Open.Michigan’s new Drupal platform

The Open.Michigan site has undergone a series of transformations over the last year (some of them behind the scenes and others right under your nose). First, we’ve reorganized the site making it easier for self-learners and educators to find OER content. Next, we provided helpful resources for content creators who want to openly license and share their learning materials. Finally, our website is now running on Drupal —  we decided that the robust, easy-to-maintain Drupal platform was going to provide the best environment given our needs. “And what were those?” you ask? Well, that would take an entirely different blog post. But for now, a list of the newness that our end users and staff will see:

  1. DIY resources :: We’ve created a number of do-it-yourself resources to help educators and learners share their own materials. Check out our section on sharing and learn how to unlock your ideas.
  2. Improved navigation :: Three cheers for a navigation bar that remains consistent as you move through the site. We put the main site navigation at the top of the content and added the secondary navigation (sub-pages, courses, resources, etc.) on the left. We also have breadcrumbs so you can find your way back through your academic wanderings.
  3. O! E! R! :: We completely rebuilt the component of the site that hosts and publishes our OER. The content now looks better, is easier to navigate, and is easier to search. “What does this all mean?!” I haven’t got a clue, but isn’t it grand? Honestly, this means that users who come to find learning materials on our site will have a much better experience finding them and making use of them.
  4. Search :: The site-wide search is really useful – just try it out in the upper-right corner. It uses Apache SOLR and even handles British English spellings – amazing!
  5. Metadata + RDFa :: Our OER is now easier to find on the Wild Wild Web. For the librarians and web geeks out there, we’ve tried to do a full implementation of RDFa for all of our courses/resources. That means the metadata like the license and title and language of a resource is all embedded in the page code and can be read by machines (as apocalyptic as it sounds, this is actually good). Now we can just point places like OER Commons and DiscoverEd to our site through our RSS feed and they can grab all the information they need.
  6. Contact form :: We have an easier way to contact the team. When was the last time you clicked on a link and it opened Outlook Express or Mac Mail or some odd email application you never use (seriously, don’t we all use the cloud now?)? No more of that quirkiness on our site – we’ve got a handy little form that sends us an email if you have a question. Next up: Olark?
  7. All-in-one :: The majority of the content on Open.Michigan site, excluding our blog and wiki, is now on the same platform. This integration is key for consistency and quick site updates and publishing.
  8. Stability + Performance :: Another critical element of the platform migration: to right the ship and sail her well. With improved software and server performance this upgrade certainly adds robustness to our production-level capabilities. Users will no doubt get a more reliable site. I think this also means certain staff are going to get more sleep at night.
  9. Speedy publishing :: All the end-user features aside, this new platform really helps our publishing process. We’ve managed to cut the publishing effort by 75%! What used to take us 2 hours to publish on our old platform only takes 30 minutes now. This is an incredible time-savings for our staff and means you get to access more content, faster.
  10. Open Source :: Personally, the best part about this platform is that it’s completely open source. We worked with a local development company (Switchback) to create the platform, test it and get it up. Going into the project they understood and supported our motives to make this a product that others in the open education/OER/OCW movement can use and build upon. We’re putting the final touches on the code and then we’ll release it to the public via github (look for an update soon!).

You’ll see more improvements on this Drupal site as time goes on. We already have dreams for content ratings, OpenStudy integration, and social network sharing. If you have other ideas for how the site can be more useful to you, let us know. OER has a lot of possibilities – we just gotta think of ’em >> contact us!

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