This was the biggest DrupalCon yet with over 3,300 people, and a substantial number of them were from Higher Ed. My presentation on how we do Drupal at OSU, was the first day of the conference, so I had people connecting with me the rest of the week to talk about how they are doing Drupal at their school. For the most part we are ahead of most of the other universities I talked with as far as our use of Drupal for our campus websites. Some schools have accomplished more on the technical side of what can be done with Drupal, but do not have the buy in from the majority of campus the way we do. Few schools have been as successful in providing centralized Drupal hosting and development as we have. I attribute this to our partnership with Web Communications. It is clear that the schools in which the IT and Marketing departments have formed good working relationships are the most successful when it comes to providing a high quality unified web experience across the institution.

Another big topic of discussion was in the way Drupal is used, not just in education but everywhere. We call Drupal a content management system, and indeed it is a very powerful content management system, however for the most part we, and others, don’t really take advantage of these capabilities. We tend to use Drupal more as a Web Publishing System, which really is very different. What people have wanted out of Drupal is for it to be like a word processor for the web. People like the wysiwyg tools and the familiar Word-like tool bar. The problem is that the web is not like a printed document. It was a fairly easy leap from print publishing to web publishing when web pages were viewed on desktop systems that provided roughly the same page size as a printed page. We have now irreversibly moved beyond that to where we need to be able to deliver our content to devices of every size and configuration. The old word processor model fails miserably in this new environment. Many of us in web development have strived for years to separate content from presentation. This has become more important now than ever and Drupal can really help with this, but not if we continue to embed HTML markup into our content through the use of a wysiwyg editor. Rather content needs to be managed with metadata that semantically describes what the content is, not how it should look. So we say that a piece of content is an address or a phone number, or a course description, or a an event title, etc. Then we can present the data in the best possible way for whatever device is displaying it. For the web this is still HTML markup, but for other devices it may not be HTML at all.

In working with departments on their websites recently we have been trying to put this more into practice. We still see so many sites where people have hard coded directory information like names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. This data then is  carved in stone in that it is really difficult to keep up-to-date. What we want to do instead is to treat the content as data, and store it in fields, and then use views to present the data in a variety of formats. Drupal is really good at this, but we’re not fully taking advantage of it’s strengths. If we start now we’ll be in a much better position to deal with the next game changing device that comes along and needs to display our web content.

This was a great DrupalCon for OSU. On Wednesday night there were about 15 of us that went out to dinner. We rarely get a chance to socialize like this a work and we really enjoyed it. We vowed to continue building the OSU Drupal community and to include some social gatherings at least every couple of months. We don’t want to have to wait until the next DrupalCon to get together again. So if you work with Drupal, or the web in general. Please join our community group and attend the next meeting. More information is at http://drupal.oregonstate.edu.

At least 12 of us from OSU will be at DrupalCon next week in Portland. This is an exciting opportunity for us to connect with people from all over the world who are involved with Drupal. This year DrupalCon is offering a new track for Government, Non-Profit, and Education. For the first time at DrupalCon there will be sessions devoted to the unique challenges we face as a university, as well as sessions that showcase what some of our peers are doing with Drupal at other institutions. I have the honor of presenting the first of these sessions in which I will discuss how we’ve managed to support such a large scale Drupal environment, and some of the interesting things we are working on. My session has been selected as a featured session – http://portland2013.drupal.org/program/sessions/featured . This really puts the spotlight on OSU as a leader in the Drupal higher-ed community, and extra pressure on me to represent the university in the best possible light. This is a great honor for me and I’ve been working hard to make sure I have a good presentation and that I’m well prepared to give it.

One of the challenges we always face at DrupalCon is to make sure we stay focused on the issues we need to solve here at OSU. This year there will be a lot of sessions devoted to the upcoming release of Drupal 8. Of course we are hard at work on Drupal 7 and still have a long way to go getting our sites onto that version. We know we have to balance our need to stay current and make sure we understand the new things that Drupal 8 brings to the table, with our need to find solutions to the things we’re encountering everyday as we move further into Drupal 7. Fortunately there will be a good mix of sessions that should allow us to do that, and even though there will be much buzz about Drupal 8, we know it will not see wide spread usage for at least two more years.

This will be a busy week, packed with lot’s of learning opportunities, and meetups with people doing the same things we are using Drupal. A couple of us may try and do some blog posts during the week so stay tuned to this spot for updates.


