Open Source Web Publishing Platforms Under Development

January 27, 2012

As mentioned in today’s iNews article, IST is leveraging the new IST Drupal Cloud Hosting service to develop solutions that will make it easier for non-technical users to build and maintain websites. We will be launching the Berkeley Scholars service, which will allow faculty to easily construct high-quality academic-centric personal websites. This service is based on the Harvard OpenScholar project. We are also developing a comparable service based on Chapter Three’s Open Academy for campus departments. IST is working closely with Chapter Three and Pantheon to make both services available during the spring 2012 semester. Stay tuned for more information on these and other projects.


Praxis portal supports student learning, collaboration, and networking

February 23, 2010

(Republished from February 23 iNews article)

Rick Jaffe, IST–Data Services

For three years, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor has introduced Berkeley undergraduates to the study of poverty and inequality. Each summer, it has sent them around the world to put that learning into practice and, upon their return home, led them to reflect upon and synthesize their experiences. Now, the Minor — the fastest growing teaching program on campus — has launched an innovative web portal called Praxis to support the work of its students.

Praxis portal thumbnailPraxis offers students Facebook-like functionality with a scholarly bent. Introduced last semester as a component of two courses, the site already serves more than 150 registered users. In Professor Clare Talwalker’s class, The Ethics, Methods and Pragmatics of Global Practice, students preparing for their practice experience, i.e., their fieldwork with a non-governmental organization working to alleviate poverty, use the site to submit and share their assessments of weekly reading assignments. Returning students in Instructor Liz Cretti’s IAS 196 reflection course use it to shape research notes and observations, gathered during their practice experience, into capstone projects.

This is just the start. As program administrators, faculty, and students grow familiar with the technology, they expect to develop new ways to tailor Praxis to their advantage.

Praxis website

Praxis portal thumbnail 2On its homepage (see screenshot), Praxis displays news and information about the Global Poverty and Practice Minor intended to keep students and the public up to date. A grid of profile photos, a tag cloud, and a list of groups help users make their way quickly to their areas of interest. A Google map, a poster gallery, and a video from YouTube show off the scope of the students’ initiative.

Praxis profile thumbnailThe profile page offers an opportunity for academic presentation of self. It’s useful for discovering people with similar interests — or needed expertise. The type of profile information shared on the site conveys its academic orientation. Scholarly writings, photo galleries, digital bookshelves, and video clips all provide the page owner further avenues of self-expression. On the Praxis site, the scholar’s network is labeled with the term “Colleagues”, rather than “Friends”.

Praxis group thumbnailGroup tools are available to classes, projects, and ad-hoc sets of members alike. Groups may form among people addressing specific issues, working in particular geographic regions, or coming from different disciplines. One student created a group to share expertise in photojournalism, as he and his classmates prepared to document their field experiences. Groups can be created not only by administrators, but by any member of the site. This is one of the important ways in which Praxis has been geared to the needs of the students, and not just the program.

Evolution of Praxis

The Global Poverty and Practice Minor

The Global Poverty and Practice Minor is a program of the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Enrollment this semester numbers above 300 students, up from approximately 150 at the beginning of the 2008–09 school year. Its hallmarks echo those of the Center: a focus on real-world conditions; a methodology of inquiry, alert to the ethical implications of actions; hands-on, practical engagement with pressing issues; and a strong value placed on self-awareness and objective analysis.

By immersing students in the complex, seemingly intractable economic, political, social, and personal realities of poverty, the Minor prepares them to be responsible global citizens. Professor Ananya Roy, education director of the Blum Center, observes, “They understand they are not going to solve the problem of global poverty. But from here, we can create a global, universal commitment to tackling structures of power, disadvantage, and inequality.”

To bolster this pedagogical approach, program administrators wanted a web-based platform that students could turn to as they progressed through their studies. For Alexis Bucknam, the inspiration was part ePortfolio, part journal. Bucknam, the Center’s director of Student Programs, wanted tools to help students collaborate with classmates and colleagues, and a setting in which faculty, alumni, and professionals in the field could serve as mentors and resources.

Recognizing the rapid growth that the Minor was undergoing, Bucknam also sought additional ways to communicate with students, and later, to stay in touch with them as they moved onto graduate school and careers beyond Berkeley. Fundraising is important to the program’s sustainability, and both Bucknam and Program Coordinator Eva Wong saw the need to create a venue to showcase the Minor’s impact — from the immediate effects of the practice projects to the longer-term contributions made by the citizen-scholars it trains.

