This past summer saw a number of important milestones for Blogs@Baruch, Baruch’s online publishing platform, which we at the Schwartz Institute launched in 2008 as part of a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) initiative. Initially, the idea was to give faculty members an option for teaching on the open web and to offer blogs as occasions for more student writing, particularly for low stakes assignments. In the spirit of WAC, we argued (and still do) that any opportunity students have to write and to receive feedback, is potentially an opportunity for them to grow as writers. Many faculty members did embrace B@B precisely in this way, but it became clear shortly after launch that the system would evolve in ways we didn’t expect. In addition to course blogs, B@B now hosts a broad range of sites including department and program websites, community resource sites for faculty, Z*Port, an e-portfolio system and professional network for MBA students (launching soon), publications (including the Writing Center’s iMagazine, Baruch’s award winning Dollars & $en$e, and the College’s alumni magazine), student projects, the Colege’s last strategic plan, online CVs, and many others.
Early in the summer, we broke 10,000 users and now there are almost 12,000. By all accounts, this makes us one of the biggest and most active academic online publishing communities anywhere. In early August, after about a year of development and planning and all kinds of back and forth with our colleagues at BCTC, we successfully added Active Directory (AD) integration to Blogs@Baruch. This means that Baruch users can now log into and publish on Blogs@Baruch using their Baruch IDs — the IDs they use for all of the College’s other web services (except for BlackBoard, which requires users to open a CUNY Portal account). Users no longer need to create local accounts to use B@B. And finally, as of a few weeks ago, B@B users can now log in to the system using a quick link on the Baruch College homepage — from the same drop-down menu they use to access a number of other essential services including the student information database, the e-roster system, student, faculty and staff email services, Blackboard, and the CUNY Portal.
So why and how is all this important? In this post and the one that follows, I’ll try to make sense of these milestones as they relate to the history, development of Blogs@Baruch as well as to the political and institutional implication of its growth and wide scale adoption at Baruch. First, Active Directory:
While AD integration provides a valuable bit of convenience for users, it is significant in several other ways as well (Luke Waltzer, who ably took the lead on the AD integration project with Tom Harbison and Craig Stone, has already reflected on some of these here, as did Jim Groom in the context of University of Mary Washington’s UMWBlogs). First, this was a very heavy lift that took lots and lots of planning and preparation and an unprecedented collaboration between the Institute and BCTC, which spanned most of the last year. One major challenge was to associate all the unique local accounts with existing Baruch AD accounts. We were able to accomplish this relatively simply thanks to a tremendously useful plugin created for this migration by the one and only Boone Gorges, who was extraordinarily helpful throughout this entire process.
Part of what was valuable about this long process was learning how to work with BCTC. Of course there were bumps in the road, miscommunications and the occasional clash of personalities, but, in the end, we managed to figure out how to work as a team and succeeded in doing something which, let’s face it, is very hard to pull off. That we did manage to pull it off, speaks to the dedication, patience and perseverance of the people involved and bodes very well for future collaborations, of which I hope there wil be many.
AD integration in WordPress at colleges is still a fairly rare thing though becoming more common. While desirable, it is a serious bear. Many institutions, especially those whose instances of WordPress have lots and lots of sites and users opt to not bother with it, partially because the tools for associating local WP users with AD accounts didn’t exist until now. When we first started experimenting with blogging in the curriculum in 2006, AD integration was initially a precondition for BCTC’s full support of the project. After playing around with the only available and very buggy AD integration plugin and after having been pitched by a now defunct Silicon Valley firm which offered to provide AD integration on an enterprise scale for approximately $30,000 for 1,000 users, we recognized AD integration as cost prohibitive and decided to move on without it. Now, not only have we achieved AD integration at very minimal cost but, thanks to Boone’s hard work, have now developed and shared tools that enable other institutions to do what we did with very little or no cost at all.
There has been some talk lately (see the posts by Luke and Jim (as well as the comments)) about the political implications of integrating open source projects like B@B and UMWBlogs, built on free software and borne of an edupunk spirit and a will to democratize ed-tech, with an institution’s official authentication system. I intend to spend some time on this and what it means to finally be able to access B@B from Baruch’s website in my next post. To be continued.