A response to `Of OER and Platforms: Five Years Later`

Original post: https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/4892

I didn’t want this to get lost in the comments section but I found this post by David Wiley spot on, especially in his dissection of the LMS in the comments. As long as the LMS is still a dumping ground of stuff as opposed to a link farm out to innovation, it will never be innovation.

My response down in the comments, cleaned up to be a stand alone post:

Hollowing out the LMS is the only road they have towards innovation; if one of those common launch points was an OER provider that could be at least slightly more useful but I agree that when faculty treat their course as more of a website (via Paul Hibbitts GravCMS approach — http://www.hibbittsdesign.org/blog/) it’s the way forward.

Dr. Chuck is working on Tsugi to app-ify the LMS and unbundle it as well, which could make OER proliferation more possible at the system level. In this model, Sakai and other systems are effectively hollowed out *by design* via LTI launches, content item launches, and the items pulled in (innovations) are small decoupled stand alone applications —  https://www.tsugi.org/

I also have my own methodology in the game that sees the LMS fragmented (architecturally) so that policy can be crafted in a way that allows open aspects of course (content) to be open while closed experiences (private student – teacher engagements) can happen securely along side. We are building a self-federated ecosystem meaning any new part of the system can talk to any other new part of the system once it shows up. So we’re always able to account for the NextBigThing (n+1 thinking) in education or build new things the market hasn’t conceived. https://www.elmsln.org/

All three of these approaches are signs of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) which is NOT a product but a mindset and a way of implementing education online, which I think will directly result in greater adoption (or at least production as Open first) of OER. When systems are unbundle, ownership and privacy can be unbundled as well, leading to more robust, reusable solutions.

Speaking of unbundling, make sure to checkout OERSchema which ELMSLN seeks to use as a way of allowing Markdown Files (pure, portable, open by default) from Github to be able to populate and flush out content, interactions and more in ELMSLN (or any system).

Faculty Rising, the next 10 years.

I’ve worked in higher education for nine years now and finally found two blog posts basically sum up every experience everyone has had (but never wanted to write down). The first by Michael Feldstein is titled “What’s Really to Blame for the Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems“. Spoiler alert: The structure of institutions (committees, bureaucracy) is not conducive to purchasing innovative big box solutions (shocking).

The second is by Martin Weller in “IT services – we need to talk“. More spoilers: Faculty are treated like children by an institutional predisposition to IT being the only solution to problems, a stance that in practice is disempowering.

The important thing to get out of the way here is no one in the hierarchy is to blame directly and none is being placed (even if it sounds like it is). This is more a railing against the way systems of governance have manifest and not those that work within them. Think of it in the same way critics of the military industrial complex is blaming the system of people, not soldiers.


It is in reading these two posts that I feel comfortable publishing an idea I’ve had rumbling around that I’ve called DDoSA. Similar to a DDoS (distributed denial of service) in the technical realm, humans can use a a DDoSA to influence the usage of technology within organizations.

The thing I don’t mention in the DDoSA concept, is that it’s actually a better alternative to the lack of recognition that DDoSA are already happening. We just don’t want to admit it or know what to do. What if instead of discouraging “dissent” the better alternative was to encourage it?


Right now, when faculty don’t like options provided by an institution (which is high) what do they do?

The IT establishment: Those damn faculty, we can provide them with what they (mostly) asked for and they aren’t happy so they just do their own thing.

“Rogue” faculty: Those damn IT people, we provide requirements and they don’t meet them so I’m just going to have to use ____ to run my course I guess.

The DDoSA is happening already at every institution in ways that can’t be easily quantified or controlled; it is random and diverse because the deployed solutions at the institution are minimal. Someone does a class poll on google, they use twitter to collect attendance, they require people submit things with an unverified 3rd party service. Why? Is it because they want to break *GASP* policy?! No! It’s because this is the path of least resistance while maximal gains (meeting pedagogy, hoping to improve learner outcomes through experience design).

