Teaching Drupal at Yale University

| Education

yale-wordmark-blue-2xOver the last few weeks we've been talking with people who are helping open source make inroads at universities.

We've spoken with teachers of open source at Harvard, Emory, Penn State and other colleges.

This week we're speaking with Nancy Flowers-Mangs, who is the self-proclaimed Drupal Ambassador to Yale. 

Yale is based in Connecticut and is one of the eight Ivy League universities.

#1. Welcome Nancy. Can I ask you to introduce yourself and what you do?

Hi Steve, I'm Nancy Flowers-Mangs, Manager of Drupal Training at Yale University. In this position, I help staff, students and faculty learn how to build web sites with YaleSites, our web publishing tool powered by Drupal. We offer hands-on on classroom training, a comprehensive how-to guide, video tutorials and an online forum to support the Yale community in their efforts to build web sites for departments and organizations across campus. We also take advantage of external training materials such as OS Training, linking to existing material and try to leverage the Drupal community as much as possible.

#2. So YaleSites is a custom Drupal platform at Yale?

Yes, the service provides site builders with everything they need to build a dynamic website including pre-built features for the most common types of content -- news, video, photo galleries, faculty listings, etc. Most of the people building the sites do not have a technical background - many don't even know HTML -  so we wanted to provide them with a tool that was easy to use and maintained Yale's design standards. By offering this comprehensive service, site owners can concentrate on what they know best – the content that reflects the message they want to convey about their department or organization.

#3. So, with a custom platform and custom needs, do you need to have custom training materials too?

Yes, we originally thought that we could use the contributed material on drupal.org, but found that it was too much information for most of our users. In addition, we have a specific list of modules available and much of the training materials we found referenced modules that we didn't support. So we developed the YaleSites How-to Guide  http://yalesites.yale.edu/book/getting-started that documents everything anyone would need to know to build a YaleSite, regardless of the size or special features they want to add.

We tried to keep it as simple as possible and provide only the information site builders would need to know to get the job done. If additional modules are added to the service, we add tutorials and training materials or link to tutorials on outside sites where appropriate. 

The training we provide supports those using YaleSites and helps to ensure they get the most from YaleSites platform. We want to make it possible for anyone at the university can build a really great site. The training curriculum is based on the How-to Guide, so if someone cannot attend training they can follow the instructions and be able to build a site with minimal difficulty.

#4. So what's the future for Drupal at Yale?

The Yale community is happy with the YaleSites service so we plan to keep the momentum going building sites and keeping up with upcoming Drupal releases. With each release we see significant improvements that we can offer the Yale community, making it easier for everyone to build web sites. As long as people are happy with the platform we will continue to use Drupal.

#5. So Drupal is very popular in the organization at Yale. Are students also showing an interest?

We have quite a few students who are building out sites for their departments and/or organizations. When they are hired to build the site they are encouraged to attend our training programs; some are familiar with Drupal, some are not. Some have never built a web site. It is a good way to introduce Drupal because most of the backend work is done and they can focus on incorporating functionality, adding content and building the site architecture.

One of the purposes of YaleSites was to provide a consistent platform to build sites at Yale. We had to address the issue that many students and external vendors build sites in whatever technology they know or want to learn. Providing Drupal as the site building platform provides a flexible and scalable development environment that is easy for most students to learn; most sites regardless of the size or need can be built in this one platform. 


About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.