What I like about Duke

Image credit: Duke Yearlook’s “General Library”


Seeing Duke University’s Center for Instructional Technology’s (CIT) Showcase emerge in my twitter stream today (hashtag #cit2010) made me nostalgic for my time there last year. And when I injected my two cents into the stream asking about the status of their WPMu pilot, Shawn Miller immediately tweeted back this:

Three presentations about it today: http://bit.ly/9cv2Wn We’re up to 800+ users in ‘pilot’

Over eight hundred users in the first year is, indeed, more than a pilot, and part of me was excited and wanted to take some small amount of credit for the success, but that would make little sense. Reason being is that my nostalgia for Duke University’s CIT Showcase today is tied up with the fact that this is a university that not only has money, prestige, a championship basketball team, as well as some of the nation’s top scholars and researchers, but they also approach things like a WPMu pilot (and just about anything else they seem to do in the edtech field) very intelligently. They brought me in last year because they knew they wanted to start experimenting with “flexible publishing platforms,” and they brought Joel Theirstein of Rice Univesity’s Connexions project  and Micahel Boezi of Flat World Knowledge in as plenary speakers this year to ramp up their exploration of Open Access publishing at Duke.

Fact is, they are right on the mark, by exploring how open and flexible publishing platforms made available to their faculty and students can impact the larger ideas of open access, open content, and open education more generally through a process of capturing and remixing learning content from around an institution like Duke is an extremely powerful, two-pronged approach. Of all the elite schools and Ivies in the US right now, they are the one’s to watch. Paolo Mangiafico has been one of the leading forces for an open access policy, and he is working out of the Provost’s office—he gets the conception and importance of the open education movement from both the highly technical to the abstractly ethical, all the while practicing a necessary pragmatism to see it through. Fact is, we can harp on the failure of institutions all the time—and I often have no problem doing so because the vast majority of them are simply running in Sisyphean circles—but I also think it is important to point out when an institution is doing it right. And from what I have seen and experienced at Duke, I would say they are in the cat bird’s seat.

Why? Well, because their ideas of IT, digital humanities, open education, instructional technology, and research cuts across the campus—they are not segregated into separate spaces to the degree I have seen at other institutions. IT and ICT cross pollinate employees and ideas, and while they have a hardcore group of server admins and security folk, they use that to enable innovation rather than rule it out (which is the whole idea!). What’s more the meetings I had with them at a consulting session included folks from a wide range of  disparate departments: Students Affairs, the library, ICT, and IT (an integration across the domain). All the while, the conversations about the technology were informed by its potential for teaching, learning, and publishing. And while the meetings were far more formal than I’m used to (I am a philistine after all), they were thorough, and what’s more—they followed through! A rarity in so many places.

And seeing the groundwork set for a solid, open publishing platform like WPMu at Duke, and then taking the next logical step to promote and push for open licensed and open access publications makes the intersection of teaching, scholarship, and access a more fluid vision of institutional praxis that cuts across so much of the nonsense we see stifling these same attempts elsewhere right now. And all that said, I’m sure Duke is far from perfect, and folks who work there may be saying to themselves as they read this, “If you only knew…” But we can all say that about our given institutions, and what strikes me is that from the outside looking in, Duke is going through a pretty dramatic transformation right now, and I have to believe it can only bolster their reputation that much more.  From my dealings with Duke they are a class act, and what’s more they’re smart with their resources and they are using them to some good effect right now. I really wish more schools would take note of the fact that real planning, strategy, and commitment amongst a solid group of coworkers makes all the difference, rather than simply aping an idea. So that’s what I like about Duke, they are really trying to integrate all these ideas through out the institution, and I have to applaud them for the way they are going about it.

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1 Response to What I like about Duke

  1. Pingback: Scholarly Communications @ Duke » Why Open Access is important to Duke

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