OKAPI collaboration

In late 2008, the Blum Center staff brought the idea to Noah Wittman, manager of OKAPI, the Open Knowledge and the Public Interest program. Co-sponsored by the campus’s Office of the Chief Information Officer and Information Services and Technology’s Data Services department, OKAPI specializes in developing new tools for expanding participation in and broadening the reach and impact of campus research and education activities.

OKAPI staff members Lizzy Ha and Rick Jaffe joined the project. Working closely with the Center, OKAPI charted out a low-budget approach to devising a solution. It recommended creating a prototype using the free, open-source software application called Elgg and pulling together a small set of students to serve as the focus of an abbreviated user-centered design process.

The students briefed OKAPI staff on their upcoming practice experiences. Based on these conversations, the students were tasked with using the first prototype:

  • employ the blog tool and the discussion forum to drum up commentary on what to expect in Guangzhou, China;
  • use the shared calendar to notify neighbors in Richmond, California about community events and to solicit their participation;
  • put the group tools into service to organize the summer’s public health initiative in Mumbai, India;
  • get an advisor to review a fellowship application via the wiki.

Students were also asked to provide profile information about the direction of their fieldwork and their academic interests. They were shown techniques for setting up their personal dashboard, the starting page from which they navigate deeper into the site.

Through a series of group and one-on-one discussions with students, faculty, and administrators, OKAPI staff gleaned insight into how the site might be used, what features it needed to provide, and how it should look and feel. They experimented with names, asking the students for suggestions. Throughout spring 2009 and into the summer, they auditioned name-candidates on the masthead of the prototype site. Finally, one stuck: Praxis.

What’s next for Praxis

As spring semester 2010 starts, Praxis is in place and ready for use. The next chapter of the site’s story will be told by how well it fits the activities of its various constituents. For Professor Clare Talwalker, the site offers opportunities for student-generated networking and communication. For Alexis Bucknam and Eva Wong, it promises new channels for administering the program, advising students, and managing the myriad details of overseas fieldwork. For the students themselves, the challenge is to turn their social networking skills to academic advantage. With success, they will shape Praxis into a true portfolio: a holder for the notes, plans, writings, and resources gathered during their time in the Minor, and a place to display their expertise and their accomplishments.

Visit Praxis site.

Republished from February 23 iNews article.

Townsend Lab Public Release

September 1, 2009

We are pleased to announce the public launch of the Townsend Humanities Lab. The Townsend Humanities Lab provides humanities scholars with a rich set of tools for interdisciplinary research and collaboration. OKAPI Program Manager Noah Wittman worked for two semesters with the Townsend Center as an advisor and media architect, helping conceptualize, gather requirements, and develop and pilot prototypes. Congratulations to the Townsend Center for the Humanities and Chapter Three on this significant accomplishment!


Townsend Lab

About the Lab
The Townsend Humanities Lab offers a community-driven suite of digital tools to support interdisciplinary research and collaboration among Berkeley scholars and their affiliates.  Driven by a powerful content-management system, and hosted by new “cloud” computing services, the Lab provides project space and a suite of Web 2.0 resources to all Berkeley scholars with interests in the humanities and interpretive social sciences.

The Lab offers tools for project organization and communication (event listings, file sharing, news broadcasts, and RSS feeds), as well as newer collaborative tools for text annotation, image annotation, visualizations, mapping, and collaborative authoring.  Images, documents, audio and video files can be uploaded, shared, and placed in circulation among designated project groups within the Lab.  Furthermore, all content on the site can be tagged by keywords to facilitate project organization and to enhance the interaction across diverse interest groups.


New Collaboration with Blum Center for Developing Economies

March 10, 2009

blumy-thumbsWe are working the the Blum Center for Developing Economies to develop  a web-based platform for reflective learning, project collaboration, and social networking for scholars and practitioners associated with the Global Poverty and Practice (GPP) minor at the University of California, Berkeley.  The goal of our platform is to enhance and extend the reach and impact of the GPP curriculum by providing a student-empowering online environment more closely fitted to the needs of the minor than the traditional top-down, instructor-centered learning management system.

The GPP minor is transforming undergraduate curriculum to support service learning, social entrepreneurship, and most importantly, the opportunity for learners to creatively and critically reflect upon their experience.  Students in the program engage with global poverty through hands-on projects in developing regions of the world and in their local communities.  The GPP Minor’s approach helps students better understand their place in the world, their role as global citizens, and the contribution they can make in grappling with poverty and inequalities whether they become development practitioners, lawyers, architects or engineers.