When IT cedes this point, that they don’t have all the solutions is when we can meet in the middle and more securely encourage sustainable innovation. Currently, the human hierarchy and goals of the individuals are out of alignment with the structure of the organization. The humans are organized loosely in a distributed manner yet are “encouraged” to utilize singular solutions to problems. Because education encourages exploration, innovation and autonomy, autonomous educators pursue innovation which they view as everywhere the institution is not.

The future of institutional deployments

By leveraging automation, virtualization and the structure of our institutions we can start to put humans back into harmony with the organizational structures that have emerged.


Many people, many structures, few solutions

Today (and yesterday)

Let’s start with today. We’ve got a (simplified of course) 3 organizational / institutional checks and balances between the faculty and the LMS / VLE / tools of their choosing.

People at all levels of the hierarchy have had input on the decision and everyone needs to be made reasonably happy. Unfortunately, we’ve all got different (at times competing) visions of uniformity. This conflicts starts to become reflected in the masses being unhappy and turning to other solutions for much of their learner experience (in who knows where).

People are an endless sea of ideas all supposed to unify and rally around a singular solution. This is political parties as well; how’s that working out? Singular vessels for too many ideas.


Unification around college level solutions, few more solutions

Tomorrow (2-3 years)

Let’s remove one level of centralization and replace it with an IT solution; in this case, middleware. The top-level of the institution, in this case centralized management of a singular solution has been replaced with middleware.

In this LMS / VLE future, the solution is one level close to adoption to those adopting. In this future people coalesce around what makes the most sense for their college to use. This is probably in better alignment with the needs of their fellow faculty.

After all, do we teach Arts, Philosophy, Physics and Health all the same in a classroom? Are our classroom environments for these diverse subjects not different based on the needs of that topic?

This isn’t perfect, but it’s a better form of tool selection. By making the solutions college centric, patterns will start to emerge for institutional IT in charge of the middleware. They’ll notice that 4 colleges are utilizing 80% of the same applications and be able to craft automated deployment solutions that help with managing these diverse toolsets.


Faculty cohort groups formed around technology selection, more solutions, less people, less hierarchy.

The next day (4-6 years)

People like control, and crave more of it. We’ve been able previously to meet people in ways that better hit their needs because we’re closer to their problem space. Now working groups for more boutique solutions can arise.

These groups start to break away even within colleges. Specific sciences may not have need for a virtual lab technology that another does. We may find that across colleges there is overlap in needs and that competing virtual lab tech exists.

Duplication, in this instance, is a really good thing. Because now we can have these groups review each other’s usage of the technology and figure out which is “best” (or if something actually is best). We may find that a WordPress vs Drupal dichotomy emerges (where better is in the eye of the beholder based on intricacies in the problem space).

Faculty are in greater control of the solution space because they are finding alignment with smaller teams of cohorts that also utilize the same technology solutions.

Institutional and College level IT can coordinate middleware and remote management solutions to automate much of the roll out and empower faculty to take things further then they could have alone.


Bring your own NGDLE, one solution per person if desired.

The future (7-10 years)

We’ve completely eliminated connotations of institutional, college or departmental “control”. Faculty are effectively LMSs of their own; just as they actually are. If they weren’t experts in a topic with need of tools to facilitate gaining insight into that topic, then what are they doing? They are the source of knowledge that people want, and they need technology for managing the learning to take place. They are the ultimate LMS; something beyond a simple LMS. They form the human side of next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE).

They have fully flipped the technology implementation to be in total control of the learner experience.While today, Hibbitts’ vision of a flipped LMS requires many steps to accomplish and knowledge barriers exist, the future doesn’t have these issues.

Department, Colleges, and Institutional level staff and instructional designers work with faculty to improve this army of LMS-of-ones-own sea of solutions. Powered by open source, and open automation platforms like Jenkins, “control” and order can still be maintained from the institutional side while faculty are at the center of technology selection. They are constructing their technology suite, we are supporting them.

