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Won’t you come play in the Sandbox with us?

A few years back we received a request to set up a “Sandbox server” for educational technology types in BC. The idea was to create a space for innovation and experimentation, someplace where our system partners could try out new educational technologies with ideally less hassle in getting them installed if they did it themselves, and ideally in a way that helped identify potential synergies in the system for new shared services.

We set up a Sandbox server that was specifically focused on trying out new LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP-PERL-PYTHON, an open source stack very commonly used by Open Source developers, a key element we are wishing to explore with the system.) With the original group tried out a process for moderating requests that used the crowdsourcing/voting site UserVoice. But this didn’t seem to go over that well. Whether it was the process, the demand or the time of year wasn’t clear. In any case, we didn’t despair and set out to create another front end to the Sandbox environment, this time in WordPress.

The result can be seen at http://helen.bccampus.ca/. First off – this wordpress install is itself one of the Sandbox apps. You can get a blog on it to try out new plugins and themes at any point. But more interesting is the other applications already installed that you can try out, as well as the process for requesting new apps.

On the page called Other Sandbox Apps you can see the list of applications and utility already installed for you to try out. These currently include:

Many of these are little utilities we already use to stitch together different sites at BCcampus that we’re happy to have others explore. Others, like Mahara, are more fully fledged educational technologies that people have in the past expressed desire to try out.

Which brings us to the big question – how do I get something on the server that is not there. Well, on that same page, we are using the comments area and a simple comment ratings system to surface those apps which seem to have the most demand. Demand across more than a single institution is important to us, as we are always trying to find services that allow for more participants (and this hopefully more sharing of the service.)

If you see an app already listed there that you would like to try, simply add your vote to it. The ones that surface to the top will typically be the ones we try to target first. If the one you want isn’t there, then add it in a comment. Feel free to add any details you think would be helpful for others to know too.

The server is a virtualized RedHat instance. We can easily restore it if something goes wrong, the whole idea of a sandbox. So please, come on in, let’s start trying out new stuff together!

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