From Blogs to Publishing Platforms

D’Arcy wrote a post over the weekend questioning the need for an Institutionally run blogging environment … I always take notice when he asks questions like this for a number of reasons — he’s smart, he’s been in the field for a long time making smart decisions, and his posts tend to bring in smart comments. This is no exception. D’Arcy asks if, given the plethora of open/free blogging services on the Web, the University of Calgary should be running its own service. I see where he is coming from and it is something I wrestle with across the board. There is a real tension between what we can/should provide in comparison to just recommending a .com service. Blogs are the tip of the iceberg … think email, calendar, and other more mission critical things that are being outsourced by Institutions all over the country.

D’Arcy talks about how hosting your own may provide for increased integration, trust, and authority. I think these are solid reasons, but I might expand them a bit. I can honestly say the reason we adopted MovableType as our blogging platform had very little to do with blogging. We knew we were going to be able to (over time) shift it towards a very powerful publishing platform that can do all sorts of things online. When we went down the path, the immediate win was a robust, scalable, integrated, and universally available blogging tool that people could use to support teaching, learning, expression, or really anything else.

Going forward, the idea is that you arrive at your personal webspace and are encouraged to just click over to your MT dashboard and publish. It is a jump for a user to think of this outside of setting up a blog — on the surface, the environment is a blogging toolset after all. The big ah-ha moment comes when you actually watch how easy it is to extend this into the world of instant site creation, all with the affordances of a modern CMS and blogging platform — instant publishing, RSS, ping/trackbacks, categories, tags, search, and so much more.

The work of our faculty fellow, Dr. Carla Zembal-Saul, this summer illustrates just how powerful this is when the jump is made to publishing and not just blogging. And the most interesting work being done has to do with how the portfolio becomes a social environment — guess what our platform is really good at? IN the coming weeks, I am going to try and focus some energy on explaining Carla’s work and share some more tangible evidence of the new ePortfolio Platform (powered by MT) we will be promoting here at PSU. The idea that a blog can be used for any publishing task is important to grasp if we are going to move to the next level of academic utilization of the web as a platform — at least, if you agree with D’Arcy that the notion of doing it on the inside promotes integration, trust, and authority.

Shifting Social Dynamics

The One Post a Day Challenge is already starting to add up to a big personal project for me. I’m not yet overwhelemd with it, but as I embark on a whirlwind 7 days (kicked off by an overnight trip to Madison, WI to present and punctuated by the Learning Design Summer Camp) I can see the wheels showing some signs of coming off. I’m not there yet though! I am thrilled to see the comments here, but what is already becoming evident is how nice it is to read a wealth of fresh squeezed content from my community every single day. I am enjoying hearing new voices and discovering new blogs. Very cool. One thing I am becoming concerned about is that I see a theme emerging here that I hope is meaningful to those around me — the idea of doing things in the cloud. All of my posts have been focused on using the Blogs at PSU as a personal publishing space and I am hoping it isn’t getting stale.

With that in mind, I thought I would take a stab at a similar, but slightly off topic observation about the coming shift in demographics on our campuses. I am drawing upon some of the amazing work done by our friends at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Not too long ago I read a few of their reports that focused on online teenagers’ web behavior. Not entirely surprising to see how connected they are, but it is a little stunning to see how sophisticated they are as they participate in social environments. Some highlights that have me thinking about what my campus will look like in 5 years and if our work is going to pay dividends when this generation shows up:

  1. Nearly 50% of online teens are sharing content online. This isn’t file sharing, it is sharing pictures, text, and other forms of their media.
  2. 64% engage in at least one form of content creation.
  3. Girls dominate most elements of online content creation and sharing with 35% of teen girls blogging, and 54% sharing photos. Compared with 20% of boys blog and 40% share pictures.
  4. Boys are nearly twice as likely to share their videos online — I’m not touching that one!

Why is this the case? Well I have a few suspicions, but the fact that Pew tells us that 89% of them report that people comment on these artifacts some of the time tells me a lot. Wow. So it means to me that they are engaging in a new form of social dynamic that looks a hell of a lot like a digital conversation. I am wondering as a follow up is if they actively market their online lives in a face to face world or if they just know their friends are connected to it and are silent about the publishing? Do they show up at school and say, “did you see my pictures, video, or blog post?” I’m not sure, but Pew also tells us that most of them use their social networks to control access — this is a big reason why Facebook is the number one photo sharing site on the Internet.

With that said, I am reminded of a meeting I had with my colleague, Glenn Johnson, early last week about the blog platform. Glenn has been the “ePortfolio Guy” at PSU for several years and has done an outstanding job socializing the notion of student portfolios. He was showing us how he has traditionally shown people how to use WYSIWYG tools along with our PASS explorer (really an online SFTP like client) that visualizes your personal webspace as files and folders. A metaphor that has been in play for years. When we started talking about teens and their use of social tools for sharing we started to wonder if they had any clue as to where their items were going?

Are Directories Dead to our Next Student?

Are Directories Dead to our Next Student?

Does a directory structure matter to this generation? Where the hell are my pictures when I upload them to Facebook anyway? Should we care or should we make the jump into just managing assets through tagging them on the way in? I think Pew tells us we have some real decisions to make as it relates to enterprise learning environments and some of our old school preconceptions are not going to match up with emerging trends. I am especially interested in what people think about this and how we can be positioning ourselves to deal with the shift.

Finally, Arriving at the Blog is Not Just a Blog

I can’t believe it has been two years since we made the claim that the Blogs at Penn State could be so much more than a blog and should be viewed as a personal content management system. In that time, we’ve made huge progress related to the notion that our blogging environment can and should be used for all sorts of things — most recently we’ve been doing some important work as it relates to blogs as portfolios. Our Faculty Fellow, Carla Zembal-Saul, has been working with Brad Kozlek and others here in ETS to rethink how we frame the portfolio opportunity … what we are coming to is that the win in the portfolio space is associated with the social opportunities the blog platform affords. We’ve been doing our thinking in the open over at the ETS Wiki, so please take a look. We have several pilots taking advantage of this approach this fall, the coolest one being with the Schreyer Honors College … check out Dean Chris Brady’s post seeking volunteers. Some of the scholars’ comments are very encouraging.

At any rate, that is not what I am focusing on here … with the latest release candidate of Moveable Type 4.2, we’ve started testing out the new template set concept they’ve introduced. When we pitched the Blogs at Penn State project I made sweeping promises that we could use this one platform to easily support blogs, portfolios, note taking spaces, personal websites, course pages, and more. Well, with template sets that is coming true. I did a little screencast showing how easy it will be to create personal websites using the MT environment. This has far reaching potential. Take a look at the screencast below and let us know what kinds of templates would be compelling (or watch the QT version). BTW, sorry about the watermark on the screencast … I tried ScreenFlow and have yet to purchase it. A little tough to see, but you can get the idea. Another BTW, the wonderful music in the background was written, composed, and performed by Penn State’s Stephen Hopkins. The track is Ian Grove Blues and is available from Stephen’s Penn State Blog. Steve was an early guest on ETS Talk as well.