It’s not scary though it is radically different from today. Think of us all more like a mechanic. Most people don’t know how to perform work on their car, that’s why they go to a specialist. Most people can’t improve the horsepower of their car, they go to a specialist. That’s where we fit in. Instructional designers and IT working WITH the faculty directly to create and improve solutions instead of taking the opinion of into account when making decisions. This eliminates the “They just do what they want” mindset because..yea… of course they do, WE want them to do their own thing. It’s no longer us vs. them, it’s WE.

As technology gets more powerful, more automated, more free, and (most importantly) more usable every year; this no longer becomes some absurd vision of what could be, it’s what’s going to happen whether you like it or not. By encouraging redecentralization and admitting that (because of technology) it’s already happening, we can have greater control than if we stand in the way. Allow decentralization to happen, foster it, and you’ll have a seat in influence all those that we empower as part of the societal shift.

It’s the linear and logical progression of things as society orients itself more to blockchain then legacy top-down hierarchies. We all stand to benefit greatly when we stop worrying and get all hands on deck! 🙂

Windows into the future

ELMSLN Tool Builder: Fully automated idea to sustainable, code based innovation, without humans writing code.

Flipped LMS via Grav CMS: Paul Hibbitts LMS managed via Git / version control to use static files and turn them into a site. Once setup, instructors can deploy changes with one click!

tsugi: Dr. Chuck Severance’s PHP framework for creating tools as part of NGDLE.

Spawn: ELMSLN project to automate the creation of a system for automating the setup and management of EC2 deployments.

H5P: A distributed interaction creation platform for engaging, free platform that has free, remixable items that are produced.

Open Curriculum specification: Git based open curriculum specification to allow for getting something more powerful than just OER but creating interoperable OER that can stand up items in LMSs and NGDLEs.

Project Stark: ELMSLN project to envision a wearable, self upgrading, personal, distributed LMS that the owner keeps on them to collect and organize their knowledge. Initial work pictured below:


Project Stark Prototype: Hacked Google Cromebit + USB drive + ELMSLN = Distributed NGDLE of one’s own.


Flipping your conference

Society and the way we learn has been forever changed by archival video, easy and accessible blogging platforms and our ability to obtain information through an unlimited number of sources….once we know what to search for. When joining a community of practice for the first time, I can only imagine how I must have acted when I first joined the one I’m apart of. I recall not participating in events, only going to sessions and then scurrying back home.

I didn’t join a community I simply showed up, it was just work somewhere else.  The next year though I started getting asked to put on birds of a feather talks, and realized that community was everything. Engaging, is everything. everything and everyone.

And so, I feel that we’re over that hump with the community of practice I reside in. Not just me, but a lot of us. We’ve got events and people come to camps / schools of thought; so how do we become more engaging. How do we challenge ourselves as those speaking at camps, and how do we challenge our audience.

We flip the audience and we flip the content of the conference. These are two ideas I’d like to try at a future drupal camp, but honestly I’d like to see them in almost any conference of any kind.

Flipping the lecture

Classroom flipping is common and shown to have great value for many learning styles. So we need to flip the lecture. If you get accepted to present at a camp, you are given the same time slot but you do your presentation and post it ahead of time. This presentation is shorter in length, say 10-20 minutes on a topic. Then, when people come to your session they can ask you questions about the talk and related problem spaces OR, you give them homework so to speak. So if it’s talking about site building, videos showing how to do site building in an environment with directions on how to set this up on Service X, will allow people to come to class and start to work on doing it with the instructor on-hand.

This may require slightly longer in person time, but is more effective then the same person giving the same talks all around the country (for example). It also allows access to the expert (the thing people actually want) while archiving their knowledge so that it can reach a wider audience.

