Drupal For Universities Consortium — Interested? Come to the table!

As initially stated in an earlier post — https://btopro.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/how-to-follow-with-such-incredible-momentum/ — there is growing interest for Drupal in Higher Education and a body of some kind to help with the direction we all take.  The goal of a Consortium (as I see it) isn’t to create a physical product, cost money, or resources in order to get going.  I see the point of such a body is to create a set of standards for how Drupal can and should be deployed in Higher Education.  I’ve deemed the group Drupal for Universities instead of Drupal in Higher Education because of the unique scenarios that we all face in the University sector as a result of our scale and scope.  This isn’t to say that College’s can’t join in, it’s just that the focus will be steered by Larger Universities with a collection of Colleges.

Here are some groups that have expressed interest thus far and I hope to talk to in greater detail with — Arizona State , BYU, Madison Wisconsin, SUNY Empire, PSU (duh).  I also know of several other big schools that are using Drupal who I think would be great to talk to in more detail including VT, MSU, MIT, PIT, CMU just to name a few.  Now is the time to organize and I think some virtual sessions along with the occasional physical one could be of huge benefit to us all.  Currently, there are user groups at many universities which all need to mobilize and get everyone talking about what they’re doing locally.  Here’s some common trends to universities that I think we can standardize on via Drupal:

  • Webroot or Drupal folder organized similarly to how we’ve got things — all virtual, pointing to either a drupal5, drupal6, or drupal7 folder.  This way we can support more then one Drupal version while looking like they’re all coming from the same place (/courses/abc123 — is drupal5 while /courses/new456 — is drupal6)
  • Common Infrastructure starting at Drupal6 with a Virtual Hosting environment not being required but definitely facilitating resource sharing.
  • One site that is capable of scaling and controlling the other sites within that setup (hopefully with expanded functionality to what we currently have available)
  • Naming conventions and best practices for managing scalability issues
  • A common base of modules that everyone agrees are essential to serving education (Views, CCK, WYZIWIG API, Outline Designer, etc)
  • An optional set of modules that most agree are good to have and document what they can be best used for to serve our “clients” (IDs, students, instructors, etc)
  • A website that is a common resource for everyone.  Using the information in https://elearning.psu.edu/drupalineducation/ as a launch pad but then taking the documentation / resource to where ever the Consortium takes it.
  • Resources for how to help grow Drupal user groups locally and how to help others help themselves

There are a multitude of reasons why this could be so helpful to so many but ideally there would be a suite of modules that could be agreed upon need to be created to help foster Drupal in the educational sector and that those projects could be worked on collaboratively across university lines.  I can only develop and maintain so many in a vacuum and I’m sure many out there also have these potential issues going forward to create and maintain essentially proprietary pieces of an open source project.  This can help us avoid the pitfalls of current, closed source LMS / CMS that are embedded into many universities (many names, all closed, all huge).

Grassroots is how this movement is going to take off and it’s how it is currently!  Please, if you feel passionately about Drupal and it’s usage in Higher Ed, pass this link on.  Not just to give me traffic but to drive traffic to this idea and get others on board!  If you’re interested please leave a comment below, re-post / like to it, tweet it.  Grassroots is the best way to spread a movement that has been largely grassroots in it’s spread and popularity.



  1. logicmantra · June 19, 2009

    You know what, pretty good idea. we’d like to see this in Indian universities. Let me know how can I help.

  2. Doug Holton · June 20, 2009

    You’ve made it so narrow you’ve already identified who would participate – those universities who already have widespread drupal adoption. Drupal has been spreading in higher education from the bottom up mostly, not top down from IT departments.

    A simpler idea would just be to have an organization or conference on just drupal in education. Or hold workshops in connection with education conferences like I and others have done. Drupalcon seemed to not be the right audience though.

    • btopro · June 20, 2009

      I just listed some of the people that I’ve been in touch with so it would be inclusive to anyone in higher education. The point of the consortium wouldn’t necessarily spread Drupal in higher edu cause of the reasons you mentioned, it’s already happening. A conference or event held once a year would be a great idea tacked onto a slightly more generic Drupal event then Drupal for Universities but that key players from each university involved could meet up as well.

      The point of the consortium is to narrow the scope to universities because our needs and scale/scope are so different from that of most of the rest of the Drupal in Education community. This way we can all hope to standardize on some things as well as create an entity that holds more clout then any one of the grass-roots units that are typically pushing the platform.

      Criticisms and differing opinions like this would be great to have represented in the consortium since I’m basing most of my ideas off discussions Madison, PSU, and ASU people 🙂

  3. Lin Clark · June 20, 2009

    interestingly, there was just an email that went around to people in the University Web Developers community who had commented on Drupal threads asking if they would want to use a list-serv.

    I recommended that we all use the Drupal for Education group and all use a common tag (like higher education) and then use something like Feed My Inbox to get the feed for that tag sent to our email.

    Whatever the eventual best solution is, we might want to contact those folks too.

  4. John Callahan · June 20, 2009

    Hi Bryan,

    [I’m at the University of Delaware and we’ve adopted Drupal as our web platform for web sites. There are several individual sites from programs or research units and we have more higher level public sites being developed. Integrating Drupal into business systems, learning management systems, we use Sakai, or student information is a completely different subject!]

    Great idea in concept but how it’s implemented is key. The main issue is making the appropriate information more easily found. That means narrowing down some of the more general sites (d.o), groups (Drupal in Ed), email lists (support@d.o), individual institution doc sites (ASU, OSU, many others), and various other resources. I agree that there’s a lot of information in Educational technology circles (w/ Drupal and without) that are not relevant to the needs we’re talking about here.

