Stony Brook University is continuing to expand its Internet presence at a rapid rate—just following the recent unveiling of its first fully online degree through Open SUNY, the Division of Information Technology launched its own new online service: SBYou.
The new initiative is a web publishing platform for Stony Brook students, faculty and staff to utilize free of charge. It is built on the WordPress blogging tool and content-management system and is hosted by Edublogs, a company working with multiple schools and institutions to provide educational blogging platforms to its clients.
SBYou uses WordPress in an educational manner. The goal is to allow students to showcase their abilities for reflection and creative thinking and creating an online community within the university.
In 2008, Stony Brook University introduced a version of WordPress to establish faculty discussion outside of Blackboard. It was ended shortly afterwards because it seemed like a security concern at the time and was not accepted by much of the staff.
This time, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Cole Camplese brought the SBYou platform to Stony Brook.
Camplese worked at Pennsylvania State University for 15 years and has a background in social computing. Because of his interest in open platforms for digital expression and means of connecting students’ experiences, he introduced the idea of SBYou to DoIT in November of 2013.
Camplese created the main website himself over the winter break, in conjunction with setting up a partnership with Edublogs to bring the service to the students.
“I think that there’s a real need on campus for faculty, students and staff to have an easy path to publishing,” Camplese said in an interview. “And SBYou is one step further on the path towards these concepts.”
Stony Brook already offers a variety of online services—Blackboard, SOLAR, Google Apps and Digication ePortfolios—but SBYou intends to be a new means of giving students and staff their own voice online.
Manager of Information Technology Communications and Web Strategy Kerrin Perniciaro worked with a committee of DoIT web developers and Camplese himself to integrate SBYou into the campus’ online presence.
“People were constantly asking us, ‘I want to create a website or a blog, what can I use?’ and there wasn’t really anything we could refer them to besides Google Apps,” Perniciaro said in a phone interview. “With SBYou, they can get started with the click of a button and…create a website in seconds.”
Each site created using SBYou has a simple, custom URL beginning with you.stonybrook.edu/, allowing for ease of sharing and promoting blogs and websites.
There is also a feature allowing for collaboration with multiple authors and a project management system, permitting website creators to give access to others including a means of moderation of posts, comments and submissions.
While the SBYou WordPress platform does have some default Stony Brook themes available—with university-approved logos, colors and fonts—anyone with knowledge of the online coding language, CSS (cascading style sheets) and some basic web developing skills could customize their page to better fit their needs or preferences.
Camplese emphasized the role of SBYou as a medium for self-reflection, saying that “simply collecting evidence over the course of five years, while very powerful, is not as powerful as learning how to continuously reflect about what’s going on in your everyday life.”
The SBYou platform was designed not to be a replacement for the Digication ePortfolios, but rather a complement.
Learning Architect and ePortfolio Program Manager at Teaching, Learning + Technology (TLT) Nancy Wozniak has been working to get students more involved with e-portfolios since that initial WordPress project in 2008 and was very excited to discuss the new opportunities introduced by SBYou.
“Social media wasn’t as fully established in 2008 as it is now, and this time around, SBYou has been launched with the intention of it allowing students to bridge the gap between commercial blogging platforms and professional services affiliated with the university,” Wozniak said.
The program was demonstrated at a quarterly DoIT IT Partners Meeting, where a website was created in just a few minutes for Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. The demonstration showed how simple the transition would be from regular department websites to those hosted by SBYou.
Mark Lang, computer support specialist at SoMAS and webmaster for its SBYou page, plans to use the platform as a supplement to the department’s main website and credited the service for its ease and simplicity.
“I think long-term reliability on SBYou is much greater than on other platforms,” Lang said by phone. “It’s not actually hosted here on campus—it’s hosted with Edublogs. And so if the network here were to go down for some reason, everyone would still be able to access [SBYou pages].”
SBYou is still being slowly introduced to the campus and its presence will continue to grow as staff and students are integrating it into their academic and personal lives.
The future of SBYou seems to be mainly in shifting it from its current beta presence to an enhanced and improved version based on user feedback.
Camplese said the platform may eventually add more plugins and themes, integrating new types of media and digital supplements. For now, though, the emphasis of the site will remain on its use for digital expression and reflection.