Expert Mentoring

Take 1/2 a day of a conference, morning most likely, and have a sign up. People that are mentors, those presenting and accepted as being experts in the field, challenge that notion. There’s a sign up of X number of attendees per Y number of experts. The mentor then gives hands on advise and works in a small group to help the group actually resolve issues and gain knowledge in the space given their working context.

For example, if I’m the “Performance and scale” guru, I work with 5 to 10 attendees. We briefly discuss common issues that everyone is having, and then anyone that has their work available, we have an open critique / audit of their client work (yes this isn’t possible with everything so don’t bring it up). This takes up the morning of the conference. You then eat lunch as a working group. After lunch, each working group gives a brief talk about issues that had to be resolved and how the mentor was able to help them resolve them. They present this info without the mentor on stage, this is just the attendees telling their stories / outcomes / knowledge gained.

This mirrors what many faculty are trying to do in the classroom with student groups of experts, where the students all focus on different parts of a larger problem space and then teach the rest of the class about their part of the topic after working in small groups.

These are some ideas I’d love to see at conferences / camps in the future, Drupal or not. I think it can lead to better outcomes and a more engaged audience in the short-term. In the long term, I think it promotes the building up of community better then watching people talk at the front of the room while everyone else sits at screens and does other things / zones out after 25 minutes for a 50 min time slot (of varying quality). By promoting community and having more people present on the topics discussed in these breakout mentor sessions, attendees may be more apt to contribute in the future and help promote community sustainability and less burn out.

Live, Open.

This blog has become active again, because I’ve finally finished writing my thesis. Approximately 1 week from today, I will defend my thesis which this blog now takes the title from. The thesis is called Information Altruism, and follows the story of a large organizations fundamental transformation from within. It formulates that through interviews and observations, Tempered Radicals within the organization were able to apply activist techniques to change the organization from within.

4 years ago I had a moment of inspiration while taking a shower. I was wrong. Everything I was doing… was wrong. It wasn’t actually solving the root cause of the issues we are facing; we were simply building another big bucket and we were “right” because it was our bucket.

4 years ago, that inflection point was formed in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t shake it, that years of efforts were only there to help me grow into the developer I would need to be to take on the real battle; the thing I was born to do.

I realized I was wrong and then I made a terrible mistake; I sat on the idea for 2 months. I sat on my new idea, documented it, puzzled it over in my mind endlessly; it started to consume everything I thought about. An infinitely deep web of ideas and systems, interfaces, apis, and methods of structuring systems. This is the thing that would make me rich. I could take this and when work pissed me off one day, oh, they’d see. I’d take my idea and I would change the world, alone.

And then, something amazing happened. The more I became consumed by the idea, the more I realized that it wasn’t my idea, and I’d never change the world alone. I also stopped and thought about money. I like money, I like having enough money, but I don’t love money. And I don’t know anyone that’s been made happy or whole through money alone. So I made one of the most important decisions of my life; I gave the idea away.

I gave it up, I set it free. And in doing so, I found something greater then money. I found Love. I, Love, what I do. I love watching faculty get excited when we tell them we can build anything. I love watching instructional designers get excited about their jobs and the potential for helping faculty teach more effectively through their creations. I love to build systems that help people experience growth and collaborate.

I dropped out of the consumption economy in this way. I didn’t just want another thing that you consumed. Anyone can make money, anyone can throw VC money at someone, steal their efforts and have them sign away their ideals in the name of money and power. These are not the people we remember kindly; the power hungry and the money rich. Innovators, dreamers, and actual, lasting world changers, are not the people buying vaccines and jacking the prices up. They are the ones giving away the formula to liberate mankind of disease as Jonas Salk did with the polio vaccine.

The liberation of education from under the heel of the educational technology industrial complex. We seek the betterment of all humankind. We want to empower people to empower others. To learn, and grow. To build a better tomorrow.

