UMW’s New Digital Knowledge Center (and my new job)

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything on this site, but this time I can honestly say I think I have a pretty good excuse.

Photo Credit: Andy Rush
The one-of-a-kind ITCC Photo Credit: Andy Rush

This summer, DTLT relocated to a brand-new building, UMW’s Information & Technology Convergence Center. I attended my first meeting about this building in spring of 2008, so it’s fair to say that the opening of this space has been a LONG time coming.

Moving our offices was complicated enough; in addition, DTLT played a pretty large role in helping the building get up and running (and, honestly, we’re still getting some stuff up and running). None of us were really sure what the move would be like and how the new building was going to shake out in the first few months. In the end, I’m glad we didn’t try to imagine what it would be like, because I’m not sure anything would have prepared us for how complex and exhausting the move would be — and how exciting and rewarding. I think it’s fair to say that generally people around campus love the Convergence Center, and we’re thrilled to be just one of the occupants of the building.

The Information Desk (otherwise known as how I spent the first three weeks of the semester) Photo Credit: the amazing Lauren Brumfield
The Information Desk (otherwise known as how I spent the first three weeks of the semester) Photo Credit: the amazing Lauren Brumfield

To make things more complicated for me, personally, the day before classes started we finalized a plan for me to move into a new position at the University running a new center.

The Digital Knowledge Center is a place for UMW students to get peer tutoring on digital projects, and it’s another project that has been many years in the imagining and making. It was originally a QEP proposal that Jeff McClurken and I along with several others worked on in spring 2011. It wasn’t chosen as our University’s QEP, but it is gratifying that three years later our administration believed enough in the idea to find the funding to make it happen.

The Center came about too late for us to work it formally into the design of the new ITCC, but my gracious colleagues agreed to “sacrifice” a planned conference room attached to our office suite so that we could have a physical space for the DKC. The room presents some challenges (particularly sound control when multiple tutorials are happening at once), but I can’t complain. We have a home. :-)


Not the most thrilling picture, but the sign makes us official!
Not the most thrilling picture, but the sign makes us official!

I was also INCREDIBLY lucky to hire six amazing students to start as the first cohort of tutors in the DKC this fall. Several of them started as aides at the ITCC’s Information Desk and then decided to move into the Center when I was ready to start hiring. All of them have taken various classes with Zach Whalen, Jeff McClurken, and Jim Groom over the years, and they come with strong existing technology skills, but,  more importantly, with a natural curiosity for learning new things and and the instincts for helping others to use technology.

I’ve felt, perhaps more than ever before, like I’m building the airplane while in flight this semester. Ideally, we would have finalized the details of the Center last spring and I would have spent this summer developing a training curriculum, hiring and training tutors, and generally, preparing to administer and manage the Center. I have strong type A tendencies, and the drawback is that sometimes I want to organize, administer, and prepare more than is healthy. The lesson this fall for me has been that in the chaos of the building opening, switching jobs, and trying to get the Center running, I’ve still managed to land in a place where I think we’re on a solid road to offering a great new service to students — and have lucked into finding a great group of students to begin this journey with me. I’m not sure that it could have turned out much better if I HAD had the luxury of months of preparation and planning.

The tutors started working on September 29th, so we’re just finishing up the fourth operational week of the Center. For the first three weeks I was relatively quiet about the new service, wanting to give the tutors some time to get trained on a few things that they were unfamiliar with. During that time, I worked with my colleagues in DTLT to reach out to faculty whom they were working with to extend targeted invitations for students to come in for tutoring on specific projects. But after a few weeks of watching the tutors begin to offer the service to this bounded group, I realized that I was being over-protective. There was no real reason to avoid announcing the Center more broadly.

It is the end of the day, so everyone is gone. The tutors have decorated for Halloween, which explains the spiderwebs.
It is the end of the day, so everyone is gone. The tutors have decorated for Halloween, which explains the spiderwebs.

So this Monday I sent out an email to all UMW faculty, inviting them to share information about the Center with their students. Next week it will get announced more broadly to all students in a campus newsletter. Tutorials have been gradually picking up, and just this week (after talking with the tutors) we added two new tutorial  “types” for Zotero and Google Drive.

One thing that the switch to this new position means for me is that I’m basically moving away from the role of faculty development almost entirely, focusing instead on the student support that comes AFTER that development. It’s a bit jarring to realize what a big change that represents for me and the work that I do, but I’m also incredibly excited about what it means for DTLT more generally to be able to tell faculty that, yes, we do have a place for their students to come and get help — and to believe that we can scale that service to meet the needs of the faculty we work with.

I hope that now as things begin to settle down I’ll be sharing the work of the Center — and what starting a new service like this entails — in this space. Stay tuned.

Sort of a logo, but not.
Sort of a logo, but not.

Remote Comments Plugin (a FWP “AddOn”)

A long time ago, I blogged about some code I had written for ds106 that made it possible to show how many comments had been left on a post that was being syndicated (via FeedWordPress) from elsewhere. The code was pretty simple — it was based on the fact that some feeds (including ones originating from WordPress) pass a parameter called “wfw:commentRSS” which contains the RSS feed of the comments on an individual post. FWP stores this as a custom field for each syndicated post. So, it’s pretty easy to grab that RSS feed URL, fetch the feed, and then count the number of items in it.

