UVU Report on Academic Community Publishing Platform, aka “PortfolioPress”

Executive Summary

“PortfolioPress” is the working name of a Web 2.0 pilot project conducted by the department of Instructional Design, Development and Distance Education (IDDDE) at Utah Valley University (UVU). The project’s aim is to provide an online academic community publishing platform for UVU faculty, students, staff, and clubs to author and aggregate academic, professional, personal, or community content such as portfolios, columns, articles, papers, events, discussions, blogs, and learning materials. Though born out of IDDDE and the online learning needs of Distance Education faculty and students, PortfolioPress is capable of campus-wide usage, and offers many features that can enrich our academic environment. This system complements, and is not redundant with, UVU.edu, UVLink, and Blackboard.

PortfolioPress will leverage Atom/RSS feeds, open APIs, and plug-ins to bring in other UVU system content, as well as content from other Web 2.0 services like Twitter, Facebook, and so on. The system architecture utilizes the widely-popular WordPres MultiUser (WPmu) platform, which is both open source and fully customizable to facilitate modifications, improvements, and expansion of critical features. The PortfolioPress authentication system is integrated with UVU’s Banner student information system to provide consistent and secure user login for UVU community members.

PortfolioPress will allow users to create one or more “sites” on the system. Sites can be used independently, or can aggregate (or be aggregated by) other sites. Aggregation is possible through syndication of Atom/RSS feeds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_syndication), and is bolstered by full searchability of PortfolioPress content through the use of metadata stored through categories and “tagging”.

The PortfolioPress project is supported by the department of IDDDE and a UVU Foundation merit grant (pending). Research and proof-of-concept web sites have been authorized by the UVU Office of IT (July 2009), and the pilot project and its features have been discussed in UVU Web 2.0 committee meetings (Summer 2009). PortfolioPress aims for review by UVU’s Web Advisory Council (WAC) sometime during Fall 2009.

Conceptualization of the PortfolioPress system is based on the successful and exemplary work of Jim Groom of the University of Mary Washington’s UMW Blogs project (see Appendix). Inspired by the examples at UMW Blogs, IDDDE has identified the following critical uses for PortfolioPress:

  • Media-rich portfolios
  • Individual “blogging”; i.e. publishing of articles, columns, papers, stories, journals, creative writing, etc.
  • Collaborative class blogging
  • Aggregation of class blogs or portfolio
  • Group discussions
  • Social networking and integration with Twitter, Facebook, etc.

We will be focusing on the aforementioned 6 critical uses in our pilot case studies. Once proven, PortfolioPress may offer additional uses to the UVU campus community, such as…

  • Group and club news and event publishing
  • Online resumes and CVs
  • Posting class notes or podcasting
  • Publishing committee meeting minutes
  • Sharing open courseware or other open educational resources

    Project Naming

    “PortfolioPress” is the working name for the project, meant to identify just part of its functionality, as well as its ties to the popular WordPress architecture. This name may change before the project leaves pilot, if only to avoid limiting conceptions of the project as portfolios-only.

    The success and stability of PortfolioPress requires usage of subdomain(s) to facilitate system-wide syndication, and thus the pilot project has acquired the subdomain my.uvu.edu through Web Development Services (WDS). Further input from IT, WDS, and WAC may necessitate an alteration in the domain name before the project leaves pilot. Brevity is key to a subdomain, so other possibilities include: on.uvu.edu, us.uvu.edu, our.uvu.edu, is.uvu.edu, etc.

    Institutional Positioning

    Because no web service on campus should be unnecessarily redundant, we have evaluated needs that might be addressed by PortfolioPress, and compared the project to pre-existing UVU systems. We have determined that PortfolioPress does not conflict with …

        … learning management systems (e.g. Blackboard or Moodle). LMSs are closed platforms for conducting private class discussions, assessments, course managment, tracking, grading.
        … UVU.edu, our official, front-facing web site for critical information about the university and its programs.

        … UVlink.uvu.edu, a closed Intranet site for conducting student and employee business.
    Instead, we can think of PortfolioPress as a collection of organically-growing, user-centered open spaces for UVU communities and individuals to share academic content, post info and events, engage in collaboration, and showcase accomplishments.

    Fauluty and Student Involvement During Pilot

    PortfolioPress at UVU grew out of fertile demand by Distance Education faculty for authentic portfolio and blogging services that students both owned and could take with them beyond their tenure at UVU. The requests asked that the system be neither explicitly closed nor time-limited (as most learning management systems are). The system also needed to be easy-to-use, and should be compatible with other popular Web 2.0 services. Based on this input we tested several open source portfolio and blogging systems in late 2008 and 2009, and have chosen WPmu as the pilot system.

