BCcampus developers committed to building sustainable digital infrastructures

BCcampus is a hub for new and innovative technologies in B.C. and development is our middle name, but much of what you don’t see is behind the curtain so we thought we’d push that back to reveal how we’ve managed to stay current in the ever-changing digital environment. Web development presents many barriers, opportunities and crafty solutions, and as we collectively grow, we need to stay up-to-date and nimble in order to stay innovative, but what exactly does that mean? To find out, we asked several internal BCcampus staff, read what they had to say:

Historically, academic institutions have played a significant role in contributing to the advancement of educational tools and digital infrastructure upon which they rely.

How do you feel this has changed and what are the some of the things institutions are currently doing to reclaim this role?

“In the past several years, many institutions have wisely moved to cloud-based services for infrastructure and software needs. In B.C., this type of move is especially challenging due to our strict privacy laws and the lack of cloud services that reside in Canada. One of the responses to this challenge has been for institutions to develop and host their own applications, or versions of open source applications they have modified to better meet their needs. These smaller development projects are actually where much of the innovation happens. Because the systems being developed and piloted are often for smaller groups within an institution or for small collaborations between institutions (like our OpenEd Tech group’s work), there is a greater ability to innovate, to be agile and to do a better job of specifically meeting teaching and learning needs. Ultimately these systems will scale up, which will involve more complex development and systems integration, or they won’t, but will be fantastic learning experiences we can use for the next project.

One of the best things that’s happening is that teaching and learning has a bigger role in decisions about the functionality of software intended for pedagogical purposes. As technology becomes more ubiquitous in learning environments, this change is essential to ensuring what gets developed actually meets the needs of students and teachers.”Mary Burgess, Executive Director, BCcampus

Working in the EdTech environment, do you feel like academic institutions have an important role to play in innovation? What does that look like to you?

“Academic institutions can, and should play a leading role in educational technology innovation. While there are some key developments and interesting projects in EdTech occurring within institutions, much of the work that is touted as innovative educational technology today often originates from start-ups and corporations who have a very narrow view of education. These companies often have little representation on their development teams from actual educators and, as a result, often deliver technologies that promote efficiency and prescriptive, behaviourist pedagogies over innovation. This often results in slick new technologies designed to solve yesterday’s educational problems, not today’s.

More problematic, many of these new start-ups recognize the real value of their product is not their product, but the data that is generated by their product. So institutions not only end up with educational technology that is built on outdated pedagogies, but, if they are not careful, often end up paying for the product with their student’s data.

Teaching and learning is a core function of our academic institutions. It is their area of expertise. Whenever institutions begin to outsource their core function, as often happens when something as critical as educational technology platforms are made a procurement and not a development process, they run the risk of outsourcing the very thing that they are designed to do.” – Clint Lalonde, Manager, Educational Technologies

What’s the difference between internal web developers vs outsourcing for “tech” solutions?

“Having a web developer on our team that shares the project vision, understands the context and innovates together with our BCcampus team and our project stakeholders, I think we end up with a more holistic approach that supports sustainable development. It certainly plays a major part in our ability to evolve, solve challenges and innovate. For institutions and organizations where web developers are not part of the organizational fabric, they may run the risk of missing out on the continuity and co-design and development that happens as part of a shared vision and likely end up in a reactionary relationship where these specialists are only engaged when something breaks or when a need becomes too great to solve with internal resources.” – Michelle Glubke, Senior Manager, Collaborative Projects

What can you tell us about the developers’ role in the success of the BC Open Textbook Project?

“The developer role in the BC Open Textbook Project is instrumental. Brad Payne developed the Pressbook Textbook plugin which adds functionality to the Pressbooks plugin to make it easier to author textbooks. The textbook plugin has been used around the world by multiple authors.” – Amanda Coolidge, Senior Manager, Open Education

Can you tell us about the value of developers in academia?

“Developers have become vital to academia as post-secondary institutions have embraced educational technologies over the past couple of decades. And BCcampus developers have been at the forefront of developing, upgrading and maintaining many of the tools used by faculty, staff, and students in BC’s post-secondary system. These are tools that enhance teaching and learning, and make collaboration between and among these groups much easier.

In the beginning, our developers were involved in making the delivery of online courses possible, searching for online courses in CoursesBC, allowing students to check how their courses transferred between institutions with MyCreditsBC. Students who relied on submitting an admissions application first through PASBC and then ApplyBC depended on our development team. This was followed by the delivery of electronic transcripts through TranscriptsBC. And of course, work for the Open Textbook Project that makes creating and adapting open textbooks in the authoring platform, Pressbooks, possible.” – Lauri Aesoph, Manager, Open Education

What do you feel is BCcampus’ approach?

“Instead of seeing itself as a passive consumer of technology and the technologists’ mere providers, I see BCcampus playing an active role in the technology that it uses. Internally, BCcampus uses and supports open source solutions like OwnCloud, Rocket.Chat, LimeSurvey, WordPress, Mediawiki, Yourls, and Piwik to name a few. When I think about why it chooses to play an active role, I see similarities to how agency and academic freedom describe some of the benefits of adapting an open textbook — participating in the creation and maintenance of educational technology improves our ability to solve our own institutional problems. I also see similarities between how an open pedagogy would encourage students to contribute to a real-world project (like Wikipedia, or a textbook) and how taking an active role in developing and maintaining open source EdTech benefits more people than just your immediate circle. BCcampus contributes to the development and maintenance of open source projects and everything that BCcampus produces on its own is released under an open source license.” – Brad Payne, Web Developer, Senior Technical Analyst 

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