The Hive Interoperability & Portability Coalition (HIPC) II: Open Sharing of Learning Opportunities sought to simplify how organizations publicize learning events and how learners find events. The project used open source software and open standards to develop a technology infrastructure for Hive Chicago and to extend interoperability across platforms.
In 2014-15, Hive Chicago members identified a continued challenge in making pathways and learning opportunities visible within the Hive network and across Chicago. In addition to marketing and publication efforts and despite widespread adoption of the Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) in the Hive, not all programs are being shared by organizations broadly. This project endeavored to build a technology solution for organizations, including CCOL, so they could enter learning events into their own home sites and publish those events to other locations where they can be publicly viewed.
The primary goal of HIPC II was to design and build technology that would support the diverse learning ecosystem of the Hive network and beyond. To achieve this goal, the technology would support:
- Hive member organizations and program providers in publishing learning opportunities;
- Learners and advocates in effectively accessing learning opportunities;
- Hubs where learning opportunities are aggregated and can be filtered around areas of interest; and
- Apps that provide access to learning opportunities in a variety of ways and with different audiences in mind.
Our working group met all parts of this goal by developing the technology infrastructure to support a vibrant ecosystem of learning opportunities. Representative members from the Adler Planetarium, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Digital Youth Network, and Forall Systems met monthly to check in on the Forall developers’ progress and to meet with community stakeholders to gather input that would shape the final system. This system is built upon WordPress, an extant, well-developed environment that is widely used, which would allow for two different styles of access blog entries (learning events): RSS and API.
Our approach was two-pronged: the development provided example code and tools that invite contribution from parties across our networks, while the community engaged a great diversity of learning partners in Chicago, demonstrated the potential for application of the tools, and invited innovation around construction of an ecosystem.
For HIPC II, a Forall developer built a WordPress plugin called Open Learning Events that utilizes custom post types to store and display events; custom fields that can be used in RSS feeds; custom menus and templates for displaying events; and event sorting by date. The features of the plugin were shaped in large part by feedback received from various stakeholders, including the School-Hive Connections and Ultimate Hub moonshot groups; representatives from Lincoln Park Zoo, Smart Chicago Collaborative, Community Television Network, the Art Institute of Chicago, and others at Hive Chicago Buzz 2016; and conversations with others, including niche event aggregating site BuildCodePlay and youth coding program CoderSpace. Now available for installation in the WordPress plugin store, the Open Learning Events plugin will allow an infinite number of organizations to enter, share, and access learning opportunities.
Once published through the Open Learning Events plugin, event information could be pulled to a learning events aggregator site that pulls in applicable blog entries via RSS based on keywords. HIPC II demonstrated this possibility at Hive Chicago Buzz 2016, when workshop attendees logged into different test accounts on WordPress and published sample posts that contained “#chihivebuzz” to their test blogs. A demo aggregator site set up specifically for the event pulled in all properly labeled entries from these verified WordPress sites. Ideally, these central sites will evolve into a platform that can aggregate based on user defined tags. In the meantime, this platform allows users to choose keywords that will filter and post only applicable blog entries/events.
For organizations that already use WordPress for their websites, transitioning into using the Open Learning Events plugin should be simple; for those who do not, however, there are many options built into the HIPC II technology infrastructure that will allow for easy access. One option is for an organization to create an events site on a Forall-hosted Multisite. A Multisite is a WordPress feature which allows users to create a network of sites on a single WordPress installation; once created, organizations would be able to enter and publish their event information to their site using the Open Learning Events plugin, making it accessible via RSS.
Another option is to connect other systems with the ecosystem that will grow on WordPress. An Open Learning Events adaptor was built to utilize the plugin and FeedWordPress to pull information from an event site outside of WordPress for use on WordPress. For example, the adaptor has already been configured to work with the Chicago City of Learning API, and CCOL events can now be syndicated to the WordPress ecosystem. The adaptor is open source and available for all who wish to configure it for their own systems via the HIPC II Github repository.
Three sample applications have already been built on top of the technology infrastructure that are customized to different audiences. These applications include a PDF Event Flyer Web App that delivers a weekly PDF of learning opportunities to teachers for their students based on the categories, locations, and age brackets they indicate; an SMS App that will hold a conversation with teens to direct them to opportunities nearby; and the aforementioned Learning Event Aggregator site that can pull in applicable blog entries based on keywords, geared toward informal educators. Though each of these apps has been demonstrated and can be accessed by those who wish to build upon them, they have not been accessed by users in a programmatic pilot.
The documentation for these tools and others is open source and documented on Forall Systems’ HIPC Github repository, and other community members are invited to iterate and build upon the sample applications.