I’m not here to just be another face in the crowd, and I don’t think you are either. You are the most talented, more special, best person in the universe (Lego movie paraphrase). And the best thing you and I can do to make this world a better place is to lay down our arms and unite. Put up your code, give up your war plans, and start actually changing lives instead of just shifting their contractual obligations. When we stop playing by the rules of the game, we are able to change the nature of the “market”. You can’t go into the market to fundamentally change it, you have to seek out how to make it behave differently.

I know why I’m here. It’s to fuel this movement from the inside. Because Products are Ephemeral, Movements are Eternal. As I said, I will not be the one to change the world, we will be. We surround them. We are capable of amazing things, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have an amazing story to tell, and we will continue to write it.

One line at a time, one friend at a time, one dreamer at a time, in dribs and drabs, we will change the world.

Be Jonas Salk my friends. Be someone’s Jonas Salk.

Who’s brand are you building on the “Radio”?

Let’s look at an idea through a fictional conversation

E: We need to market our brand and attract more long term clients?

B: I completely agree, let’s advertise more of the tv, “radio”, social media, everywhere. We just need to give the proper tease to get people to come ask for our services. What do you provide that people can’t get anywhere else?

E: Well, I have 30 years experience in the field, so I’ll be working 1 on 1 with clients to advise them on their portfolio. We could do a 30 second ad that shows the process you’d go through and has lots of great pictures of people happy with their families because they’ve had a secure “finance” situation thanks to talking with me and my team.

B: Hmm.. I’m not sure that’s the approach we want to take. Here, how about this. Instead of showing your services and saying how great individualized attention is with you, the expert, let’s instead have an infomershial. Yeah… I can see it now. People will be more engaged with it because it’ll be longer; AND, you’ll be able to help more of them because instead of putting it on multiple platforms we’ll only put it on “radio”! You know “radio” is the wave of the future and it travels REALLY far, almost globally. Also, people don’t respond well to that happy families thing, they want to learn about how to make more money so they can buy more stuff. So I’m thinking lots of smiling attractive people swimming in money because they listened to your infomercial and then came in to become clients!

E: err, So you want me to change the message to be a longer discussion of finance, in a more watered down way for more people? And just 1 place? Why would we only advertise on 1 location?? And besides that’s not the experience they’d get by coming in to see us, I don’t know how I feel about this plan. We’re about a lot more then just making people money.

B: Just 1 place; oh you make it sound so bad. No silly, it’s got millions of people on it. I don’t know if you know how technology like “radio” works, but you broadcast a message, people pay attention, at scale, and then the money just comes pouring in. And as for your message, we don’t want something representative of what 1 person’s experience is like; we want this to be eye catching, really wow the crowd to hold onto their attention. That’s the only way your going to make the final sale in the end, is if you present a product that blows people away; ignore the fact that it’s not really what you do, you just have to go with the flow.

E: Hmm.. ok, I mean I guess your right. We do things a bit dated around here and I am really worried that we’re missing out on potentially helping people and bringing ourselves more business.

B: Well, to make money you have to spend money; and the best way to do that is to partner with “Buy-in-large” to put your infomercial out to as many people as possible. Then, once the idea.. {cut off}

E: Wait, did you just say partner with “Buy-in-large”?? I thought this was OUR infomercial, why do we need them? And they don’t have experience in the “finance” industry, why should I trust them to get our my message about how great we are at helping individuals with “finance”?

B: You didn’t let me finish. Your clients are here to make money so that they can buy more stuff, “Buy-in-large” is the perfect fit. They sell stuff to people and provide a platform to sell more stuff upon them becoming clients of yours and “Buy-in-large”s.

Also, you can’t do it on your own. I mean this is “radio”, how are we ever going to put something on a “radio” without partnering with an organization of their size. “Buy-in-large” is exactly the kind of group that we want to be affiliated with.

Trust me, if you want this captive audience’s attention and to potentially turn this into a sale down the road, you gotta pair up with “Buy-in-large”.

