University API Un-conference Debrief

I recently attended a new conference (well new to me anyway) called University API Un-conference. This is the 3rd time it’s run at BYU and is sponsored by the CIO / BYU Enterprise Architects group. They didn’t ask me to write this but in favor of transparency they sponsored me coming out to talk to expose attendees to the ideas driving ELMS, especially in areas of xAPI.

But anyway, I’ve been to plenty of “unconference”-ish events given that Drupal is usually pretty informal, hosting Birds of a Feather (BoF) rooms where anyone can write down a topic and meet informally. Room number, whiteboard, and go. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a facilitator lead unconference!

We started the day writing a brief topic descriptions on big sheets of paper, then we sat in a circle and gave like a 20 second pitch of what our topic idea was. Then we put them up on a board based on room and timeslot we wanted. It was an interesting collaboration and meet and greet in one. There were also ground rules associated with no worrying about who was in your session or how many and also not getting offended if people moved around.

Topics were all over the place. From university API (they have an API-frist architecture that all systems integrate with, it’s pretty incredible in and of itself), “help me learn about API” style working sessions, pet projects, LRS development, Swagger.io documentation talks, Event management APIs, ELMS / OER family of topics; really anything edtech builders it was there. As I expected, there were several past Apereo attendees / member organizations including Duke represented. I figured as much because I felt incredibly comfortable with the audience, people knew how to build things instead of just buy them, and the open culture really creates a vibe not present at some other edu events.

My big take aways:
– Swagger is something I really need to learn more about. BYU has a system similar to the elmsln read the docs integration where documentation can be ingested and replicated in a drupal site (funny, same workflow, same starting point, same endpoint, different bridge code to do it). It would really help us with our Polymer elements long term I think since it’s for building and documenting APIs clearly.
– Tone is incredibly important. During an OER discussion, I mentioned the notion of overthrowing past governence structures (said much more flippently then this even) and someone challenged me as to what I meant by it. She then described what she thought I was saying, which was the same thing basically but sounded way less threatening. This stuff only happen in Open and when all parties are willing to question and be questioned as equals.
– API centered design, several years after being put into practice, is something incredible to behold. Day 1, it can be painful and those painpoints were expressed, but now a few years out it’s rather amazing the kinds of integrations / solutions BYU can craft as a result of this approach.
– The idea of an “event” / “activity” API endpoint is something I’ve never thought of before and something they have working very well (even if it’s early on) at BYU. The idea is that any action that you want to track / report of any kind gets sent to an events endpoint. Anyone can create a type of event / action and supply the data to back it up
– Sovrin – I’ve never heard of it before but Sovrin the technology for global distributed identity (think blockchain but for identifying individuals securely across any solution out there) is a pretty awesome concept that’s gaining some traction. There were several discussions around the idea of Sovrin the technology and Sovereignty as individual student ownership of data and empowering students to be able to take their credentials / skills / badges with them. They are calling this Learner Profile and while it’s still in the early dreaming phases, I understand why we see eye to eye on so many things. Once you start thinking in terms of redecentralization, you can’t unthink it.
– I love hallway / lunch conversations. I met someone who had a PhD in the History of Technology; which is an STS topic that’s right up my alley from my Information Altruism work.
– Get off the island is more then just code – I was able to provide a unique perspective to attendees (and them to me) as a result of my bulk of experiences. Several times I referenced the Writing conference I attended (cause no one there did), Apereo / Sakai work (which I’ve been to and others have / use Sakai so shared experience from multiple perspectives), and being a hard-core Drupal developer when many people were sysops; which gives me a unique perspective from the “inside” of a very different open source community from the open culture of the event. Overall, this really validated that I need attend less Drupal events with people I’m immediately at ease with and instead try and search out these hidden gem events.

