What lessons have we learned?

Bebop has gone remarkably smoothly – not all projects do – and I’m pleased to say that we’ve achieved everything we set out to do. We did learn things along the way and things we already knew were reconfirmed:

  • WordPress/BuddyPress is a viable and versatile platform for managing staff profiles at a university and brings the benefits of mandating staff to engage with a popular social media platform if they are to update and maintain their professional profile.
  • WordPress has a very active and open community of users and developers and consequently values contributions from HEIs. It is a versatile technology that can bootstrap different types of projects where content management is key. We knew this before the project started, but through releasing a plugin and responding to its use by different people, the benefits of contributing to such a community have been reaffirmed. For developers new to writing open source software, WordPress offers a mature community with a very low barrier-to-entry.
  • When working with third-party services, each API is different and takes time to learn. Maintaining compatibility with changes to third-party APIs is a problem for the sustainability of the software. It’s important that there is institutional value to integrating such services with your software so that there is the justification for maintaining compatibility.
  • Identify an expert partner and cost them into your project for evaluation purposes. It doesn’t matter where in the world they live. Expert code review improves staff skills and the quality of code, benefitting all involved.
  • OERs are teaching and learning materials that areĀ  licensed for re-use. Often, the licensing information is not provided as part of the API or syndication feed. Bebop overcomes this by providing a curatorial tool that allow the user to select specific resources for re-publication. There is less ambiguity about whether a resource is avaialable for re-use if the user has selected to include it in their profile.
  • There are a limited number of platforms that are widely used for publishing OERs in the UK. We were surprised that Jorum, the main national repository for OERs, does not yet have a method for extracting information about the resources deposited by a specific individual. The benefits of publishing OERs have often been discussed in terms of institutional benefits, but in order to provide individual benefits and therefore incentives, work on user profiles and OER use seems key.

The benefits of code review

Our partner on the Bebop project was Boone Gorges, lead developer on the CUNY Academic Commons project and committing BuddyPress developer. We were keen to involve the Academic Commons project in Bebop due to their in-depth knowledge of BuddyPress and great success in using it within a university. Boone offered extrememely valuable review and guidance to Dale McKeown, the main developer working on Bebop. Prior to Bebop, Dale had not developed for either WordPress or BuddyPress, and Boone’s feedback on his work proved very helpful. With permission, we’re publishing the raw email exchanges between Dale and Boone to demonstrate the value that an experienced developer of a particular technology can bring to a project. Although we’ve been using WordPress at Lincoln since 2008, we have done relatively little bespoke development for our platform and the addition of Boone to the Bebop team resulted in a better quality plugin being released to the public and, just as importantly, helped improve Dale’s skills, too.

You can download the email exchange as a txt file here.

It should be of interest to developers working with WordPress/BuddyPress, but also to developers in general, who are in the positions of either mentoring or being mentored themselves. The benefits of pair-programming and code review are well known and we hope this exchange provides further evidence of why technical projects benefit from this type of external review.