This Thursday I’ll be heading down to Longwood University to do a workshop on Web 2.0, blogging, and the like. Liz Kocevar-Weidinger of the Greenwood library at Longwood saw a few of us from UMW present last year on the work we’ve doing, and she invited us down. I caught up with her at the EDUCAUSE conference, and I inquired whether they have a blogging platform of any kind they are working from currently, and they don’t. So, as Gardner and I charged during our presentation, why can’t we do this together?! Why can’t UMW help Longwood? We are both public universities in Virginia, a state that is quickly descending into one of its worst budget crises in
years decades (and that will be the case most everywhere). Given this, why shouldn’t we share our work freely and pool resources so that we not only reap the benefit of innovation on one particular campus, but share that work out to other universities and colleges throughout Virginia? —and why stop there 😉
So, leading up to this workshop I took 45 minutes out of my day and did something that I think may very well be the culmination of what I have been working towards over the last two years. After asking Liz to go out and purchase a domain for $8.95 a year, I was able to use the Multi-Site Manager plugin to clone the settings of UMW Blogs within our install (think of it as a WPMu within a WPMu) and voilà, Longwood Blogs was created—it took all of two minutes! The other 43 minutes I spent playing with the theme and reproducing all of UMW’s customized support documentation for Longwood with the wonderful Wiki INC plugin—which allows us to not only reproduce our installation and host it for them, but also reproduce all of our documentation using a Mediawiki –>WordPress plugin! Not bad for a two hour training session, eh? Two years worth of iteration and development given to Longwood in less than an hour.
Now, if that’s not an economical solution for the hard times that lay ahead, I really don’t know what is! And the most important part about this experiment is that it’s easy, and there is no excuse for universities not to do this! It is imperative that we liberate ourselves from silos of campuses and schools, and start sharing our work freely with one another so that we can all benefit.
Think about it, all the time and energy Longwood saves on framing, designing, and building their own publishing platform can now be dedicated to finding money to support faculty in imagining the possibilities of such a space. That is the real power of this model, the technology is both simple and simply a means, the fact that we are able to reproduce and share what we have done for others illustrates we chose the right platform—so now we can all reap the benefits! That is the point, we need to open this stuff up (and I mean open in its truest sense, not the Bb ad speak) so that universities can quickly harness and use the unbelievable power of the wide open web for teaching and learning. On top of that, since we can share these resources amongst several schools using the multiple databases to make the load easier, we can actually share posts and course resources across campuses that much easier. A truly inter-campus publishing platform.
The question for me is: how can we afford not to do this?
Ok, so here is my rational in the about page in Longwood Blogs, I think it more rationally and succinctly makes the case I am trying to frame here.
This is an experiment to see how easy it would be for one university to clone their WordPress Multi-User installation for another. The impetus behind this project is that the University of Mary Washington already has a state of the art publishing platform that they designed and piloted over the last two years. This site is a full-featured instance of UMW Blogs, which is actually running off the same installation. It literally took minutes to clone UMW Blogs’ settings and get this site up and running for Longwood University’s Greenwood Library. These two installations run off of the same base code, and hence the upgrades, backups, and additional functionality for both sites can be accomplished simultaneously.
So, all the time and energy spent at Mary Washington to develop this environment can be quickly and easily reproduced and shared with Longwood at the low, low cost of a domain name, or $8.95 a year. What this does, in effect, is frees up time, money, and energy that would be otherwise earmarked for servers and web development, and allows universities to invest in people who will work closely with faculty to think about how they might harness the power of the internet for teaching and learning. During these hard economic times doesn’t it make sense to focus our attention to the human resources that truly augment teaching and learning rather than throwing money at vendors and proprietary black boxes?