Almost four years ago I experimented with what up and until then was pretty much the coolest thing I had done in edtech (pre-ds106, mind you 🙂 )—though no one else really noticed save the great Brian Lamb. In less than an hour I had cloned and made available the entire UMW Blogs WordPress framwork (including hosting, plugins, themes, and support material) for Longwood University—a fellow Virginia state university—for the low, low cost of a domain. So, in other words, two years of experimentation and iteration packaged up and mapped to greenwoodlibrary.org at the low, low cost of $8.95 for a namepsace. The trick was mapping a network onto UMW Blogs and using the same core files, themes, and plugins as UMW Blogs (I used a much earlier version of David Dean’s Networks for WordPress plugin). These days the process is pretty common, we’re doing it pretty impressively on umw.edu—but in 2008 it was a bit of radical idea. In fact, I had big dreams for it, this is from my post on the experiment titled “Cloning the UMW Blogs Empire”:
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.
That last bit is still somethign I dream of, an “inter-campus” publishing platform featuring the work from all Virginia’s state colleges and universities—how cool would that be? Last week I actually re-directed http://greenwoodlibrary.org to http://blogs.longwood.edu, officially closing down and archiving this project. I realize that Longwood getting their own WordPress platform at http://blogs.longwood.edu should be a cause for celebration—and it is!—and none of this precludes us from working together in this dream in the future. All that said, I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t a bit sad to see them go. They’re all grown up with their own, snazzy WordPress platform. What’s more, the great Tatiana Pashkova-Balkenhol—who has been integral in making Longwood Blogs a reality—doesn’t need us any more. I know this is for many the signs of success, and it remains amazing to me that while we were hosting them there were absolutely no issues to speak of. I mean look at it from a practical point-of-view: they got to play with WordPress for years at next to no cost; it gave birth to their own publishing platform; and we all learned something from the experiment. These are all good things, and for me signs of the real value that can be born of inter-institutional collaboration on projects like this.
I guess my only concern is that I still think we can do this kind of thing on a larger scale, across many schools wherein we syndicate in the best work from around Virginia campuses for all to experience and share. But I won’t lament too much on this count because I am currently on SCHEV‘s Digital Learning Resources Planning group (which is a great group!) that is working on a conference this year that will focus on cultivating and developing this very idea—thanks to some pushing by me :)— which is really exciting. In fact, I think that is where part of my energies need to be directed now (hence the RFP I need to finish!) in order to make the work we’ve done here at UMW with campuses like Longwood reverberate out on a larger scale. There is still much to be gained from this idea, and what I take away from it four years later is that most of the work we’ve done since has had a few core philosophical components: openness, sharing freely, and syndication—OSS!