Paul Lieberman
Central Web Services

As we looked at how we would upgrade all of our Drupal 6 sites to Drupal 7 we realized we had a big problem. Big as in over a thousand individual Drupal sites. We have become the victim of our own success in that we made it too easy to create new Drupal sites whenever we received a request, without first asking if a new site was really necessary. Drupal itself scales very well. It can handle much bigger sites than we currently have. By creating so many smaller sites we were actually making it harder for people to get around on our pages because larger sites became fragmented with no global navigation between the various units. It also made it harder for people to share data across sites, which caused unnecessary duplication of data input. Finally it created a lot of administrative overhead for CWS to keep this many sites upgraded.

We made it a strategic direction for Drupal 7 to begin consolidating as many small sites into their parent units as possible. We knew the first issue we would have to face is how to divide up the authoring responsibilities while maintaining ownership for different parts of a site. It turns out one of the reasons we currently have so many sites is because different people are responsible for content creation and wanted to make sure other people would not be able to modify their work. While this problem could easily be solved by just getting some agreements between the various authors on a larger site, we wanted to be able to assure people that we could prevent this possibility through Drupal permissions. We also knew that people wanted the ability for their sites to have some distinctiveness. While all of our Drupal sites adhere to the branding guidelines set forth by Web Communications, there is still room for sites to provide certain characteristics unique to their department or unit. We set out to find a solution for this.

What we came up with is a Drupal module called “Organic Groups”. The organic part does not mean that the groups were grown with abundant amounts of compost, but rather that they are flexible enough so that groups can be configured in a variety of different ways. For example we knew that colleges would need to build groups for their schools, departments, and programs whereas administrative sites would have a variety of working units that will need groups. After some testing we were confident that the Organic Groups module was going to suit our needs and so we started the work of communicating with people about our plan, and get some sites on board.

Central Web Services is a devision of Media Services which is in turn part of Information Services. There are a number of other units under IS including Enterprise Computing Services, Network Servies, and Technology Support services. When we began the task of updating the IS site using Drupal 7 it was agreed that we would consolidate a number of separate websites into the IS site using Organic Groups. The IS site is organized around the services that we provide. Each service is a group. Each group is also part of a service category. We are still in the process of converting all of this to Organic Groups but it looks like its going to work very well.

On the academic side of things we also have been working with the College of Liberal Arts to upgrade and consolidate their sites. We currently have the parent college site in Drupal 7 and are working with them to migrate the departments one a time from the old Drupal 6 sites. For a college the groups map nicely to departments which group into schools. Each department can have it’s own set of rotating features, highlights, directory listing etc. The department and school name also show up as the site name along with the college. Departments can have their own content editors, or and editor can work for several departments. There can also be college wide editors who can help with all of the departments if that is the way they want it.

Art department site name showing the school and college

Department name becomes the main site name, while the College and School names are combined above, with each linking to its respective front page.

Once we have completed CLA and IS we will begin working with other departments to consolidate and upgrade sites to Drupal 7 at an accelerated pace. The end result will be better websites for everybody.

 

vote button with text "primary election ballot opens at 10pm april 9th" and "general election ballot opens at 10pm april 21st"

It all started with a simple question, “Can CWS help us build a website that our student body can use to vote with in our April elections?”

The question, posed by ASOSU Organizing Coordinator, Drew Desilet, came to CWS in mid-February.  “When it came time to look at building or buying a new voting system for the student government elections, it was clear we had two options. We could choose to buy an outside product that came pre-made to someone else’s standards and needs, or we could work with our own CWS partners on campus to build us something to suit our needs.” he explains.

It should be clearly understood that the delivery of a complex, finished website or web application within a two-month timespan is a mighty tall order.  Additionally, there were a few tricky specifications that the site needed to meet, one of which includes the ability to limit the voting population to a specific segment of the OSU community, namely, Corvallis campus students.

Ultimately, the answer given to ASOSU was “Yes, we can.”

It did take a few extraordinary elements to get it up and running on such a short time-line, though:

  • Great customers who provided exceptionally clear specifications
  • A rockstar programmer who didn’t miss a step from the beginning to the end of the project
  • A diligent project manager who smoothly coordinated all those extra things that threaten to derail a web-development project
  • The OSU Drupal profile, combined with the Election module, a special contributed module that can be found at drupal.org

“We’re very pleased with the way this project played out.” states Jean Waters, CWS project manager.  “Using the Election module really helped us get this project up and out in such a short time.  In fact, there are still some really nice features that came with it that we haven’t even had a chance to fully examine yet.”