When I came up with this technique back in 2011 I implemented it by editing the theme for ds106. Eventually, however, we removed the code. I seem to remember we thought it was impacting performance on the site. Depending on how many posts were displayed on the home page, that was a lot of RSS retrieval that needed to be done before the page could be displayed.

This week, Jim asked me if I could put the code on the site being used for the (awesome, new) Digital Scholars Initiative at UMW. I went ahead and did it, and in doing so I thought perhaps it was time to return to this code and see if I could improve it. Continue reading Remote Comments Plugin (a FWP “AddOn”)

Visualizing & Exposing Domain of One’s Own Activity

Now that Tim and I have successfully built a site at that aggregates the activity of the project, I’ve been focussing my efforts recently on what we can do to visualize and expose that activity. Every site that is created (as long as it uses Installatron to install a Web application) on the server as well as much of the content on those sites (as long as the content is available via RSS feed) is being pulled into the WordPress install that runs Community. That means currently we have information about 800 sites and almost 3000 pieces of content from those sites. For sites, we ask users to self-report the course they’re building it for as well as their “status” (student, faculty, staff). From the course data, we’re able to glean instructor and department. We’re also tagging sites with semester information. Content from these sites is similarly tagged with course, instructor, department, and semester information.

That’s a lot of content to play with, and it’s been fun to develop tools to allow users to explore all of the information.  Continue reading Visualizing & Exposing Domain of One’s Own Activity

A Few Models of Teaching in Domain of One’s Own

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the current status of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project and this prompted UMW’s own Mark Snyder to respond on Twitter:

Which was very nice except that I didn’t really think my post did much to describe ways that faculty could use DoOO in their classes — it was more a rundown of our successes and challenges in getting the project up and running over the last six months. So, I told Mark that I would try and do a post that dealt more specifically with how Domain of One’s Own is being used by faculty in actual classes.

This one is for you Mark — never say I never do anything for you!

Continue reading A Few Models of Teaching in Domain of One’s Own

A Tribute to the Bullpen

Last week, Jim and I presented in Richmond at Open VCU about the experience of teaching #ds106. It was a lot of fun — but talking about #ds106 with Jim is always a lot of fun. We prepared a different kind of presentation, in which we examined the course/community through three different lenses of openness, and we used it as an opportunity to circle through a number of ideas while looking through those various lenses. You can find the presentation here, though I’m told the audio leaves a bit to be desired.  We’ll just have to do it again at some point. :-)

During the Q&A Jeff Nugent of VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence asked a question about how other schools can push forward with the “community design process” that we described as being so critical to the success of #ds106. It’s a good question, and it echoes questions I hear a lot when I speak to others about the successes that we’ve enjoyed at UMW with our work in DTLT. Jeff’s question was specific to a particular aspect of #ds106 that we had brought up in the presentation — the notion that the “course” wasn’t designed by a single person nor was the design process even led by a single person — and my response was what I often say to similar questions which is that a) we’ve enjoyed tremendous success in DTLT over the last decade with projects we’ve worked on and developed, and b) I’m incredibly proud of that work we’ve done, but c) I can honestly say we absolutely never sit down and engineer our project design. Our approach is organic and messy — the projects that have become huge successes have all percolated up naturally through our community, our shared interests, and our individual passions. I spoke to this a bit in my recent post about organic project development.

Continue reading A Tribute to the Bullpen

Six months into Domain of One’s Own

It’s been months since I did my first status report on Domain of One’s Own, and it’s definitely time to revisit the topic. As it turns out, a few weeks ago I completed a interim report about the project to share with our University’s Board of Visitors. So, I actually have spent a fair amount of time over the last month or so considering the first semester of Domain of One’s Own as well as thinking about the next year or so of the project.

Continue reading Six months into Domain of One’s Own

In Defense of Organic Project Development

Over on his blog, Tim is talking about some very exciting work we’re doing with Domain of One’s Own right now, and he’s inspired me to add my own post to the conversation. Tim’s outlined beautifully some of the initial steps we’re taking to build a community space around Domain of One’s Own — a space that can capture information about the various installations that our users are doing in the system, and display that information in ways that allow us to easily filter and expose the work that’s happening. I truly believe we’ve only just begun to imagine what we could do with a space like this, and I can’t say how exciting it is to be working on this with Tim right now.

What I want to talk about specifically is the approach we’ve taken to Domain of One’s Own and how the work we’re doing is informed by that approach.

Continue reading In Defense of Organic Project Development

WordPress as a Data Collection Tool

A few weeks ago (actually, I think it’s more like months at this point), I blogged about publishing my first plugin on the WordPress Repository. I thought I’d take a moment to write about what that plugin is — and the projects I’ve been working on that inspired it.

Making data collection as easy as cheese

Continue reading WordPress as a Data Collection Tool

tales of swimming upstream