Validation
I don’t require it, but wow does it feel good sometimes. It was very nice to be some place with people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me or my work, and have them see the totality of the work our team has been doing (both PSU college centric and ELMS:LN developer centric) and be floored by it. It’s funny, I kept saying how blown away I was with the level of open culture exhibited and the API infrastructure they all were apart of, while at the same time people kept telling me my work was the first sign of a way forward beyond the thinking of the LMS without breaking the student / faculty cognitive load issue of multiple solutions. I had a couple people tell me this was the first tangible example of a NGDLE they had ever seen and I had many long conversations
Other things:
– People are looking for what OERSchema provides but not realizing it. In describing the problem it solves and demo’ing it to a small group they were very impressed with the idea. Always fun to present someone else’s work and have it validated.
– We’re on the right track with Polymer, BYU’s been doing it with different components in the form of straight up webcomponents for some time and have been happy with the results.
– ELMS:LN is maturing to a point that I can present the idea at a high level and delve into the trenches and not have to hide anything along the way

Going forward / Next steps
– Hopefully we can get another voice from Duke to vouch for us to the Open Apereo foundation board of organizations. We need 1 more voice to say ELMSLN should be accepted into their incubation program. This would help the project gain visibility but more importantly provide our community mentorship in what practices we could be doing a better job of with getting people on-boarded and sustain efforts.
– We need to do a better job justifying xAPI in the age of Caliper among some people, but because of our worldview with regards to data (anything is a course, anything an action, anything learning, not just what happens in higher education LMSs) xAPI will always be more flexible. It might be messier, but it’s going to always allow for more flexibility in design over Caliper. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be open to supporting Caliper, but it might be more of a filter that converts xAPI statements into Caliper ones based on skimming off the ELMSLN context properties we’ll mixing into xAPI to extend it.
– Standards all the things; We need to work more on the external tool integration aspect as well as supporting LMS APIs natively. This would be the next step in suggesting this system is higher then the LMS in what it can do and what it’s meant to provide as an ecosystem driven experience.
– Libraries need an OER hub / routing solution: Members of Duke & BYU had an interesting perspective on the OERSchema / Git ingestion workflow for markdown files. What if a library was the curation engine for OER to vet it for quality, and then much like an old library, provided an open bookshelf of sorts that people could checkout the books from. In this connotation, checking out a book would be cloning the repo so now you have a copy. This would allow distribution and help ensure knowledge never dissipates (a critique Michael Collins has of Database driven / single point blogging platforms / silos). OERSchema becomes icing on the cake as it would incentivize faculty to not just tell people to draw from an online text but allow them to legally and easily pull the book apart and remix it into new forms

Overall this was an awesome event and everyone was very approachable. Thank you all so much more having me and I can’t recommend this event enough and hope it comes out East Coast (Duke tossed out the idea of hosting toward the end of the year which I’d be up for coming down to).

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Earthquakes of a Drupal LMS

Based on recent events (and added traffic to my site through search term “Drupal LMS”) I think it’s fair to say that the rumblings of a Drupal LMS are a bit more intense then a year ago. First some other opinions on the subject:

Hack Education

Moodle Discussion board

Add in the fact that Schoology and GoingOn Networks have their own LMS entries that are Drupal based and you might see where this is heading.  Enter the main event and one of three major discussions to come out of Drupalcon in my mind (for education at least): The discussion board on Drupal.org that’s starting to heat up.

There were a lot of discussions at Drupalcon about what it would take to make Drupal a full blown LMS.  Many vendors and organizations in the past have mashed up Drupal and Moodle to get the best of CMS world and best of free LMS world.

The reviews in the room (about 20ish) were mixed as to the result.  It was ok but not great.  There also seemed to be the feeling that the moodle community might be in decline from an outsiders perspective.  Based on the last 24 hours, it would appear that Moodle is about to be at an inflection point in adoption.  Either BB will help bring about the death of Moodle on FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) alone; or the community will continue with an influx of passionate educators and edtech leaders taking the charge.

As some other interesting notes from the shake up worth mentioning:

  • Dr Chuck from Sakai is also going to be involved in getting Blackboard to be promoting that project.  I’m not sure what impact this will have on that project but I know there’s a lot of fear about a project lead of his clout “jumping ship”.  While I don’t view it that way, especially from talking to him in the past, there will still be that perception (FUD)
  • Moodlerooms had a bunch of ex-Angel employees; funny how now suddenly BB isn’t going to be sun setting Angel.  Curious to see if those Angel people who jumped ship once will do so again to other moodle shops.

