University of Virginia and WPMu? Wahoo!

In September of 2007 Steve Stedman invited Patrick and I to UVA to talk about the work we were doing with WPMu and UMW Blogs. It was somewhat difficult to get folks to meet with us, and we really didn’t get a chance to frame out the work we were doing, although we did get a rather in-depth look at Collab (their installation of Sakai) which I blogged about here. It seemed apparent after this outing that Sakai was going to meet the needs of UVA, and while WPMu might be interesting—it just wasn’t robust enough for a larger, research university—despite Steve’s pleadings otherwise (he was a forward thinker, that Stedman 🙂 ).

What a difference a year and a half makes! This time around Sean McCord invited us to talk with David Germano, an associate professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, and one of the movers and shakers on the Digital Humanities Initiative at UVA. Patrick and I showed up to a room full of about ten people from various programs: the Scholars Lab, the library, CIT, and  Instructional Technology.  It was a group of various people who were all interested in UMW Blogs. I was kind of surprised, I wasn’t actually expecting this kind of turn out, and I was pleasantly surprised that so many of these folks were excited about the work our faculty and students are doing through UMW Blogs. This group had a clear sense of the advantages of a lightweight, flexible system like WPMu, and were interested in innovating and moving quickly, and saw UMW as a model for this.

So, in less than a week UMW Blogs has been showcased at Duke University and the Univeristy of Virginia—how wild! It’s really cool to think that both Duke and the UVA might be playing with WPMu in an open and innovative fashion sometime very soon. This is exactly the logic I have been envisioning with this constant WPMu boosterism—Reseach 1 schools with deep pockets who have the money and people for development and high-profile projects that have the potential to give back to this open source community, as well as offering some credence to open source tools for innovating, sharing and building rich networks for teaching and learning—much like the University of British Columbia has done so brilliantly over the last year.

These developments also open up some unique opportunities for UMW to work creatively with schools like UVA and/or Duke. Why can’t classes between these institutions start sharing resources and collaborating in new and exciting ways. Using each others courses as resources, team-teaching, re-imagining discplinary connections, syndicating in work from another school for comment and feedback, and a million other ways I’m not smart enough to imagine. The thing is UMW is uniquely positioned to start re-thinking the way courses can be imagined and the work we are doing can be shared beyond the walls of the institution. We can start framing networked academic relationships that will certainly be the future of all this stuff. We are the “city on the edge of forever” and we should really be thinking strategically about not only sharing everything we know with any institution out there, but making inroads to bring the teaching and learning aspect of UMW Blogs to these other schools by promoting and recognizing the amazing work our faculty and students are doing there. Let’s face it, no other institution has such a large cadre of faculty and students that have been formally experimenting with this stuff for close to three or four years, and they work hard and are getting tired. They need to be recognized, rewarded, and encouraged so that we can continue to make the myths!

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7 Responses to University of Virginia and WPMu? Wahoo!

  1. Luke says:

    Sounds about high time to let UMW into the ACC.

    We’re starting to think about ways to do something similar with B@B and perhaps VOCAT. There’s no reason that senior CUNY campuses, who have more resources, can’t be sharing installations and support responsibilty with other campuses. It’s easy to see how pedagogical collab could follow upon the canvas that CUNY edupunks build. All that’s necessary is recognition of what we’re doing (in the form of a few real positions created to lead on this stuff) and some rope from the powers that be. We’ve never taken so big a step towards this possibility as in this year. We’re poised on the brink of the university of the future, ready to realize it. The main question is, will power let us?

  2. I wonder — has the view of Collab changed at all at UVA? Or has the view of the overall information ecology changed? IOW, How are they imagining the fit of WPMU there in relation to Sakai?

  3. This, though, is a certain sort of test of edupunk philosophy and future. How does small-pieces-loosely-joined (hereafter “SPLJ”) jibe with larger and larger deployments? Could an R1 uni have anything loosely joined across its entire campus? Can large pieces also be loosely joined?

    And on another front, why does Power need to allow you to do the work? Why not find the interested minds at the other campuses and work with them directly? (I’m not so naive as to think that’s easy, but . . .)

    Maybe the university of the future is a set of official universities and the permeable-boundary, shadow universities of SPLJ. The samizdat of edge technologies and methods becomes reason for some applicants to choose one school over another. “Oh, you got into UVA? That’s cool. I did too, but I want to go to UMW because I get more freedom, but I also get to collab with people at UVA and Tech.” (Though why anyone wants anything to do with VA Tech is beyond me. Are you out there, Ken Panko?) Same way at a single uni you might be a major in X but get to collab with people in department Y because your SPLJ interests are related.

  4. Reverend says:

    @Luke,
    And for that matter for folks at CUNY and these other institutions to start making no relationships, and re-imagining their networks. I think this is where these installations might be send as gateways into larger university networks that can foster relations that might help institutions re-imagine this space together. So, rock on!