The Election module is based on a new Drupal 7 concept known as “Entity”.  This is still a fairly new concept to the Drupal team here at CWS, but team member Ricky Middaugh was up to the task. “It was a unique challenge, having to work on something in Drupal that I didn’t know a lot about.” comments Middaugh.  “But I’m really pleased that we were able to provide something useful to OSU.”

And the ASOSU provisioned gift just keeps on giving, explains Jos Accapadi, Associate Director of CWS. “Thanks to ASOSU’s willingness to experiment with us, the groundwork has been done, and now we’ll be able to quickly spin up sites for other political organizations here on campus.”

Desilet agrees. “We’re already working with CWS to make system improvements for future years – mobile capability, streamlined candidate entry, candidate profile pages, and a few other minor changes – the voting system has worked out very well for our needs in the ASOSU, and it’s our hope and plan to continue using it for years to come. It’s a system other groups on the OSU campus, or really even the entire Drupal user base, can use for a voting system in the future. It would be nice to see this used across the university for any type of voting, and make it as common to ONID users as BlackBoard is now, or Gmail is to come.”

The new voting site has already passed the Primary election test, during the week of April 9th – 12th.  “So far we’ve had 2,118 voters run through the system without any hiccups of which to speak. Modifications for us between our first Primary election and our General election were minor, and largely administrative based. Therefore the tool the students will use will look and feel the same as the first time they used it just weeks before, however it will work even better for us as election administrators.” says Desilet.

The site will be ready for use for the General election, starting Sunday, April 21st, at 10 p.m. and running through April 26th.  Voting will be open to Corvallis campus students.  To get there, just go to http://asosu.oregonstate.edu/elections and click the big vote button.

 

 

CWS is happy to present Doug Fir, the latest theme in the OSU Drupal 6 distribution.

the web, table, and phone views of doug fir
Doug Fir – What Responsive Looks Like

Designed by WebComm and engineered by Central Web Services, Doug Fir has been developed similarly to OSU Standard in regards to configurable theme options, integration with Google Analytics, and layout regions, but it sports a fresh, clean look which is consistent with the default theme that will be supplied in our upcoming OSU Drupal 7 distribution.

Using Doug Fir provides us with two distinct advantages:

  • It allows OSU Drupal 6 sites to look like OSU Drupal 7 ones from the front end.  What this means is that you don’t have to panic if you’re not ready to roll into OSU Drupal7, instead you can just easily switch the theme out by following the Switching to Doug Fir instructions found in our CWS Training site. (We realize that sometimes these things can seem tricky.  If, after reading over the instructions, you still feel nervous about making the switch, just submit a Help Ticket to us and we’ll be happy to lend a hand.)
  • The bigger advantage to using Doug Fir lies in the fact that the theme is responsive.  What this means is that the display will automatically adjust, as needed, to fit the screens on your mobile devices.  It doesn’t matter if your device is a tablet or smartphone, the responsiveness of Doug Fir will give you a nicely formatted appearance.

Want to see for yourself how a responsive theme works?  It’s really easy to do.  Just go to a site with a responsive theme and resize the width of your browser window.  You’ll immediately see how the layout responds.  Take a look at a couple of early adopter sites who so graciously assisted us in the development of this theme: OSU Admissions and TAC (Technology Across the Curriculum).

So let’s talk Drupal 7, and some bits and bytes about Drupal in general.  Central Web Services maintains a central Drupal installation.  Like any piece of software, it has multiple versions.  Drupal 5, 6, 7, and 8 which is in development.  The CWS stable version is Drupal 6.  Drupal 5 is no longer supported.  Right now we are getting numerous requests for Drupal 7.

We want to let you all know that we are actively working to get Drupal 7 tested, documented, and functional for the needs of OSU.  Well, why can’t I just get it now, it’s just a download, you ask?  The answer is, while if you were hosting on your own ISP this would be the case, the OSU infrastructure is such that we have to ensure security, reliability as well as integrations with other solutions, such as authentication, themes and modules in use by OSU CWS Drupal sites.  We have a number of concurrent activities happening to make progress toward rolling this out for the University, including actively working on the theme necessary for Drupal 7 (yes we have to rewrite the theme to work for new Drupal versions).  This is in partnership with the rock-star team over in Web Communications.

