building this is that we can do anything we really want with the look, feel, and functionality without much effort. This site took far less time with MT than it would have with other tools — and management is drop dead simple. What we now have is a very easy to use, template based, web development environment that can produce personal or unit level websites in very little time. As a matter of fact, we recently rolled out the new home for Blogs at PSU and are in the process of moving the Podcasts at PSU site from Drupal to MT.
Over the Summer we hosted Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul as our ETS Faculty Fellow. Her work this Sumer was to better understand MT as a viable ePortfolio platform. We worked with her to design new template sets that allow students to quickly create ePortfolios that are easy, remove barriers, and can allow them to focus on reflection and not HTML. The work she did with our team was both ground breaking and inspiring. We’ve now made progress on the concept and the Blogs at PSU are being promoted as the ePortfolio platform of choice. Part of this work is a new tool, called the Pack it Up system. This simple little tool will allow a person to browse an entry on an ePortfolio and suck the entire entry down into a package that can be pushed into a University assessment system to be used as evidence for accreditation purposes. Again, a blogging tool that doesn’t look like blogging.
The last example I will cite is the notion of the Blogs at Penn State as an eLearning design and development environment. Recently I took an old topic from an Online IST course I helped design about seven years ago and republish it via the Blogs at PSU environment. It took only a handful of minutes and produces a portable package that can be customized by an entire team in a collaborative way. And since our platform allows for easy export and import, a faculty member who wants the content can easily download an export file and import it into a new blog space to customize the look, the feel, the content, the activities, or anything else for her own instruction. I built two versions of the topic … the first is what I called a Master Course. The Master Course provides a baseline version of the content in a central location — perhaps in an Open Courseware model. A faculty member could browse the content and download a simple file. This file contains the entire course and structure. This is ideal because it allows that faculty member to manage and customize the content as their own. This can then be used to create a personal version of the content.
Finally, it is obvious, but the ability to produce a standard blog also exists. So, my question is related to communicating this potential. People are catching on, but it is taking a lot of explaining … and I wonder if it has to do with us branding this Blogs at Penn State. What do you think?