    During the pilot phase, several faculty volunteers and a number of students will be using PortfolioPress in class activities and assessments to satisfy specific learning objectives.  Instructional designers on the IDDDE team will advise these faculty on ways they can facilitate contemporary learning theories and achievement of objectives through PortfolioPress. For instance, as part of a personal learning enviornment PortfolioPress can be used to support…

    • information and technology literacy
    • self-forming communities
    • collaboration
    • critical thinking, writing, and reflection
    • learner-centered teaching techniques
    • ownership and personalization of learning
    • information currency
    • engagement with broader populations
    • the practice of life-long learning

    Content and Intellectual Property

    Though PortfolioPress aims to be an open online community that supports the academic freedom of its constituents, we recognize certain concerns in providing publishing rights to individuals using University resources. To avoid problems the system will require users to acknowledge UVU’s Information Technology Usage policy and understand their copyright ownership and responsibilities. Further, the system will support a system whereby readers can “mark as inappropriate” content that may conflict with the IT usage policy or violate copyright. The PortfolioPress system administrator will monitor such reports in a process that evaluates–and possibly shuts down–sites or pages that are thus problematic.

    Costs and Impact on UVU Resources

    The PortfolioPress pilot project is led by Jared Stein of IDDDE, and is
    administered by Paul Nuffer of IT. In the first six months of research
    and development (February 2009 – August 2009), the total staff hours
    spent on PortfolioPress has not exceeded 40 hours. After the system is
    live and in use, we do not expect the project to have significant
    ongoing impact on employee resources.

    The PortfolioPress system uses only free and open source software:
    CentOS, an operating system based on RedHat Enterprise Linux; Apache, a
    popular and robust web server; MySQL, a popular and reliable database
    system; WordPress
    MultiUser (WPmu), the central publishing platform. The system runs on existing IT hardware
    through VM, requiring no out-of-pocket expenditures for software or
    hardware. Future maintenance of PortfolioPress hardware may require
    one-time monies, which may be authorized from grants or IDDDE soft
    funds.

    Because PortfolioPress utilizes LDAP authentication through the UVU Banner system, purchase of a secure certificate (SSL) for the wildcard subdomain is necessary. Funding for this will originate from either grants or IDDDE soft funds.

    Faculty training for use of PortfolioPress can be absorbed by the
    Technology Enhanced Teaching Center as direct instruction. TETC
    Director Marc Hugentobler has agreed that the project would be a boon
    to faculty, and would not significantly impacting TETC resources.
    Student training can be provided through static tutorials,
    documentation, and community assistance.

    Assessment of Pilot

    During the pilot phase Jared Stein will be in close contact with faculty and students, and will track problems, successes, and feature requests. Further, he will promote and test broad-ranging applications of the system for various case studies as indicated above. Finally, utilizing an evaluative rubric based on latest studies of portfolio and blogging systems, Jared intends to conduct an end-of-pilot evaluation based on the results of user interviews and findings. The assessment will be compiled with recommendations to continue, modify, or abandon the pilot project. A successful pilot will provide IDDDE with a much-needed platform for Distance Education teachers and learners, and will allow us to seek on-going support for a live, post-pilot project benefiting the entire UVU community.


    Appendix: Summary Analysis of University of Mary Washington’s Blogs Project

    Jim Groom began the UMW Blogs (http://umwblogs.org/) project in 2007 as a means of providing the UMW campus community with access to an open publishing platform (The UMW Blogs Story: http://bavatuesdays.com/the-umw-blogs-story/). In May of 2009 I interviewed Jim to elicit his insights and experience; this summary analysis is based on that interview and subsequent follow-up conversations conducted via e-mail, blog posts, and Twitter.

    In spite of the project name, UMW Blogs project provides much more than blogging services; current uses of UMW Blogs includes blogs, journals, creative writing, class projects, club event sites, formal and informal discussions, etc (See 10 Ways to Use UMW Blogs: http://umwblogs.org/support/ten-ways-to-use-umw-blogs/). Now in August of 2009 UMW Blogs hosts 2,393 sites, and is used by 40% of the faculty–more than 80 professors–to support over 140 courses. But students, by far, constitute the greatest proportion of the 2,968 users.

    UMW did not utilize in-house IT to host the project web sites, instead choosing an external hosting solution with a dedicated server and nightly backups for a cost of $350 a month. This hosting fee is paid by UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning. Aside from faculty and students who contribute indirectly, Jim Groom is the only UMW staff member working on the project. He estimates that he spends approximately 1 hour per week actually administering the project (http://jimgroom.umwblogs.org/2009/04/13/umw-blogs%E2%80%99-support-stats/).

    UMW Blogs has accomplished several notable modifications of the system to support site-wide syndication, aggregation, and searchability of content (http://jimgroom.umwblogs.org/2009/05/09/building-the-syndication-bus-plugin-ingredients/). Additionally, by utilizing subdomains for individual sites, UMW Blogs allows for use of “domain mapping”, which allows users to point their own, personal web URLs to the UMW Blogs-hosted content. This feature allows faculty and students to manifest their own personal ownership of the site, and supports alumni relations by continuing to provide the hosting service (http://news.umwblogs.org/2009/04/28/umw-blogs-escape-plan/).

    UMW Blogs deals with potentially inappropriate content through a site-wide feed monitored by the system administrator. Users acknowledge the existing campus network systems usage policy before creating their sites; no new policy was needed to regulate this project. To date the project has witnessed little or no unruliness; however, Jim Groom warns that heavy-handed policing of the system would contradict the project’s community-driven purpose, and might threaten it’s success in the long run.