I also mentioned that there were three important things for Drupal in education as a movement to come out of Drupalcon Denver 2012. The second one was that Drupal in Education Unconferences will now be a yearly thing thanks to FunnyMonkey.  Drupalcon is in Portland next year (Funnymonkey’s hometown) and so the Unconference should be epic!

The last point is something that’s currently in the works and has been active for about six months, just under the radar.  A Drupal in Higher Education UnConsortium which is currently in the process of adopting a charter and more official name.  This un-developer network was announced at Drupalcon Denver and has had about 10 active members that meet monthly and have standards they are working towards to the benefit of all of education.  I’ll have more information about that in the coming weeks.

What I’m really excited about..

I’ve been really excited about the progress I’ve been able to make with the ELMS distribution for the latest version.  To most, it will seem that this has to do with adding functionality and additional stability to the platform.  Those are great, but there’s something far more subtle that I’ve been able to establish in the platform with this version: Something not specific to education.

As I’ve written before, I believe fully that better technologies / frameworks breed better, more sustainable solutions.  As such, it may seem counter-intuitive to put all this effort into something that is inherently non-educational.  I’ve done this to maximize the impact and eyes that can get on the code at all levels.  If this was just something that worked for educators (like Moodle is) then I’d be more or less barring 80% of the community from caring.

While previous versions of ELMS were mired in the context of Courses and Offerings of courses, as of Alpha 6 I’ve been able to break free of these connotations at a code level.  Everything you see with ELMS that makes you think it is specific just to education has been abstracted.  Here’s how:

  • Install Cores – ELMS ships with two install cores as of Alpha 6.  This is mostly just to showcase that it is possible to install the system towards very different purposes off 95% of the same code-base. The Instructional CMS (ICMS) is what was originally being developed towards solely, this will now enable me (or anyone) to develop towards a more collaborative learning environment (CLE) while reusing almost all of the work I’ve done for ICMS.
  • String Overrides – All language that references Courses, Versions, Offerings, and things specific to the ICMS have been written back to a single variable in the database.  The module providing this is called String Overrides and essentially allows you to alter the context of the system’s language globally with a simple form.  ICMS alters this language a little different from CLE, and suddenly we start to have two very different systems.
  • No required Theme – This is a major difference between ELMS and all the current distributions out there. ELMS has no required theme. While it ships with a theme called Cube enabled for the system layer, this and any theme from drupal.org should be able to be used in the mini-sites that are created.  Most of what a system is to people is in the theme layer so this is critical in my mind.
  • Regions – ELMS as a system layer is more of a wrapper on top of traditional Drupal.  This wrapper (provided by a project called Regions) enables the user to do one very important thing: Never have to touch Drupal pages. I think this will take some getting used to for some devs but ultimately it provides much more consistent, touch friendly interface elements that keep people focused on the site without detracting from it.
  • Kit Compliant Features – if functionality works one place it works many.  That’s what Kit packaged Features in Drupal allow you.  It’s like modules and configuration of how to use them all rolled into a simple enable button.  Because ELMS features are kit compliant they will work in the various implementations of ELMS that are going to come down the pipe (ICMS and CLE are the beginning)

It is for these reason that I’m so excited about the potential for the types of systems that ELMS can create.  It also puts my mind to rest knowing that I can swap out the entire connotation of the system on install. This vision is of a picture I’ve had in my head for the better part of a year, driving me slowly to madness :).

