Martha Burtis, instructional technologist extraordinnaire at University of Mary Washington, wrote earlier today about some WordPress development workshops she’ll be leading at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in the upcoming days. She’s responding to my prodding, and in the process, demonstrates with aplomb a few of my central points:
On the overlap between web development and education:
I got into Web design/development years ago because I loved how it allowed me to architect experiences. I got into higher education at the same time because I really do believe that education is one of our society’s highest callings. Blending my passion for education with my passion to craft experiences is basically what drives me […] I believe strongly that the fundamental nature of the code we work with speaks to the values we’re trying to embrace in the practices that our code enables. I love WordPress because it affords me possibilities. It affords me possibilities because it is open.
On how she plans to frame the technical parts of the workshop:
People are always amazed when they find out I studied English as an undergrad. I never quite understand why. Don’t they know that code is poetry? Seriously, I’m going to talk a bit about the relationship between code and poetry — a relationship that I’ve always found fascinating. I’m also going to talk about code as a tool for building experience. Finally, I’m going to talk about the way our values and politics (small “p”) inhabit the code we work with.
Martha illustrates the value that WPedu can bring to the broader free software project. People working with WordPress inside of the university approach their development (design, etc) with a focus on the user, and the benefits that the open nature of the software bring to the user experience. And people from academic backgrounds are trained to reflect critically on the way that software mediates our relationships with the world and with each other. This is a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes be an overcommercialized and results-focused community. Rock on, Martha!
I find Bebop compelling because of what it does, and also because of how it was built. In a nutshell, Bebop is an aggregator for Open Educational Resources, or OERs. ‘OER’ is a term of art among open education folks, referring to learning resources that are available for free use, under an open license. (See OER Commons for a longer definition.) In practice, this can mean anything from videos to lesson plans to games to websites. Bebop is designed to allow members of a BuddyPress community to collect their own OERs from various web services – Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc – for display on their BP profiles. It’s a nice demonstration of how BuddyPress can be used as a tool for aggregating work done elsewhere on the web. It also demonstrates another way in which universities can use a free platform like BuddyPress as a non-commercial, locally hosted home for students and faculty, while recognizing that valuable work happens in spaces not under the university’s control. And from a technical point of view, I like how Bebop uses BP’s Activity component and profile metaphors to creative ends.
Bebop was built as part of a “rapid innovation” project. To put the term “rapid” in context: In the context of universities, projects usually move forward glacially. Getting approval and funding may itself take years, and by the time development begins, the original idea/technology is already obsolete. Bebop, in contrast, was conceived and developed over just a couple of months. It’s great to see these kinds of (relatively) rapid projects happening in universities – they can demonstrate to funders the benefits that come along with a bit of agility and risk and freedom.
If you’re running a BuddyPress installation in a university, you might consider taking Bebop for a spin. Get it from the wordpress.org plugin repo or follow development at Github.