E: But that doesn’t even make sense. And really, how captive an audience could “radio” possibly have? I mean I hear that there might be millions of people that goto “radio”s but that it rarely converts into paying business; isn’t “radio” more about just getting our name out there? That’s not what I need, we already have a name for ourselves in this industry, I’m just trying to attract a few more perspective clients and show them quickly how I can help them through personalized advise.

B: Ok, if your ever going to make this work you need to drop this notion that you know what your talking about. I mean, you’ve been at this for 30 years; times have changed. People don’t want personalization anymore, they want large, well presented arrangements that they get for free without any potential market applicability.

You have to trust me, I’m the expert and besides, everyone else is doing it. If your going to keep up the perception that you are also good at what you do, your just going to have to swallow your pride a bit and get on “radio” like the rest of them! It’s the only way to survive in the coming years when business is going to get tight.

E: But all I wanted was to put out a quick notice that we exist and that we’ve got great experience for them..

B: Ya well your perspective clients don’t care about that anymore; grow up. The dream is dead. No one wants the path to a better, more complete life; they want money. So just do this so that I can help you succeed!


E is Education

B is Big MOOC

“financial” = education

“Radio” = MOOC

“Buy-in-large” = Any silo’ed MOOC provider

Thoughts that prompted this:

  • When you give away a product that’s of higher quality then what you make people pay for; will that reflect positively or negatively on the institution?
  • When you associate your brand with a large bucket of logos of other brands, does that not say your all the same; forcing you to focus more on brand management then educating?
  • Don’t tell me this is about education. This is about creating an industry to “Appify” and replace higher education, especially faculty (see recent articles about the 
  • Which brand are you building? The platform? The faculty member? The field? or your own?
  • How long can this all last?

These thoughts do not apply specifically to anyone or anything. I’m sure there are great MOOCs out there taught by great instructors.

The LM-essest 1%: Death by IT governance

As with everything, I have nothing to back this up. But anecdotally from faculty and instructional designers I’ve talked to recently, I’d imagine that they love LMSs if they were allowed to change the 1% of the issues that bug them.

For example, if you don’t have the ability to import a rubric and have to enter it manually from a previous system. That 1% capability of the LMS may be so obnoxious that it sours your entire experience. This isn’t really a problem with the LMS, it’s a problem with IT governance and dated policies.

I’d be curious to see the stats on open platforms like Moodle and Canvas when deployed as large central instances vs distributed, smaller ones at college and department levels. I’d imagine that as you get closer and closer to the end users (as far as levels of governance) that perception of quality of the same tool would improve.

I’d do research, but in the age of Singularity, bloated research is dead and gut instinct is the only way to survive. Because structures and institutions won’t change, the LMS community is doomed to a fate of less customers, more requirements. Unless the larger LMS community adopts google-esk, distributed, app-ified, networked services approach to implementation via LTI or lightweight APIs; it will be in a continued state of decline much like the cord-cutters leaching users out of the cable industry.

I think right now the LMS community’s response will be much like cable: you need us, you’ll come back, you’ll never leave, we’ll just raise rates to make up the difference. 4-5 years from now though, they’ll still be saying the same thing and those that get off the sinking LMS ship (now) will be mas money and students ahead of their dinosaur counterparts.

Because they aren’t willing to change their governance or financial model, they will be in a state of staged collapse over the next several years.  The issue at hand is that technology has changed the nature of the way new businesses and ideas can be disseminated and they are still living in the days of brick-and-mortar style buildings that are trying desperately to remain relevant in the “new”-new IT driven economy.

All it will take is a visionary “uber”-like disruption and the entire thing will be threatened; all because the people making the decisions are unable to step back and realize they are the problem.

Getting out of the LMS

I needed something to point to as a way of visualizing what’s in my head and then this post found its way on here.  I’ve been writing extensively about the philosophy that drives much of my decision-making though not always on this site.