Implemented using free and open-source software, our platform provides student portfolio tools and a social networking and communications hub that stays with the students as they progress through their undergraduate education and out into the world.  Features include Facebook-like social networking, blogs and wiki-like writing tools, file storage and sharing, discussion and messaging channels, and access to personal collections and communications maintained on web-based services (e.g., YouTube, Flickr, Twitter) across the Internet.  Mzuri connects students with an interactive network of peers, mentors, and colleagues essential to supporting their development and reflection.  It creates an intellectual commons for continued connection after graduation, which will allow alumni to serve as mentors to the students who succeed them in the minor.

The GPP minor is reinventing the classroom in an increasingly globally networked society.  Our platform explores, with educators and students, both the limits and possibilities of the emerging network form for engaged scholarship.  Our platform addresses not just the technological but the social, cultural, pedagogical and political dimensions of this transformation; it represents not just a one-time tool development effort but a commitment to fostering and sustaining a community of scholars and practitioners.

Link to Working Prototype:

Project Website:

Ars Synthetica Prototype Launches

March 1, 2009

We are pleased to announce the launch of a working prototype (beta release) of Ars Synthetica, a web-based multimedia forum for engaging specialists and non-specialists in an informed, ethical, and democratic dialogue on the emerging field of synthetic biology.

Paul Rabinow introduces Ars Synthetica

Anthropology professor Paul Rabinow introduces Ars Synthetica to his colleagues.

Ars Synthetica is a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the Public Interest, the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory, and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, QB3, UCSF, Prairie View A&M). The site is designed to provide multiple participatory channels for exploring questions about ethics, security, and how cutting-edge research in the biosciences is organized, governed, funded, and expanded. How will synthetic biology shape and be shaped by medicine, energy, and environmental needs? Whose business is ethics? What are the limits to what we can design? These are the kinds of questions that Ars Synthetica poses to expert and lay communities alike. Our goal is to actively resist the polemics that often characterize public discourse about new science and technology. We seek the fertile grounds for discourse between the hype of revolution on the one side and fears of “playing God” on the other. The outcome will not provide absolute or final answers, but  enable a diverse range of participant responses, perspectives, and concerns.

Ars Synthetica will feature many student projects, such as this multimedia piece by Marlee Tichenor

Ars Synthetica will feature many student projects, such as this multimedia piece by Marlee Tichenor

We are releasing the site  as a public beta, while the Ars Synthetica team develops site content, expands participation and gathers feedback before the next round of development. During the Spring ’09 semester, students in Professor Rabinow’s graduate and undergraduate courses will be preparing content for Ars Synthetica.

Features of Ars Synthetica:

Provide a means of representing and giving form to nonlinear connections among the many elements of the Ars Synthetica site. We anticipate developing and allowing our community to develop multiple nonlinear pathways through Ars Synthetica.

Problems, Truth Claims & Debates
Ars Synthetica features Problems, Truth Claims and Debates, designed to engage visitors in reflection and dialogue around emerging issues in the life sciences.  Whose business is ethics? Are there limits to what we can design? Are biologists playing God? Ars Synthetica users can contribute to existing  Problems, Truth Claims and Debates or contribute new ones.

The Archive contains abstracts and full publications related to synthetic biology, including scientific journal articles and popular press publications.

Allows visitors to upload their own multimedia products, including  research papers and multimedia works. Once uploaded, others can comment on the works of others.

The blog aggregates posts from multiple authors and blogs, including On the Assembly of Things, Vital Systems Security, Biopower and the Contemporary, and Synbio and the Technocrat, and the student-run iGEM blog.

The Website is built using Omeka, open-source software for museum exhibits and collections. The site uses a custom version of our OKAPI exhibit template for Omeka.

Web 2.0
The site is distributed  across the web, leveraging multiple technologies and services, including  MediaWiki, YouTube,, Flickr, Scribd, and Vuvox.

Ars Synthetica: Designs for Human Practice
Explore this publication, authored by Paul Rabinow and Gaymon Bennett, to learn more about the ideas underlying this project.

Public Understanding of Research Program
This project was developed under OKAPI’s Public Understanding of Research Program.

Constructing New Research Archives

February 4, 2009

We are employing the OKAPI Theme Package for Omeka to develop two multimedia research archives over the Spring ’09 semester:

Tracing Tambo Colorado
We are helping UC Berkeley Architecture professor Jean-Pierre Protzen publish a decade of photographs, illustrations, site plans, and field notes documenting the design and construction of an Inca administrative center located in present-day Peru. The project will make use of the Omeka collection management system and our newly crafted OKAPI theme package. Lizzy, Huey and Gabriel will be organizing his research archive into four themed collections and implementing a Google maps mashup to assist with geospatial navigation.


