By Adam King
The timing for Ohio State Extension couldn’t have been better. The unit was planning to roll out a blog that would continuously update all Extension professionals about the best technology to use in the field and how to apply it, but Extension had yet to determine where to host the blog.
About that time, Ohio State announced it was rolling out U.OSU.EDU, a website platform that gives faculty, staff, students and groups at the university a personal or professional space to create profiles, share digital resources, host class projects or build a collaborative forum.
Jamie Seger, one of four educational technology specialists who is researching and writing for the EdgeU Tech blog (u.osu.edu/extensionedtech), said U.OSU is convenient and university branded and moves Extension away from one-way communication.
“U.OSU is much more efficient than if we were to send all of this information out via emails or post onto a static website — or even publish as a fact sheet — all of which have been used in our organization in the past as a means for disseminating information,” Seger said. “By utilizing a blog to post our info, Extension colleagues also have the option of commenting on our posts to start discussions and ask questions right away.”
EduBlogs, an Austin, Texas, company founded in 2005, hosts the WordPress-style site and works solely with educational entities. Other universities to use its services include Cornell, Stanford, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oregon.
Ohio State pays an annual $8,000 fee, which allows each individual or group to have up to five websites, each with an unlimited number of pages.
There are two limitations. Each site is allowed only up to 10 GB of data (videos should be uploaded to video sharing sites and then the links embedded to save space). And because the site is tied to an Ohio State name.#, individuals won’t be able to continue using U.OSU after leaving the university. All content, though, can easily be exported
into another WordPress site or downloaded.
U.OSU, which officially launched Nov. 12 after beta testing began in September with the College of Arts and Sciences, has attracted more than 700 users who have established more than 2,050 sites. Undergraduate students represent 40 percent of the user base, followed by staff (33 percent), faculty (22 percent) and graduate students (5 percent).
The program is complementary to Ohio State’s Digital First initiative, giving faculty another
way to engage students’ learning using technology.
The College of Arts and Sciences originally self-hosted sites for its faculty. After being inspired by Jim Groom’s presentation “Domain of One’s Own” at Ohio State’s Innovate conference, the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) and the college worked collaboratively to launch U.OSU so the entire university could benefit.
“Once people are familiar with it, they can add aliases, use themes and make it their own,” said Lucy Ramos, senior marketing communications strategist for the ODEE, which is working with Arts and Sciences to manage the program. “But more than just providing a benefit for individuals to push content out, we want to help break down silos across the university and help people discover each other’s content and maybe even initiate interdisciplinary work. There are so many viewpoints you can find without going far from the site.”
Seger said she and Extension’s other educational technology specialists — Teresa Johnson, Heather Gottke and Kimberly Roush — have promoted the EdgeU Tech blog to other extension organizations around the country.
“They’ve begun looking to it as a source of valuable information as well,” Seger said.
Johnson said Extension professionals will enjoy using U.OSU since it allows for more creativity and customization than the unit’s current county website platform.
“U.OSU is the perfect solution for our teams of Extension professionals who want to post information now in a searchable format,” Johnson said.
Though still in its infancy, U.OSU already is planning some key updates to the site this spring. In addition to upgrading to WordPress 3.8, which will add new image gallery features, improved accessibility, responsive design and more, U.OSU is adding a directory that will allow visitors to browse all the sites and customizable themes.
The variety at U.OSU is enormous. One user showcases pictures she takes each day during her jaunt across campus.
Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at the Center for Human Resource Research, blogs at u.osu.edu/zagorsky.1 about “Interesting Ideas in Economics.” He takes everyday questions and applies economic methodology to answer them.
Ramos uses her personal site to inform others of what she’s passionate about: public health.
“For me it’s a way to get a new audience engaged in a topic they might not otherwise have read about,” she said. “I’m enjoying this opportunity, and I like just having my own space where I can experiment.”