For those following the ELMS distribution’s progress, you’ll probably note that I’ve been talking about Features, Kit, and Feature Server A LOT. For those that don’t know about these concepts or need to care (most people) here’s a brief overview.
Features in Drupal are the key to the creation and sustainability of LARGE scale systems. These platforms, like Open Atrium or ELMS, can almost take on a life of their own yet still, at their core, are Drupal.
Features allows developers to not only package code but package configuration. Configuration, while still drastically easier to work with then code, is still difficult because of the high knowledge barrier Drupal has.
Feature Server and Kit allow for the creation of larger ecosystems to crop-up around platforms built on Features. Feature Server is a Drupal site that can allow other Drupal sites to ask it if they are up to date. Whenever you download a module from Drupal.org your drupal module can tell you if its out of date or not. Feature Server essentially allows you to run your own mini-drupal.org.
So what’s the big deal with that? Well, imagine if different universities across the globe setup their own feature servers. You would start to get a picture of Drupal more like what you see on the right. Instead of code being required to live on drupal.org, code can live and be upgradable (and ultimately sustainable) from sources external to drupal.org (like drupal.psu.edu).
Here’s the big “so what”: let’s take this concept one step further. Let’s say we have a platform that makes it easier to assemble learning materials and interaction. This empowers learning designers and instructor communities to (hopefully) build better materials and interactions. Create better tools, dedicate more time to the resource generation and less time fighting the technology. That platform will be built on Drupal Features and Feature server, if you can think of what it might be…
So we have sustainable code and configuration changes, but let’s not stop there.
We’ve already packaged code and configuration at a Drupal level, What’s the next thing to package then? Open Educational Resources. OER has sputtered in recent years because of a lack of sustainability planning with great press but little “what’s in it for me” factor for faculty. This is where ELMS and Features come in. ELMS could be packaged with a “Feature server”-like functionality for broadcasting what OER packages it has on it.
Again though, who cares? Oh, I forgot to mention that Features can package content too! SO, if we map all of these concepts to OER, we now have a sustainable method of passing OER between not just institutions, but directly to distributed learners.
Build something like the Aquia Stack Installer for a one-click installation of ELMS on local machines and suddenly you have a completely distributed system of knowledge produces and consumers. Producers could even broadcast from their local machine if they wanted that they are producing knowledge for consumption (like Kahn Academy). Consumers could go to their favorite knowledge producers and download any OER materials they have to their local ELMS instances.
This will start to create an “App Store” model for OER content or for-pay content for that matter with limited alteration. These ELMS Hubs could be thought of much in the same way you think of TV stations or major aggregator websites of today. All they’re doing is being produced by an individual or group of individuals and you are choosing to consume their content (channels or blog posts or articles or whatever). This way not only major university bodies could pull together a listing of their resources and share them with others, but individuals have a seat at the table as well.
I believe very much in Connectivism knowledge creation and I’d be curious to see what others thoughts are about this concept. Drupal is no longer just some neat tool that you should look into for education, I fully believe this is a major component to saving it. Hopefully when the next release of the platform comes out you’ll start to believe too.