Chang’an 26 BCE
We are working with UC Berkeley History professor Michael Nylan to develop a multimedia research archive focused on ancient Chang’an, capital of the Western Han dynasty from 206 BCE  until 8 CE. Roughly contemporary with ancient Rome and equivalent in size of territory and number of inhabitants, Chang’an typically receive little attention in Western schoolbooks and history classes. Professor Nylan aims to redress this imbalance by providing a wealth of information about one of the greatest cities in human history.

OKAPI Releases Theme for Museum Collection Software

November 4, 2008

omeka_theme_collectionsOpen Knowledge and the Public Interest (OKAPI) is pleased to announce the release of the Okapi theme package for Omeka, a web-based platform for publishing museum exhibits and collections developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The Okapi theme package enables Omeka users without expert web design skills to create polished multimedia exhibits and collections. The home page features a cinematic 980×500 pixel main image and up to four featured exhibits.  Exhibit pages include new layouts for articles, themed collections and embedded multimedia.  The bundled Multimedia Links plugin enables embedding of html code, flash video (flv), and many other formats supported by the included JWplayer. The theme displays accessible Flash-based typography and is W3C CSS and XHTML compliant. The Okapi theme package (Okapi theme, Multimedia Links plugin and exhibit layouts) were developed by independent developer Kristin “Chach” Sikes in collaboration with Open Knowledge and the Public Interest. The Okapi theme package is available for download from the Omeka Website and is released under a General Public License (GPL).

The OKAPI theme package includes the following:

omeka_theme_homeOkapi Theme (Default Settings)
Home Page: Displays cinematic (980×500 pixel) main image, and up to four thumbnail images of featured resources Header/Navigation: Title and subtitle displayed at top of page using accessible rich typography. Semitransparent navigation tabs appear over adjustable header images on all pages. Up to four exhibits are featured on navigation. An “Exhibits” tab appears if your site includes more than four exhibits. Style Sheet: Extra style sheet (custom_style.css) enables sitewide modification of fonts and colors
Informational Pages: Themed  templates for About, Overview and Credits pages
Themed Geolocation plugins for Google Maps integration Themed Contribution plugin for user contributions Themed Items, Collections, and Exhibit pages (see Exhibit Layouts) Drag-n-Drop Media Publishing:  This theme extends Omekaʼs drag-n-drop functionality, allowing you to drag media from the archive into your exhibits layouts. Footer:  Space for links (Overview, Abouts, Credits), licensing (e.g., Creative Commons Licensing) and sponsors.

omeka_theme_multimediaExhibit Layouts
The Okapi Exhibit theme integrates exhibit pages with OKAPI theme and Multimedia Links plugin. The theme eliminates the section menu and allows users to publish on the Exhibit page thumbnails images and links to each section. The Okapi Exhibit theme includes four layouts:
Super Page: Allows users to theme exhibit home page and create thumbnail images for each section of exhibit.
Featured Article: Publish images and multimedia alongside feature article
Themed Collection: Publish video and a selection of up to 20 assets alongside article
Embedded HTML media:  Publish flash, widgets or other html embed code
Archive Multimedia:  Publish multimedia assets from archive using JWplayer.

Multimedia Links Plugin
Creates new Item fields for embedding html code, Flash video (flv), and many other media formats supported by the bundled JWplayer.

Media Player Integration
The open source JWplayer comes bundled with the OKAPI theme. The JWplayer supports playback of any format the Adobe Flash Player can handle (FLV, MP4, MP3, AAC, JPG, PNG and GIF). It also supports RTMP, HTTP and live streaming, various playlists and captioning formats, a wide range of settings and an extensive javascript
API. The skinning functionality allows you to completely customize its looks. Learn more here:

Rich Typography Support
The Okapi theme enables rich typography through accessible implementation of SIFR 3 (using Flash, JavaScript and CSS).  Learn more here:

Considerations for Web Developers
CSS: The markup and CSS for this theme are loosely based on Tripoli, a CSS method that allows you to adjust your site layout relatively quickly, in multiple browsers. This is similar to Google Blueprint and Yahoo Grids, but a little lighter weight. The Tripoli method does work with liquid layouts, though this site is currently fixed-width.

SIFR3: Typography can be changed by modifying flash files and a little bit of code, documentation included.

ShadedBorders: This Javascript corner-rounding script is enabled by default, and can be used on other page elements to create a different look for your site.