“I’m in a glass case of emotion” (or, on Enterprise Solutions on campus)

Brian Lamb wrote a fantastic post that linked to Martin Weller’s recent post that touches on enterprise-vs-twitter-scale-support.

My synopsis of the important issues:

  1. People are different. They have different needs, different capabilities, different comfort levels, etc… etc…
  2. Institutions are (relatively) good at offering Enterprise Solutions.
  3. Enterprise Solutions kind of suck for individuals, and for small-scale innovation.

My take on this is that the institutions need to provide a “common ground” so all members of a community have access to core services and functionality. The LMS/VLE does that. Not always well, but the intent is to provide everyone with the ability to manage a course online. To do that at the scale of a modern university((there are nearly 40,000 students in various roles at the UofC, including 31,000 undergrads.)) means invoking Enterprise Software. So we get things like Peoplesoft as the Student Information System managing course enrolments and the like. And we get things like Blackboard providing the online course environment. Everyone gets to play. Maybe not in the exact way they’d like, but they’re in the game, and they get support to help them along. This is good.

But it leaves out the smaller scale needs. Where does a prof (or student) go when they want to set up their own website? Craft an ePortfolio that doesn’t fit into the tool provided by the Enterprise Software? Do something that involves colouring outside the lines? We need to be able to provide the means to allow, enable, and support that as much as possible.

So we get things like UCalgaryBlogs, wiki.ucalgary.ca, etc… that start by one person sneaking some software onto a campus server, and kind of letting it grow from there.

But that’s not good. It depends on:

  1. having someone able/willing to do that
  2. that person having the ability to find spots on servers to sneak software
  3. having the good fortune to not get reprimanded for 1. and 2.
  4. having that person never ever leave the university or get sick or die, or all of these little sneaky servers become orphaned

How to provide institutional support for that kind of thing, without having to rely on some things that may not be sustainable? There are already models in place for this. Every web hosting provider on the planet has already solved this problem.

We have an enterprise-class data centre already. All we need to do is implement web hosting functionality akin to Mediatemple etc… Implementation details don’t matter so much. A private campus cloud/grid/cluster? Every member of the campus community gets an account, and can use one-click installers to run whatever is provided, or if they have the ability, they can install whatever software can run on the servers. The metal, OS, and core software would be managed by IT. Support for the core stuff would be relatively straightforward to provide. And the community could support the rest, with the help of IT and others.

And, at the end of a person’s career at the University, they could bundle all of their stuff up and take it with them.

Yes, this totally rips off / builds on the UMW Domain of One’s Own project. They’re doing so many awesome things at that school, we’d be crazy not to model some things after them.

What would the campus web hosting service look like? What kinds of software/platforms would be used? Easy enough to spin up a community process to investigate that…

Enterprise Solutions providing the core services (SIS, LMS/VLE, web hosting), with support provided both centrally, through the campus community, and distributed through The Internet At Large.

Update: A quick napkin-math calculation suggests storage to allow 5GB/user would cost about $1M per year. This is a non-trivial thing to implement…

UofC LMS RFP engagement report

So, this project has taken up the vast majority of my Day Job for the last year or so. We’re finally approaching the point where a decision can be made on which LMS we’ll be using.

I just published our working group’s report on the project website, so we can share the current data with the university community. Long story short, it’s a draw between Canvas and D2L, with further information needed before Those Who Are Higher Up Than I Am can make the decision. Good times.

fourth and inches