500 Open Courses on UMW Blogs

At the beginning of every semester I get a hankering to post something about UMW Blogs. I don’t know why, it has arrived to the point that it’s more like air than technology around campus at this point. We regularly have more than 50 faculty using this platform any given semester as a space to share their teaching out in the open, and after five and a half years of UMW Blogs now  have more than 500 courses on the system (and this doesn’t include courses from the 2007/2008 academic year—we didn’t start tracking them until Fall 08). What’s more, since we started tracking traffic on UMW Blogs in the Fall of 2009 we have had more than five million unique visitors and almost twelve million page views—two million of which came last semester alone.

Five hundred open educational experiences laid bare to the world at large, each one a love letter to the ideal of thinking, sharing, and creating on the open web as part of a public institution. To be clear absolutely clear, a number of those courses have been taught several times, and the courses are uneven to say the least. But that’s part of the experience—it must remain a space for experimentation, and with that comes false starts, mid-stream re-thinking, and, sometimes, abandonment of an experiment gone awry in order to re-group for the next one. Not failure but learning. I want to take a moment to recognize all the awesome faculty, students, and staff at UMW that make this kind of sharing of the work we do possible on a regular basis, you all rock!

UMW Blogs Trusts and Loves You!

Sarah Cunnane, writer for the Times Higher Education blog, recently featured UMW Blogs as one of the rare scholarly publishing platforms for a university community that actually cultivates, encourages, and allows for open publishing by anyone in the UMW community. We are proud of this public display of trust, and rather than resulting in a black eye for the institution it has become a mechanism for highlighting the amazing work of faculty and students alike, as well as bringing attention to the great work we do at UMW on a regular basis.

The discussion around trust and academic blogging platforms was ignited by a post by Mark Smithers on “Blogging and tust in Universities”. He highlighted UMW as a rare example of trust in Higher Education:

Now the question is why aren’t universities doing the same thing? To be fair, there are some very good examples of university blogging environments where numerous members of the university run a blog. One of the best known is the University of Mary Washington blogs site but even this runs from its own domain and not from the UMW main site. These sites, though, are the exception rather than the rule.

Fact is, this is just the beginning of UMW’s experiment with openly sharing the work we do with the world. over the coming academic year our main website, http://umw.edu, which is now running on WordPress will feature more department bogs/sites (see here, here, and here for examples), individual sites/blogs, and cross-fertilize content from specific departments and class sites into the umw.edu space. This open, fishbowl approach to teaching and learning on a university’s website brings a new idea of open engagement to a university’s web presence. UMW’s website is not just a brochure anymore—it is an open educational experience and a resource all at once!

UMW Blogs Upgraded

We have upgraded UMW Blogs to the latest version of WordPress Multi-User, which has been nick-named “Coltrane” after the late, great Jazz musician. This version has a very different user interface on the administrative backend, and it may be a bit confusing at first glance. However, we have documented the whole thing for you in the support section here, so be sure to take a look there if you get lost. Also, if you have any specific issues or questions please contact Jim Groom at 654-1997, or use the contact email form here. Finally, take a look at the video above which provides a quick overview of the latest version of WordPress.


Image of Debra Hydorn's students at Joe DiBella art showThe students in professor Debra Hydorn’s Freshman Seminar EscherMath have created a series of pieces that imagine “the mathematics of art.” They class visited professor Joseph DiBella’s exhibit at UMW’s DuPont Gallery in order to study how he “uses symmetry and pattern to define space, fill space and create borders in and around his works.” After thinking and discussing the way in which art and mathematics intersect, students imagined and created their own pieces as you can see from the fruits of their labor above. Professor Hydorn’s course provides a wonderful example of how a Freshman Seminar might explore the interdisciplinary nature of the arts and sciences in some creative ways–very exciting and inspiring stuff afoot at UMW.

Prof. LaRochelle is bringing Spanish to UMW Blogs in a big way

We don’t have a lifetime achievement award for UMW Blogs yet, but I think professor Jeremy LaRochelle of the Modern Foreign Languages department would certainly be in the running if we did. Over the past four semesters he has been quietly introducing his his courses to this publishing platform as a tool to track their reading reactions, writing skills, and analytical acumen, while encouraging them to give feedback to one another’s thoughts. One of the most impressive elements of prof. LaRochelle’s approach is that he is able to give everyone their own blogging space, yet at the same time encourage solid feedback and commenting across sites, and for anyone who has used a blog for a course you’ll probably agree this is one of the hardest practices to foster.

If you take a look at his seven course blogs spanning four semesters you’ll quickly get an idea of the extent students are encouraged to think and write openly about the work they are doing. Which covers everything from reading environmental literature to working through grammar and composition to writing about ecology in a freshman seminar. Moreover, this collective work is putting a tremendous amount of thought, analysis and discussion about a number of Latin America authors that have little if any other exposure online. His work has been constantly evolving and experimenting with this publishing space, and it was high time it was applauded here. Bravo! Bravo!