Now more importantly, what we are trying to do with Drupal 7 is reduce our site footprint and number of individual sites.  Can you believe we have over 400 sites?  That becomes a maintenance and support headache.  With Drupal 7, there will be a new feature called Organic Groups.  This will allow us to have a smaller subset of sites, and areas and departments within the same site but still allow the finer grained control that some of you desire.  With Organic Groups, you will be able to take control of the portion of the site that is your relevant content, and have control so others cannot access that portion of the site as a Drupal administrator to modify something in error.  This is where we want to go and what makes sense for Oregon State University.

So when will this be done?  With Organic Groups, we are in the pilot stage with Information Services, and then we are going to ensure we have it done right by piloting the College of Liberal Arts.  Doing this we will ensure we understand the technology well enough to teach, document, and support it going forward so people are not left out on their own to figure things out.

Individual main colleges in working with Web Communications can look at Drupal 7 with the Doug Fir Theme (the theme that we have available for Drupal 7), and then incorporate changes for Organic Groups as we roll that out.  Science and Liberal Arts main college sites are already in Drupal 7.

Departments however, we will not be rolling out with Drupal 7 at this time, as they are to be incorporated into Organic Groups, working with your colleges, once we roll out Organic Groups.

For those sites that are in Drupal 6 and want to look like the main college sites that are using Drupal 7 Doug Fir, we are working on a version of Doug Fir for Drupal 6.

What is Doug Fir?  So besides being an evergreen confier species, Doug Fir is an OSU responsive Drupal theme.  This means that the site resizes depending on the device that you are on.  Liberal Arts is a good site to see using this theme.

For us it is imperative that we do this right and do not add to the overhead and support it would take to enable OSU.  This is why you might hear us say that we are not providing Drupal 7 to individual sites at this time.

Our rough timeline as of now is:

  • Spring and Summer to test and roll out Organic Groups.
  • Winter:  Migrate Drupal 6 sites to Drupal 7
  • 2014 Drupal 6 moves to maintenance fixes only
  • 2015 End of Life (EOL) Drupal 6

With all of this we are re-architecting the infrastructure, and then we will have Drupal 8 on the Horizon.

We hope this information helps you to be aware of the progress we are making.

 

Case Award Silver Team

No oops, but we did it again.  Add another award winning design and implementation for the category of Overall Website in the CASE VIII 2012 Communication Awards.  Oregon State University proudly brought home the Silver for the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences Website.  If you don’t know by now the work of Web Communications and Central Web Services, you should.  For the Central Web Services team of Sher Fenn, Paul Lieberman and Mauricio Cordoba, congratulations!  Congratulations to Web Communications and CPHHS team members.  It was a truly a team effort and another win-win-win for OSU in its collaborative efforts.  This could not have happened by any of us individually and reflects what comes from working together.

I'm attending DrupalCon Chicago, March 7-10, 2011Oregon State University has representative members at DrupalCon 2011 in Chicago.  The conference is a great way to hear about user experiences, get tips on how people approach development, and new services available that may benefit the University and others.  Central Web Services and Web Communications are attending numerous sessions as we look to determine where to take Drupal sites in the future for OSU.

The conference started out on day 1 with a Drupal music intro form members of Acquia, followed by the key note from Dries Buytaert, who spoke briefly about Drupal 7 and went into the aspects that worked well, and not so well.  This segued to more on the new approach to Drupal 8, and the announcement that development on Drupal 8 opens on March 8th.

There was a slide on the devices and market share of devices over time, and not-so-surprisingly, mobile devices are now in the lead, over desktops and notebooks.  Tablets were also a part of the chart, and it was interesting to see on there, as my view also is that touch technologies will change the face of education, with the proper embrace of it.  Dries stated that if they were to start Drupal now, they would start with mobile devices.  He went on to focus on key initiatives he envisioned for Drupal 8, and that he’ll be looking for leads for the initiatives.  What I liked was the fact that performance was also something they want to put as an up front consideration instead of an afterthought.

Following the keynote, after a lunch session, and a BOF discussion, the day sessions began.  Oh, what’s a BOF?  BOF is Birds of a Feather, and what was done was some rooms opened up to groups of community members to get together to talk about mutual interests.  We participated in the uWEBd BOF for University Web Developers, with representative University individuals sharing experiences and how they use technologies.  I believe we can do more with Universities, such as setting up a common edu git location for all Universities to participate in module development, as an example.  There’s more we can do to collaborate, it’s looking at the right strategy that can benefit many, followed by commitment and then execution.

There were also discussions ongoing with the core team, or those dedicated set of people focused on making the core of drupal moving forward.

Overall a good first day that sparks innovative minds to think about how to do things better, and how to tackle problems in the way things are.