I’ll be presenting at Drupalcamp Baltimore Friday on this concept of using one distribution to mutate into many. I think you could reduce the development time of many complex systems as a result of the ELMS code-base.  The code / feature set allows for anything that meets these requirements:

  • There is a wrapper of some kind (parent, or course) that has micro-sites associated to it
  • There is a micro-site (site, or version) that can function also to the same level of flexibility as a full Drupal site

Here are some concepts that I think could be built with ELMS pretty quickly:

  • Popular Blog site dot com – This web service has a User to Blog relationship (ELMS + blog theme + blog + simple aggregators)
  • Popular Survey site dot com – This web service could have a User to Survey or Organization to Surveys relationship (ELMS + Webform)
  • E Portfolio –  1 to 1 Student to slightly different kind of blogging platform (Popular blog site dot com + a few image views)
  • Rubric Management service — Course to Instructor relationship (ELMS + Rubric)
  • Student Club management — Club to website relationship (ELMS + a few themes + features from atrium / commons for collaboration)
  • Asset Management System — Organization to Project relationship (ELMS + few content types to handle media implementation)
  • Traditional LMS – While i wouldn’t recommend this, it’s certainly not far off (ELMS + Quiz + Gradebook + LTI)

I know a few people have asked if this is an LMS platform to which I say, this is about transforming the LMS model.

My 2012 Prediction for EDTech

Many others will give you their predictions for 2012. I am not many others, so I will give you one prediction.  In typical fashion, this will be probably seen as completely over the top, but I never could paint with pastels.

2012 is the year that Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) starts to hollow out the Learning Management System (LMS).

Last year—and flowing into this year—the groundwork and infrastructure has been laid that will bring about the death of the traditional, single point of entry LMS.  I believe that technology standard is something known as  (LTI).

What is LTI?

LTI works essentially the same way Twitter and Facebook do when authorizing other apps to share a login.  Using a standard called OAuth, FB and Twitter are able to generate a secure one-time login time of address that is only valid during the current connection.  In plain English, it’s a secure way of letting you login without creating an account.

LTI brings this same type of security standard to the LMS world.  Site builders can create trusted login relationships between the traditional LMS and toolsets outside the LMS.  This allows you to pass information about students and instructors (and other roles) between systems, creating a seamless experience for the end user. You can then pass someone multiple directions as needed.

LMS (e.g., Canvas) to LMS (e.g., Moodle or Sakai) and, more importantly in my mind, LMS to non-LMS.  Maybe you can understand the next heading when framed with the following context:

  • All major LMS projects (proprietary included) are getting behind LTI;
  • LTI is far less complicated to understand and implement than SCORM; and
  • LTI can easily be implemented in non-LMS systems to bridge them with LMS systems

The Trojan Horse

LTI is how we finally escape the pit of singular system that has boxed up educational experiences for so long.  Why do you think faculty and students always end up utilizing ad-hoc methods to manage and communicate knowledge?  We provide them with tools for drop boxes, they use Flickr. We give them email, they want light-weight chat integration.  We give them forums to structure content, they use Google Docs.

LMSs and the scale they need to be built to, combined with the pace at which universities adopt new systems is a perfect storm scenario.  We constantly are behind the needs of our users, off-the-shelf and custom solutions never meet needs for long or fully satisfy audiences.  It’s not because the tools are poor, it’s because the structure is wrong.

LTI allows instructional designers, instructors, developers and management to think differently about the way they plan and implement learning systems.

A Structured Anarchy Future

Many of my ideas for my original Structured Anarchy post were borne from trends I noticed in the non-edu space with regard to technology; ideas that have turned into my obsession.  LTI/OAuth is the solution to a problem that the corporate/Web 2.0 crowd solved many years ago — pervasive logins across multiple websites / servers.

Students don’t want to have to learn multiple interfaces, yet Google seems to have over a dozen services strung across different addresses and different functions and are very successful.  Have you ever not used Google maps because the interface was strikingly different from Gmail? I realize I’m just pinging on Google, but Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft and many others are doing similar things.

Ultimately, you need to make a focused Web service; do something REALLY well; create project teams to sustain development for it and then feed users to it; create a singular method of login; make the experience seamless or reduce it to a “click to connect to {XYZ};” and provide standard UX / UI elements.

Personal Learning Environments

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the suite-of-tools approach to learning systems designed to minimize the LMS.  Look, we need an LMS/central system (at least until this gets wider implementation) —it’s just the role of that system needs to be far more minimalist.

An instructor wants to create a blog for their course. Let’s provide them with the best tool possible. Name the LMS that handles blogging well, please. (while I don’t support using this) WordPress comes to mind for blogging.

