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WebLion: Bringing Open Source Practices to the Educational Enterprise

by xavier last modified 2009-06-30 10:59

Effective Web content management remains a painful problem for many institutions of higher education. Old methods and tools used in maintaining static web sites are costly and inefficient, and the quality of content is often poor. Content management systems (CMS) offer solutions, but do you buy or build? And how to get buy-in from independent-minded academic units? How are new systems and capabilities integrated with the CMS?

WebLion is an implementation of the popular open source CMS applications Plone and Zope customized for the Pennsylvania State University Web environment. The project is managed using project management techniques typically employed by large community-based open source projects.

Project history

After a two-year evaluation process, the WebLion project was formed as an initiative of Penn State's Information Technology Services in partnership with IT staff several academic units. It offers a Web content management solution that is open source, customized to comply with Penn State's policy for Web design and accessibility, and integrates applications designed for the general needs of educational institutions as well the specific needs of Penn State's security and network infrastructure. This solution is highly flexible and allows for the integration of new open source products to add functionality and web services as they become available.

A fast growing community

From humble beginnings of a core staff of three, the project, in just nearly 4 years of life, now has 25+ internal academic partners, approximately 100 developers, system administrators and designers representing nine colleges and numerous academic units. Partners develop or adapt existing open source into solutions that are shared with other partners. Partners also have developed social networks that are used to share solutions, develop documentation and collaborate with others. Success in developing an open source solution designed for higher education has lead to a growing interest outside Penn State in the project management process and the WebLion implementation.

Innovative management practices

The agile, open source project management model, the use of an open source code base, and the partnership structure are responsible for the rapid adoption and overall success of the WebLion project. This model can be replicated at other institutions either by emulation within their own institution, or by collaboration with the WebLion project in a multi-institution project to further develop content management applications. At least 4 other higher education institutions internationally have adopted the WebLion organizational model and development principle. These groups are now taling about how we can share development efforts. In addition, numerous educational institutions and private organizations have adopted WebLion develop products.

Popular software products

WebLion software products are being used extensively in a variety of areas outside academia including government, non-profits, and private companies.  Security products like WebServerAuth allows Plone to be configured so any user known to your LDAP, Kerberos, Shibboleth, or Pubcookie system—or any other system for which your web server has an authentication module—can transparently log in using enterprise-wide credentials. FacultyStaffDirectory provides content types for creating and organizing personnel directories within educational institutions, government organizations, companies and non-profits. CSS Manager aids rapid, through-the-web theming, by allowing users to modify the colors, fonts and other elements of visual styling. CustomNav helps you create highly customized navigation portlets. Gloworm is a Firebug-like tool that allows you to delve into the code (TAL, METAL, Python) underlying your site. A point-and-click interface lets you highlight something on your screen and see what template or script produced it. Reorder, show/hide, and edit viewlets inline. These are just a few of the product released by the WebLion team.

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