UBC blogs

Raths, D. (2014) An e-portfolio with no limits Campus Technology, March 2

This is an article on a project by the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, that enables all students to create their own academic web presence through the provision of a university-wide blogging platform. The article provides some good examples of student work done through this project, particularly in history. A recent development at UMW has been the creation of a community site that aggregates the activity of the project, including sites created and content published. The article also provides links to similar projects at Emory University and Davidson College.

It should be noted that the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver established UBC Blogs and UBC Wiki several years ago.

UBC Blogs currently has 22,785 members. Go to http://blogs.ubc.ca/support/about/ to see the many different ways UBC Blogs are being used. Choosing any one is invidious, but the first one I came across is an excellent example, UBC student Matthew Kyriakides’ essay on gentrification and social movements in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

While the blog service is aimed at individual students and faculty members, i.e. anyone with a CWL (campus-wide log-in), the wiki enables group contributions:

The UBC Wiki is a shared space for use by students, staff, and faculty at the University of British Columbia. It serves as a course repository, a personal and collaborative work space, a documentation depository, and a growing guide to everything and anything UBC. The information, resources, and links that it contains are created, expanded, and annotated by its users. It is constantly evolving and changing because every member can add to it and edit any page.

A good example of a UBC wiki is Math Exam Resources:

a community project started in March 2012 by graduate students at the UBC Math Department [that] features hints and worked out solutions to past math exams. The goal of the project is to provide an open and free educational resource to undergraduate students taking math courses, with a strong emphasis for first and second year courses. The provided solutions do not simply provide what the answer is, but instead focus on the processes that it takes to solve the problem. The Math Exam Resources wiki offers:

    • Free study tips, hints and detailed solutions to past exams of the Math Department.
    • High quality content written by math graduate students. The content is reviewed and can be updated on the fly with your comments and feedback.
    • The ability to use the discussion pages of any page in this wiki to dialogue with us or with other students about mathematics!

I strongly recommend that you browse the UBC Blogs and Wiki sites in particular to see how social media are being integrated fully with credit-based online learning at UBC. Most UBC courses still use a learning management system that allows for ‘private’ or ‘course only’ communications, but the blogs and wikis open up the courses to the general public who can comment on blogs or participate in wikis. Linking blogs and wikis to particular courses and controlling access through the use of passwords enables a degree of quality control. Usually it is UBC students who are ‘in control’. This is a development of open education that deserves more attention.


  1. Tony,

    Thanks for blogging about the work at UMW, and I have been a huge fan and very much inspired by the work UBC has been doing for years. It’s a shame it doesn’t get more love from the administrators on that campus–Canada needs to rally around their work—it’s truly one of a kind. I can’t think of any campus in North America, and arguably the world, that has a tighter development group doing more to build an integrative, open source publishing platform that outperforms anything you can get in a box. All thanks to the web development team in their Teaching and Learning Technologies group, particularly Novak Rogic, Enej Bajgoric, Scott McMillan, and Brian Lamb—who is now at TRU.

    One small bit of clarification on the UMW piece of this. Alongside UBC, we have been experimenting with UMW Blogs (http://umwblogs.org) since 2007. That has been a truly remarkable space for our campus to explore the implications of integrating the open web into our teaching and learning community. More recently we have gone beyond a campus hosted blog platform, and we’re offering every interested student, faculty, and staff with their own web hosting and domain so that they can setup their own WordPress (as well as scores of other open source applciations like Omeka, Drupal,OwnCLoud, Zen Photo, etc) and install, manage, and truly own it. Or, if that’s not what they want to to, they can map the domain (or a subdomain) on a third party service—including UMW Blogs. We call this Domain of One’s Own (http://umwdomains.com) or umwdomains for short.

    This is a significant move beyond campus-based blogs and wiki services—though by no means does it diminish the value of either of these. We still have scores of faculty using UMW Blogs for course sites, and scores more experimenting with Domain of One’s Own as personal spaces beyond the course. We want every student and faculty member to have their own sandbox, hack their own LAMP stack, and truly have a portfolio they can take with them beyond their time at UMW. Or, decide they don’t want it. We want them to have control over that decision, an as a result start interrogating the web more specifically so that our campus can start engaging in broader discussions about literacy as it pertains to the open web. Our focus (I’m speaking as a representative of the instructional technology group at UMW) has been working with faculty and students to start integrating this into the curriculum more broadly.

    So, the Community site for UMW Domains (http://community.umwdomains.com) site is actually an aggregation of over 800 applications that have been installed and are automatically syndicating on a commodity web hosting service we are running. The exciting thing here is that by doing Domain of One’s Own we also are starting to crack the nut of every one truly getting their own space as part of their university presence, but also can aggregate it back into a central hub to expose the life of the mind by discipline, professor, student, topic, etc. It’s really pretty exciting.

    In short, rather than giving faculty and students a space on our centralized blogging platform, we are giving them a domain and a piece of a shared server to build their own! And it’s working, so far we have 638 domains, and our campus is only a community of 4500. By next year we are hoping to get as many as half our campus experimenting with this space, and fine tuning how an aggregation hub like the community can site can start to make connections and expose possibilities that only the open web can.

    Thanks for the write up here, I am a big fan of your blog, and appreciate featuring work as outmoded as blogs and wikis 😉

    • Thanks for this, Jim – it’s great to know this item got right to the heart of Virginia, and to have your response. Both UMW and UBC are excellent examples of what can be done when a strong Centre for Teaching and Learning Technologies is given the opportunity.

  2. Thank you Tony and Jim for mentioning UBC’s platforms.
    It is your work and philosophy, your efforts to notice things and put them in context that make sense of and validate our work.


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