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Switchback Develops System for UM’s Open Education Initiative

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The Ann Arbor Web development company Switchback recently completed a full overhaul of the content delivery system used by Open.Michigan, the University of Michigan’s contribution to the Open Educational Resources movement.

The open education movement relies heavily on the Web to provide unlimited access to course materials and other educational resources to promote “a global exchange of knowledge.” Open.Michigan launched in 2008 on eduCommons, a system developed specifically for open education using the Zope and Plone content management systems.

As Open.Michigan grew to a trusted resource for more than 5000 users across 125 countries, the demands on their CMS grew as well. This year, the university decided it was time for a major upgrade, and in the spirit of open education, wanted to make the new system freely available.

Said Pieter Kleymeer, Open Education Manager for Open.Michigan: “When we decided to build a new publishing platform, we were committed to making it available to the world under an open license. As a result, we narrowed our decision down to Drupal, which is created with a General Public License — it provides the robustness and stability we need in a full-featured CMS, paired with scalability and the flexibility for growth through its adherence to the open source software model.”

After a competitive bid process, the University chose Switchback, Ann Arbor-based company known for their expertise in Drupal and commitment to open source software to develop the project.

“Open source is incredibly important to us as it embodies the practice of building on others’ knowledge for the advancement of society and culture,” Kleymeer said. “Switchback understood and supported this and agreed to help us release any custom-developed code under an open license.”

Over the course of eight months, Switchback worked closely with Kleymeer and others at the University to design and build the new Open.Michigan publishing platform. The system launched in September and offers a number of improvements, including one-click download of all course materials, easier collaboration among university departments, and a full revision-tracking system.

“With Switchback, we were able to streamline a number of our publishing tasks,” said Kleymeer. “This, combined with an improved user interface and more reliable and consistent software behavior, has cut our publishing time by nearly 400 percent.”

Mike Monan, founding partner at Switchback, described the Open.Michigan project as exemplary of Drupal’s flexibility as a development platform.

“This is the type of work that really allows us to shine,” he said. “Where we can get our hands dirty thoroughly understanding the way the Open.Michigan team operates, and then combine that knowledge with our deep familiarity of Drupal to build out a system that makes all of those processes easier. We are absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project, and hope to continue supporting it as it is adopted by the open courseware community.”

The initial release of Open.Michigan’s new publishing system will be available through GitHub.

Switchback LLC gives small- to medium-sized organizations real control over their web-based information. Starting with popular, open-source platforms, such as Drupal, Joomla, and CiviCRM, the company builds highly usable and full-featured systems that provide clients with complete management of their Web content and contact relationships. Switchback places great emphasis on usability, ensuring that once in place, their systems can be managed by anyone, regardless of their experience.

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