    @Rafael,
    To be clear, this was a working group for a digital humanities initiative, so it doesn’t necessarily reflect a campus-wide initiative. That said, it seems that Sakai has been designed to deal with the enterprise, pre-population of rosters, classes, etc. Much like BlackBoard, it has been designed for very specific LMS/CMS procedures. What this group was expressing was that WPMu as a separate space would provide a whole range of options and possibilities with aggregation, sharing, openness, embedding, etc that just can;t happen in the same ways with Sakai as it stands right now. One of the key differences is that Sakai is Java and that is a complex language which is far harder to quickly develop for. For me it comes down to the fact that these folks are interested a light-weight space that re-imagines some of the teaching and learning capabilities through an easy interface. So, I think the ecology might be changing to some degree if over the last 18 months there is an opening and demand for a tool that is premised on the SPLJ.

    @Trip,
    Yeah, I see your vision and it makes total sense. As for how this gels with EDUPUNk and SPLJ, well I think this group, and a broader demand on campus (I met with over twenty people who are a small part of a larger WP community on campus) actually helped to bring Patrick and I to the campus. In fact, I think the conversation started quite loosely and Sean McCord has worked hard to get the issues on the table for the people who might be able to realize something like this more broadly. This is not to say it is definitely going to happen, but it does suggest that this stuff starts small and can scale if people are excited and if it is approached along the lines of openness and experimentation.

    And if institutions start embracing and imagining some of the possibilities that are concomitant with opening up an d sharing both within and beyond their institution your vision becomes that much more compelling, and the distributed conversation can happen both in and out of institutions. I’m not of the mind the universities are “over” and the new age is coming, I think they need to re-imagine some things, and this is hard—but it’s not impossible. I’m not so concerned about what is and is not EDUPUNk, as much as I am excited about institutions that have a wealth of information and awesome thinkers opening that stuff up and re-imagining the delivery along the lines of a syndication bus so that so many more people can enter and benefit from that conversation. That’s the key, and so many folks at institutions like UVA have much to participate, and more than that, they want to!

    Beyond all that, I was also fortunate enough to be taken on a tour of the original UVA campus and Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece yesterday, and something reminded me of just how embedded we are in ideas at universities and how important it is to circulate them freely while preserving and fostering the tradition of various schools of thought, their rich history, and the permanent revolution that is time and culture. These are unbelievably interesting times we live in, and we have opportunities for re-imagining learning both inside and outside institutions that can change the very fabric of discourse that has traditionally be cutoff from the public. And by discourse I don’t mean the static resources that often get conflated with opened, but the conversation around them.

  5. Sean McCord says:

    Thank you again, Jim (and Patrick), for taking the time to come to UVA and demo for us what you all have been able to do with WPMU. I read your earlier post on Collab and this one before replying, and I think what we’re seeing here is an evolution of both the way we look at platforms, and how we communicate. Collab (UVA’s branding of Sakai) will be very useful in the classroom, but I think it is getting into shallow waters when it also tries to be a blogging and wiki platform. Fortunately, and as you amply demonstrated yesterday, it doesn’t really matter where you host content, as long as you have sites that can openly talk with each other. I can develop content in WordPress or MediaWiki, and use the link tools to display it in Collab, and also use Collab for the authentication piece that allows management of the content. At the risk of talking in clichés, we are literally thinking “outside of the box” because there *is* no box. For a large institution like UVA, this may be a more difficult concept, but I believe that is the direction that content and communication are moving. Thank you for showing us how it can be done.

  6. Those Revolutionary thinkers were an interesting bunch, and traipsing about their haunting places in VA is not a small thing. The SO and I were in C-ville last week visiting my paternal unit and managed to take in Monticello, the Rotunda/Lawn, and Montpelier. These places build in both directions on my questions. On the one hand, how can an institution that celebrates barriers to access (in the forms of secret societies and heavy tradition, much of it exclusionary) really be expected to get on board with removal of those barriers?* On the other hand, Jefferson and Madison were both slaveholders to the end but came up with some really cherce words and structures about liberty.

    Perhaps these merge back together in thinking that large old institutions are pretty good at orating about what everyone should do, but often quite poor at implementing the words.

    @Sean:
    How is UVA in other areas about this sort of indie action? My experience at Yale is that there are a lot of us who have wanted for a long time to work with other groups and are managing to start coalescing ad hoc cells of like-interest people, but the groups are likely to be marginal for some time to come.

    *I say this with a long family history at The University and with a personal history — including current employment — at Yale, an institution that could have the same question applied.

  7. Sean McCord says:

    To answer your question, Trip, I would say that UVA is doing pretty well. The program that I oversee, for example, came about when IT professionals started getting together on their own about 12 years ago, and now the LSP (Local Support Partner) program is recognized by much of the University. Similarly, developers formed their own ad-hoc group 4 or 5 years ago (BeTech) and now have a sandbox on servers supported by the central ITC department (ITC, my employer). I am hoping to bring the same sense of grassroots-to-recognition growth to the insurgent WordPress movement here at UVA.

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