why I'm so proud of UCalgaryBlogs.ca


I wasn't convinced that we needed a "campus blogging platform" here at UCalgary. I'd tried to set up one before, at weblogs.ucalgary.ca , and watched it basically wither on the vine for 3 years. Little activity, except in small bursts when used in a class. Almost no individual involvement or ownership. Not interesting or relevant to anyone.

I'd decided that a "campus blogging platform" was the wrong tack. Why not just send people to other services that provide the software, for free. Services like wordpress.com or edublogs.org or blogger.com or typepad.com etc... They all provide the functionality, hosting, and support, without any intervention by a "campus".

And then, in conversations with people whom I deeply respect, it was pointed out that there are, in fact, good reasons for having the publishing platform managed by the University.

  • community - if everyone has access to the same tool(s) they can build on each other's work more easily
  • support - again, if people are using a common set of tool(s) it's much easier and more effective for us to provide support and strategies for integrating those tools into the activities of teaching and learning
  • ownership - if the platform is hosted by the University, we can guarantee that no corporate entity is going to take it over and change the rules of the game. The license can't change. The fees can't go up. Ads can't find their way onto the blogs...
  • safety - this one is twofold -
    • we need to be able to provide private blogs, where students and faculty can publish content to be seen only to a given audience. This is harder (if not impossible) on services hosted by other organizations.
    • non-US servers. This sounds odd, but if we're going to be compelling our students to publish anything, we can't force them to use services hosted in the States, due to implications of DMCA and Patriot Acts. We need to provide a service that's hosted in Canada, and since there really isn't a big blogging service hosted up here, we need to host our own on campus.

So, taking those into consideration, it became obvious that we needed a great blogging platform to be available on campus. And that weblogs.ucalgary.ca wasn't it. Following in the footsteps of several others, I grabbed a copy of WordPress Multiuser, and installed it on our IT-hosted virtual machine server. I registered ucalgaryblogs.ca - I wanted to use a non ucalgary.ca domain name to avoid issues relating to "quality" of content, as well as "branding" of the website. People need to be able to write anything, and not have the constraints of having to live within the official UCalgary design template.

We set up DNS wildcarding, so people could have their own blog subdomains such as dlnorman.ucalgaryblogs.ca and installed the Domains plugin so people could also use the service for their own custom domains.

And then, I slowly started telling people about it. I didn't expect much to happen, as it was a stealth project. But, pretty much every person that got their hands on it said it was exactly what they needed. They wanted their students to be free to publish, in their own spaces, without the limitations of Blackboard's discussion board.

Faculty appeared to be getting on board, and judging from the activity, students were getting into it as well - at least they weren't rebelling too loudly.

For a portion of Friday afternoon last week, students published 76 blog posts within one hour. We've now got 127 users in the system, publishing to 79 blogs (73 of which are public).

That doesn't sound like much, but for a stealth project with no budget, we've been able to help over 100 people publish content, with over 1000 blog posts published so far, since the service started getting use in September. That ain't half bad :-)


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