December 2, 2010 — After 15 months of intense work by a handful of staffers and a network of collaborators from across the University of Virginia, a new suite of software tools for common faculty needs like website creation, blogging and managing audio, video and photos is now ready for mainstream adoption.
Having worked out most of the technical kinks and "turned a corner" from the pilot phase to "version 1.0" readiness, the Sciences, Humanities and the Arts Network of Technological Initiatives, or SHANTI, is shifting its focus to outreach and adoption, said SHANTI director David Germano, associate professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.
The outreach starts with a "SHANTI Day" on Dec. 8 (the reading day before final exams begin), from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The event will feature more than a dozen faculty members demonstrating and discussing how they are already using the SHANTI tools in their classes. Walk-in one-on-one consultations will be offered throughout the day for faculty, students and staff.
For instance, Joel Rubin, a music professor in the College, will share his "Worlds of Jewish Music" class website, where listening assignment pages offer streaming audio files accompanied by song lyrics, historical background and introductory remarks. At the bottom of each assignment page is a section for student comments and discussion.
The SHANTI tools he used to make the site (Wordpress and Kaltura) were convenient and more user-friendly than anything else he'd tried, he said, "and I've tried all of them." Rubin envisions a future class website that incorporates even more resources such as musical scores and performance videos. Using digital tools to bring together such varied resources "has a lot of potential for broadening the students' learning experience."
Several U.Va. faculty members and students have used the U.Va.-developed VisualEyes software to weave images, maps, charts, video and data into highly interactive and compelling dynamic visualizations, as noted in two recent New York Times articles (which you can read here and here).
For those who can't make it to SHANTI Day, SHANTI's "U.Va. Profiles" section makes it easy to see what faculty colleagues are doing with the tools, Germano said. More than 390 faculty and staff and 850 students have already used the tools.
The SHANTI team also offers workshops and one- to three-hour consultations to introduce the tools to departments, units, small groups and even individual faculty. "We're happy to come to you and help you leverage these tools for your unique needs," Germano said.
"From my perspective, the pace of progress has been somewhere between impressive and spectacular," said James Hilton, U.Va.'s vice president and chief information officer. "Eighteen months ago, David Germano and the SHANTI team began working with faculty to identify the digital tools that would have the most impact on their work. To go from identifying the tools to integrating them into the U.Va. computing environment was a huge endeavor.
"It will be exciting to watch what faculty and students do over the next six months with these tools now that they are ubiquitously available."
SHANTI's tools offer what Germano described as "80 percent solutions" – serving 80 percent of the needs of 80 percent of faculty. Open-source and U.Va. site licenses make all the software free to the U.Va. community.
SHANTI software is "best-of-breed" off-the-shelf, consumer-grade software (much of it open-source) that's easy to use, powerful and mature, meaning it already has a large user base in the wider world outside U.Va., providing user communities and persistent support (in addition to the U.Va.-specific support network).
The main tools include:
• WordPress for Web site creation and blogging;
• Kaltura for managing, editing and presenting audio, video and photos;
• Elluminate Live! for e-conferencing, online teaching and collaboration;
• Confluence Wiki for collaborative creation of shared documents;
• VisualEyes for easy creative visualization of diverse data such as maps, graphs, statistics, images and timelines;
• NowComment for collaborative close reading and annotation of texts;
• Zotero for creating and sharing bibliographic data, including the documents and Web pages themselves;
• and Drupal for creating content-rich websites, scholarly archives and exhibits that organize and connect a wide variety of media and data.
Kaltura, Wordpress and Elluminate have been visually and structurally integrated into the UVaCollab system, so that a single Netbadge login enables access to the suite of tools, the Student Information System, user accounts, and other class management tools like easy creation of student groups for assignments.
UVaCollab integration for Confluence and NowComment is expected in January.
Additionally, new SHANTI tools for place documentation and mapping, and language learning are now being explored with interested faculty, students and staff, Germano said.
SHANTI has worked closely with the library's Digital Media Lab and the Advanced Technology Group in the Information Technology and Communication Department.
Integrating SHANTI tools with UVaCollab is like "poking holes in a walled garden," Germano said, the goal being to let in some of the vitality and power of tools developed across the World Wide Web while still preserving the security, consistency and common space unique to U.Va.'s own digital environment.
A new interface for UVaCollab and SHANTI, known by its acronym MIST (Minimal Interface to Sakai Tools), offers a simplified interface layout with a new Google-powered search feature, with auto-complete – just start typing what you're looking for, and the choices pop up.
SHANTI is currently accepting applications for a spring 2011 relaunch of its Cohort Fellows Program, which will bring together faculty, staff and students with related projects to meet regularly and support each other.
"The arrival of SHANTI is an unprecedented opportunity for our faculty and students to receive a new kind of sustainable and practical support for online scholarship and teaching," said Bruce Holsinger, the College's associate dean for humanities and the arts. "I'm excited by its potential for adapting emergent technologies into everyday classroom use. David Germano and his colleagues have really built this initiative from the ground up in direct response to student and faculty input."