I’m always one to snap at people who don’t put words into action so consider this my beginning to walk the walk.  How do we transform educational technology (and education through its usage) when we are typically locked into the FUD of large vendors.

LTI.  As I wrote about at the beginning of the year I see LTI as an increasingly adopted standard that will help bring about the death of the LMS.  So, now that I’ve started to get to test some stuff in Drupal with LTI, diagram and thoroughly war game a plan of attack, here’s what I see being the solution.

The traditional, monolithic LMS

So we have the LMS.  It’s a monster.  They all are, whether they claim to be new and innovative in an open source technology or not.  All present solutions are huge, one bucket representations of education.  This aligns well with the institutional side of education but poorly with the “boots on the ground” view of how education actually happens: completely messy, ad hoc, and organically tailored to each individual (at least when class size allows).

So first, let’s break out of that mindset of 1 system and users being confused by it.  As I type this in WordPress, which I had to login with its own account in an application called Chrome which had to be downloaded and installed on an Operating system that resides on a screen and associated peripherals that I had to figure out how to use… I think you get the point.  You are adapting to what has been presented to you even as you read this, it’s not a big deal.

What is a big deal is pervasive logins and the sharing of data that systems should already know about.  Which leads us to visual two.

Lots of services all talking to each other, knowing enough to keep the UX seamless

We use LTI to get a person over to a system where we have flexibility.  What is assumed by the LMS community is that this is a website / tool for someone to use and interact with in a specialized way.  More important in my mind is making this the new, eventual star of the show in a series of distributed stars.

In this way, you can effectively start to hollow out the LMS and pick up the entire learning experience / interaction and continue it across other services.  I’ll know enough about who someone is to be able to make the right decision or provide a series of options associated to the decision.  We can use LTI both to register new courses in the new system as well as ask existing ones what other services are allowed to be used.  In this example we have four other services that all talk back to the new center.

This methodology is fitting with the Structured Anarchy approach to systems development.  If the UX associated with our online studio tool is degraded over time (which is typical when new shiny things come out), we don’t need to throw out or mess with the service we provide that people like with our instructional flow, course creation tool.  This will also allow us to run different versions of Drupal on different sites and different services, sometimes in a mixed way, without a break in usability.

Data flow is critical to success of any new system once we get it up and running, hence visual three.

All services are separate yet equal in how the central service responds and delivers back to them

This falls somewhere between a Star and Mesh network topology in networked systems design.  We ultimately want to get things to be completely Mesh based where everything is a node and everything is a hub, but this is a good first step for now.

The great thing about using Drupal for the majority of these services is that once we write the connections for 1 type of communication, we have it across all services.  I’m currently building out the Course Information System distribution as the starting point to create your own “online” infrastructure for the new paradigm in edtech development.  I’m working closely with our virtual server contact to ensure that we can deploy each of these services in a well structured multisite’ed way (Drush is awesome).

From there, each subsequent service will be created off of a common core of modules (typically modeled from the Nittany Distribution).  The courses service for examples is being built off of the Massively Open Online Course distribution.  While we’ll use this approach / tool set to deliver to our students internally, we’ll also be able to open things up (a flexibility we currently don’t possess in our existing architecture).

The ELMS distribution is already running in several units.  It along with the related Ulmus distribution will appear as just one service with in this setup.  The nice thing about the way I was developing both of those previously is that much of the code / ideas have been embodied into all other systems I’m building.  This also doesn’t even cover the asset management system that we have serving up media to our courses currently.

As Drupal development has picked up at the university, my ability to scale has increased.  Already module selection and overlapping development efforts that help create better websites has been used to create new features within the platforms discussed previously.

Development in tangentially related projects / modules is always helping improve the user experience and feature set of our platform.  A couple of years ago I was annoyed that more people weren’t getting into the game and it would appear that call has just started to be answered (to tremendous results).

At several points earlier this year I wondered if 2012 would break us or define us; I’m gearing up for a hell of a free and empowering definition.