[wp-edu] Making the Case for WP in University Setting
joseph.ugoretz at mhc.cuny.edu
Wed Jul 6 14:45:32 UTC 2011
It's a really good question and I think the idea of collecting experiences to compare and contrast and maybe find some common lessons is a terrific idea.
Our situation here at Macaulay is a bit anomalous, but I'll still be glad to describe it. And I have been involved at least marginally in the planning and implementation of the CUNY Academic Commons, so I'll comment on that, too, with the hope that Matt Gold or Boone or someone with more of a leadership role in the project will jump in and amplify and correct. And I'll challenge Jim Groom to jump in, with his stories, and Luke Waltzer from Baruch with his (very much in progress) stories. Maybe Michael Smith or Michael Cripps can tell us something about how it's gone at York College, too.
Let me start with Macaulay. Because we're a part of a larger university (CUNY) we have some of the same struggles with less-than-cooperative, security-over-usability, enterprise-over-education, philosophies from the IT department that other folks have had. But because we're also a somewhat independent, small, cross-campus unit of that larger university, we can be flexible enough to avoid some of those struggles. We first implemented WordPress in 2008 as an eportfolio platform (adding BuddyPress the next year) and that was really my original vision of what it would be.
But almost immediately, because of the flexibility of the platform, and because of other factors (notably a widespread dissatisfaction among faculty with the university's LMS--Blackboard--and then a long-lasting, unexplained, technical failure of Blackboard access right when classes most needed it), faculty and students began asking to use, or just using, WordPress for all kinds of different purposes. Everything from just the most basic class website use (posting syllabus and schedule and readings) to a full-fledged LMS. From club publications and student newspapers, to study-abroad blogs or poetry or graphic design collaboration sites. And of course for eportfolios, as well.
We avoided some of the issues that worry IT departments by having the install on a separate server, outsourced, and very intentionally NOT linking it to any kind of single-signon, Active Directory, or LDAP. That made things like course-setup and student enrollment in the system a little more difficult...but only a little. And it was a better fit philosophically for what we wanted to accomplish--more of a do-it-yourself ethos where students enroll themselves and manage their own passwords and accounts. All of this happened with a tiny IT staff--basically, for the first year or so, it was me alone. And it's still mainly just me, and not at all my full-time role.
I think the biggest factor that made it a success was that we just did it, got it installed and started, and then let faculty and students start using the system. I did some promotion (and our Instructional Technology Fellows were a big help with this), but the main road to acceptance came from people seeing examples of success and then saying "I want to be part of that. I want to try something like that."
Then there's the case of the CUNY Academic Commons. There we had some degree of official IT acceptance and support right from the beginning, but again it was more a matter of building first, on a separate server not managed by the central IT, not linked to any of their secure systems, and then letting success grow from success. The Commons is a little bit of a different beast because (at least at present) it is generally not open to undergraduate classes or students. It's only for faculty, staff, administrators and graduate students (mostly, I would say, faculty and grad students--which are often the same thing). So that alleviated right from the start some of the concerns that IT departments sometimes have. Like I said, I hope Matt or Boone or someone will give more details about that, but I think the main lesson was a similar kind of DIY and pioneering approach is the way to get started. Not waiting for official permission or sanction, but building a successful system in whatever kind of separate or easily-managed controlled environment you can manage, and then getting the official support later.
It seems you just need to take whatever window or small niche you can find to get going, then you can present to the central IT folks a fait accompli, already working and successful and secure...and with a strong user base in place who would not settle for being told "no." It wasn't a matter of a lone voice in the wilderness: "why can't we have WordPress!" but a chorus of successful users "we are so happy to have WordPress, let's get it more integrated and supported!"
I know that Blogs at Baruch (again, I hope Luke will say more) started small and limited, and now have moved to much wider acceptance and usage and impact in the institution as a whole, and I know that Jim started UMW Blogs on a separate server, a separate hosting account (a .org, in fact, not even an official college site, right Jim?), and it was only after he had the success that he got the official acceptance and welcoming.
You do need (at least) one dedicated, friendly, daring administrator or sponsor right from the start. Someone who's going to either sign off, help out, or at least look the other way. But I honestly think it's OK (maybe even preferable) to start with a slightly outlaw flavor. That may be stating it too strongly--"alternative" might be better than "outlaw."
I don't mean to minimize the political or administrative risks here--that's why it helps to have that high-level sponsor or collaborator. And you do need to be for real about security and privacy and backups and staffing and scalability. You have to know your stuff and have answers for the questions that will come. If things look amateurish or unsafe, or even worse, if they actually are unsafe, you're never going to make a breakthrough.
But I think it is possible, in many institutions, to get past the institutional inertia and caution (some of which is actually reasonable). The spreadsheet Kevin Willarty linked is good evidence of that. If you start a small project, maybe for one department or one area of the college, one place where you can have control and the risks don't seem forbidding, you can definitely grow from there.
I went on too long, here, didn't I? But of course happy to discuss more.
Joseph Ugoretz, PhD
Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning and Technology
Macaulay Honors College - CUNY
35 West 67th St.
New York, NY 10023
On Jul 5, 2011, at 10:08 PM, Alexandre Enkerli wrote:
> Been using WP in diverse contexts, including some of my activities as
> an instructor.
> After talking with diverse people needing advice about Web solutions
> for all sorts of things, I came to the realization that it'd be
> incredibly useful to have a university-supported install of WordPress
> (Multi-Site and hopefully BuddyPress-enabled).
> It's a big institution, so it can be difficult to request such things.
> Actually, the communications department is in the RFP phase of
> implementing a new (commercial) CMS, so energies are spent elsewhere.
> We use Moodle as the main course management system for most of the
> community, though the business school uses FirstClass for the same
> purposes. Many faculty members are dissatisfied with their course
> management system and, clearly, there's a need for something which
> goes beyond individual courses. This is a university with a strong
> involvement in the local community and there are many projects by
> students, staff, and faculty which could use an online space as a kind
> of “university commons”.
> What's more, it'd be interesting to have some people do innovative
> work through WordPress. A dream I have is to use WP as a repository
> for “learning objects”. Such projects can be done independently, but
> they're more interesting if they're hosted on university servers.
> Way back when, universities had “personal homepages”, for all
> affiliated individuals. Why can't we have WP sites and BuddyPress
> Does anyone have advice on getting an academic institution to accept
> WP on their servers? I'll try to prepare a dossier, pointing to work
> done at diverse institutions (good thing Boone paved the way), and
> describing practical cases from faculty initiatives. It even sounds
> like the fear of having sensitive data held off-site could be a
> factor. But any insight as to how such a process went at other
> institutions would be very useful.
> Thank you.
> Alex Enkerli
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