Bridging Canvas to the Open Web

As I finalized my preparations to leave UMW last Fall I outlined some specific projects that I would be willing to oversee as part of a transitionary role as DTLT hires for my position. Things like server management for UMW Domains and UMW Blogs as well as some development for a media server project we were just getting started on. It was in January as I was packing things up to start my full-time job as Chief Geek at Reclaim Hosting that Mary Kayler and Lisa Ames pulled me aside and outlined an idea they had for a grant that they wanted some help with. My initial instinct was to turn them down gently, after all my time was going to be in extremely short supply and I already had a lot of things I'd be managing in addition to my new role. But as I heard the plan there was no way I could say no.

I had been playing with a drag-and-drop visual editor for WordPress called Beaver Builder just a week earlier and had shown it to folks in the office. Not only was it a pretty slick interface for making the process of creating content in WordPress a seamless front-end experience, but there was a software development kit for building modules that could be used within the plugin. Meanwhile Mary had been hard at work on an initiative her center would be rolling out called The M.O.L.I.E. Initiative, inspired by the work done by the University of Michigan to transform an online course into an immersive experience. Mary is helping faculty at UMW think about how they can take their courses and turn them into epic online experiences for their students and the big overarching question was what the platform would look like for these courses.

A lot of faculty are comfortable using Canvas and many even have a lot of their content in there already. And yet tools like WordPress certainly provide a ton of flexibility that just doesn't exist within Canvas to create experiences like this. The idea they approached me with for the grant was what it might look like to finally bridge the gap between the two and end the zero sum argument once and for all. Utilizing the open API for Canvas and the flexibility of a drag and drop interface we could develop tools that would bring the content out of the walls of Canvas and into a WordPress environment. I put together a video (no sound) of a demo of what that could look like, something as simple as wanting to put together a page as a course roster in WordPress but not reinventing the wheel with registered students already in the LMS.

Today Instructure announced the winners and I'm incredibly excited to see UMW listed among them (see Mary's writeup here). This grant will fund the development of this WordPress plugin to bridge the divide that has stood between these two platforms for so long. In my eyes it's sorely needed and will be a fun challenge to build. It's also wonderful to see the work of Mary's Center for Teaching, Excellence, and Innovation and the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at UMW get recognition for the work they're doing to advance the Open Web. I'm glad to still get to play a part in that work and I can't wait to get started!