An instructional designer wants to create an e-text that’s separate from the LMS because it’s mostly static content. Name the LMS that handles content really well. Hence the need for an Instructional Content Management System.

An instructor wants their students to have a conversation around video / audio assignments.  Name the LMS doing that well.  I’m told they are getting better at it but will they ever be youtube or a youtube clone?

Students want to collaborative work in teams and manage their project.  LMSs project group spaces and areas for document management, but do they come close to Google Docs, Basecamp, or Atrium?

Now, rubrics, gradebooks, email communication…I’ll leave these to the LMS.  Social interaction on the Internet is changing at light speed, while university and college infrastructure was built to house knowledge in a similar form for decades at a time.  It’s time for a change.  Universities and colleges need to transform or fade away.

An old adage is that college is an experience, and that many people are paying for that experience.  As that experience becomes increasingly more digital, let’s build systems that can help provide the best experiences possible.

If only there was a system positioning itself as part of the learning platform revolution…

Creating a distributed OER App Store

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.

Image Provided by Development Seed

Image from Development Seed

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.

Distributed Feature Server

Visualization of a Drupal ecosystem

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.

ELMS App Store visual

ELMS App Store Visual at a University

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.

btopro's OER Hub

btopro's OER Hub

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.

Decoupling for maximal impact

I apologize for not writing much recently.  It’s not that there isn’t momentum behind the ideas I’m typically talking about here, it’s that development has accelerated.  Right now I’m in the process of decoupling ELMS for the next release of the platform.  This is critical to the success of the platform because:

  • Any time you use a system that you know is open and it has Feature XYZ; you immediately get irritated if you can’t have that functionality without hacking it back out
  • ELMS support and sustainability model is very decentralized (as it always will be)
  • Most of the functionality of elms can be applicable to any Drupal site / system (and should be)
  • I am treating ELMS as a consumer of Drupal, not the author of a new Drupal (huh?)

What am I referring to?  Here are the five modules released in the last week:

ELMS Decoupling

Reusable components

Any time you use a system that you know is open and it has Feature XYZ; you immediately get irritated if you can’t have that functionality without hacking it back out
Yesterday I released four modules to the Drupal community by simply packaging the code differently.  I also wrote an API (Regions) which will be implemented by ELMS three times.  This abstraction will allow other developers to dissect the code more easily and a lot of times simply be able to download the associated module.

ELMS support and sustainability model is very decentralized (as it always will be)
This allows far more sites / users / systems to utilize these components as they are things I’ve found lacking from the current Drupal community code base.  It also improves the long term sustainability of the project as the level of transparency has always proven to lead to better / improved solutions.  If I can get 100 sites using the Spaces Theme module (outside of the scope of ELMS) that’s potentially 100 extra sets of eyes on the code or people that could potentially help out.  While I understand the levels of participation are always less then that we will have paid nothing for that additional help if just 1 person helps audit code by proxy.

Most of the functionality of elms can be applicable to any Drupal site / system (and should be)
I’ve been writing everything to NOT be course centric.  Functionality has been packaged into many Features.  Features are sustainable code development packages which package code and configuration together.  This way when someone says “How did you build that Commenting engine?” I can point them to our Feature-Server to download the Reactions Feature.  They turn Reactions on in their site (and Regions if they want it to look and feel the same way) and now their system has all that functionality.

This is following something called the Kit specification, though I might be going a bit overboard with it.  There are 4 Features currently (you can think of them as modules if you want) that should be compatible or nearly compatible with Open Atrium, EduGlu, AtriumED, Open Scholar and any other platform that follows the Kit specification.  I keep talking about the reusability a lot but that’s because I can see ahead of where the community is now to where it will be in the near future; this is going to be the norm soon.

I am treating ELMS as a consumer of Drupal, not the author of a new Drupal (huh?)
While ELMS is a platform being developed for a singular purpose (support the e-Learning Institute’s Course Delivery and Authoring needs); it has been designed unit agnostic.  This follows my personal philosophy of why we chose to build on Drupal instead of Moodle.  Don’t force the technology to define your context and don’t allow your context to define the tech.  At the end of the day we are still “just building webpages” and as such all language and infrastructure decision should reflect that.