    I do not think the issue is standardization and I would stay away from that. Using Drupal within a University can be done in many ways, from integrating it into the enterprise IT infrastructure, to smaller research/discussion group sites managed by depts or faculty members, to hiring outside contractors for developing or ISP for hosting the sites, or any type of mix. There are SO many ways people do things and it’s not just based on technological concerns: the personalities of the people involved, funding/economic landscape, and internal political battles. I’ve come from a science background and the more I get involved in the IT world, the more I learn about how things really work. 😉

    No matter what we do, I’d love to common Drupal practices: open to everyone, discussions out to the public, use of d.o/g.do. as much as possible, etc…

    Starting a new Drupal Group might be a very good idea. Maybe call it Drupal for Large Universities as that’s what we’re really talking about, and what may set it apart from many of the discussions at Drupal in Education. Keeping it on g.d.o allows for discussions to be posted to both, and people already have accounts and email subscriptions ready to go.

    Having BOF meetings at larger conferences with Drupal (local DrupalCon local meetups) and general IT and Academic IT conferences (like EDUCAUSE.) Using g.d.o to organize sessions (3 or 4 papers, posters) could easily be done.

    Posting Case Studies to d.o (http://drupal.org/cases) under a special category called “Implementing Drupal in Large Universities” would help. This could describe all types of ways we use Drupal, from technical support to server administration to University branding.

    These above would include examples of how various groups do things. Pages/Discussions written explaining how we tackle certain problems and what’s involved. And we should all be open to share custom code/modules, video technology, recommended external vendors, etc…, rather than trying to set standards.

    I do not think a separate mailing list or web site would be the way to go.

    We could run our own virtual webinars, suing something like GoTo Meeting, Adobe Connect, even DimDim, and many others that larger universities are have licenses for. These could be all day events with presentations throughout the world (need to work on time of day here), weekly IRC chats, or monthly 1-3 hour workshops, or monthly/weekly demonstrations. I know for certain that people (at least around here) would ove to attend virtual presentations about how other universities do implement Drupal and their strategies and experiences.

    Again, using g.d.o to organize all of this would be perfect. There are many other ideas; I’ve posted just a few. There’s a lot we can do with the existing technological infrastructure. It takes effort to coordinate and willingness to share to make things better. Let’s not try to standardize anything but rather explain what we did, what worked and didn’t work, and offer to help each other.

    If you get to this point, 1300 bonus points to you!

    – John

    • btopro · July 30, 2009

      1300 bonus points go to me! Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, I clearly don’t fully understand wordpress’s comment notification stuff.

      A lot of great feedback and ideas to wade through but I think we’re generally on the same page so let me try to comment specifically…

      “No matter what we do, I’d love to common Drupal practices: open to everyone, discussions out to the public, use of d.o/g.do. as much as possible, etc…” — I’m not advocating standards in the “YOU WILL USE THIS AND DO IT THIS WAY!” so much as let’s share how our architectures work and learn from each other as to what the “best” option is for different use cases. A great discussion at Drupalcamp WI was when to use my multi-site architecture approach and when to use OG and when to use neither. It was informal at the end of a presentation and apparently will be a session at Paris from a panel. That’d be great from an educational context. I still think our multi-site infrastructure is the best underlying option for Drupal sites management, but again that’s something that could win or lose out in a debate amongst many different schools.

      “And we should all be open to share custom code/modules, video technology, recommended external vendors, etc…, rather than trying to set standards.” — I think of standards as best practices since that’s more or less what they are anyway. Best practices sounds a bit squishier for room to change to other “non-standard” things but it’s all the same to me. People ignore standards all the time :). Again things we could work out w/ the consortium.

      “I do not think a separate mailing list or web site would be the way to go. ” — Separate Mailing list no, but I think a website that has mission statement kinda stuff and a central resource of those best practices and other things. This is also to give the movement credibility.

      Love your ideas w/ submitting case studies and the like.
      *Edit – Doy, I didn’t read the first line, -100 pts for me. Delaware,…hmm… that’s pretty close by…

  5. Gary Broyhill · June 21, 2009

    Lenoir-Rhyne University is a small private institution in North Carolina. Our new web site (lr.edu) is Drupal 6.x. I’d like to express my interest in this group. Although LRU is not MIT we might have something to bring to the table, who knows!

    • btopro · July 30, 2009

      Very nice site! I was pointing to MIT more for size / scope rather then brand recognition :). Everyone that has to deal w/ the issues we do will have good input. The scope of our problems may vary place to place but that doesn’t diminish their importance.

  6. Brian Bedard · July 30, 2009

    I am the web development specialist for a masters program at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. I am currently migrating our website to Drupal and I am interested in this idea.

  7. Leo · January 22, 2010

    Definitely interested. Subscribed to your blog for future updates regarding this.

  8. Adam Jensen · March 16, 2010

    Hello! I’d definitely be interested in hearing more about your progress on this.

    I work in the University of North Texas Central Web Support office, and we’ve been working through a lot of these issues over the last few years …in fact, we recently selected Drupal as the official campus CMS and have quite a few individual Drupal sites up and running already.

    We’ve had similar ideas about building a community around university Drupal best practices, and recently launched the Drupal Edu Initiative at http://drupaledu.org …the idea is to provide a centralized clearing-house for articles, resource links, and so forth related to using Drupal in education. We’ve also toyed with putting together a Drupal Edu conference at some point, but the logistics of that are kind of scary 🙂

    All that to say, it’s good to see other folks talking about this …there are a lot of hard questions to answer, and not a lot of standards or guidelines to help along the way.

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