Don’t interpret that incorrectly, this will meet all the needs we currently have (actually it’s going to create an innovation fast track but that’s for another time); it just isn’t being driven by code specificity.  As an example, user import from a proprietary point of integration has been written using the Feeds module.  This sticks to Drupal best practices and allows for the creation of minor helper modules (Feeds RID Map) which simply extend existing infrastructure to meet needs.
ELMS will meet our requirements but we will effectively be taking a “finished” platform and then extending it to meet our specific needs, not the other way around.

Too often ideas are written for a specific context and then point 1 is reached through hacking functionality back out and the cycle starts again.
If you treat the project as just a website engine (under the hood) but present it as a course management engine on the surface you have a far more robust and flexible platform.  This is mirroring what we’ve done with Drupal in the first place as many people never need to know or care that they are using Drupal.  Change a few pieces of language in a settings page (Thank you String Overrides Module) and only imagine what you can make this platform do. Think in terms of solving problems with “a thing that has many websites associated to it” and suddenly we don’t just have 1 platform, we have an ecosystem of platforms.

No more global success, global failure; this is Structured Anarchy in practice, you create an unstoppable innovation pipeline that can never be shut off.  This will ultimately lead to a lower cost of development (far less time to build new solutions, thanks virtual servers) of any website management framework.  Then it’s 80% experience design, 20% specific integration point.  This isn’t a utopian fantasy, this is starting to happen as of last month.

Drupal is a social movement

I’ve stopped talking about Drupal as the dominant platform recently.  Now it’s not because I don’t feel that it is — even though I’m blogging from WordPress right now I feel that Drupal is the best platform.  But the thing that shines brightest in the Drupal community is just that… the community.

Sure, the hook and alter system are fantastic.  Sure it’s extendable and ultra flexible.  If you really know what you’re doing you can bend Drupal to your will without breaking a darn thing. But none of that would be important without the people who get up and drive the Drupal bus every day.

The people in the above photos are just a few of the thousands who have stood for DrupalCon and Drupal Camp photos over the last many years.  Every event I’ve gone to someone inevitably tries to get a group photo.  Partly I think because they can’t believe the sheer volume of people there, interested in learning about a web development platform.  Now it’s time to spread this community to the education world.

I started a discussion thread on groups.drupal.org recently that seems to have caught some fire and I hope continues to burn (see article Forming a Drupal in Higher Education Consortium).  Drupal already has a major foothold in many universities and colleges but I don’t know that people really understand the scale to which this has taken place.  A recently study by w3techs.com found that:

“Drupal is used by 27.7% of all the websites whose content management system we know and that use .edu as top level domain.” http://w3techs.com/technologies/segmentation/tld-edu-/content_management

So how to best keep this momentum going?  I’ll be putting together a document soon and sharing it with the community about how I think we should be positioning Drupal in higher education. Here are a few of the main points so far:

  • We have seen nation wide budget cuts and need to continue to innovate in the face of tight budgets, increasingly doing more with less
  • Standardizing on Drupal and we can unite staff roles and technology stacks on the web under a common platform.  No other web platform could power websites, intranets, learning management systems, content management systems, knowledge bases, blogs, asset management systems.  Train your staff once, deploy against multiple web projects.
  • Hang out in common IRC channels, unite social media presences under consistent hash tags, as well as form a website that can aggregate to all drupal.{myschool}.edu sites participating in the consortium.
  • Create a list of best practices such as reasons to use certain modules and distributions as well as those recommended for use in education
  • Pay knowledge forward, ultimately we’re all trying to serve the interests of faculty and students so let’s help advance things forward together

I’ll have a more complete document for my vision for what a Drupal in Higher Education Consortium would look like but these are my key thoughts at the moment.  You’ll notice most of them are structured around the people impacted by the world of today as opposed to “views is awesome and drupal is king”.

Drupal is much more then just technology much in the same way that I am much more then just a programmer.

To me, Drupal is an idea that aligns heavily with the fundamental mission of education — empowerment.

Some additional thoughts on this topic