Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's a 'Workflow'?

In my previous career as a 'technologist,'' I was able to carefully define business processes for new software systems, which I then programmed, tested, deployed and supported. (I even once taught a course in formal software engineering at Columbia--well I taught about 80 courses there in their IT Programs division in a dozen years, all this in the evenings. Those were indeed the days of plenty and fervor about new technology like web software, thin and thick client computing, etc.) I worked in magazine publishing during the day (creating different software for editorial staff), I often interviewed or shadowed people as they worked. Software or business analysts do this sort of thing all the time, and I am struck by now that we are all trying to devise 'workflows' between classes using blogs and social networking tools.

This is very hard to do, even when you have budget, time and software design expertise. Well, we all have an amazing level expertise in this seminar, but it's hard to know what steps to follow to engender these conversations (which are really workflows) between different users, er, I mean students and professors as they create topics, draft, blog, revise and then turn in formal papers.

Professional content management systems (CMS) allow for different roles (writers, editors, reviewers), steps, checks and balances and so forth. The workflows in Facebook, for example, are not very advanced. They are there, btw, but we need to define steps and 'best practices' to foster (the right) connections. Of course, the dream (I think) that social networking is like magic. Students will magically stay on task, interact in a responsible and thoughtful way (while not paying more attention to the fun, distracting stuff that is the essence of social networking). Maybe this happens, maybe it doesn't. Like others in the seminar, I have noticed a creeping blogging voice in formal papers. (In my ENG 102 class the other day, I gave them a 'successful' research paper example from an earlier class. One response was: "This doesn't have an opinion!")

To foster two 'virtual peer editing' sessions and mentoring between classes, I created handouts with a signup sheet for the target class. (This was ENG 101 and LIB 200--they had covered the World's Fair at different points in the course.) I created a guide sheet for the peer editing for my LIB 200 students, and offered to give them extra credit (for any missed blogging assignments). It worked like magic. My 'paper based' workflow seems to have worked. But it's interesting to think of an 'ideal' system for allowing peer editing. (That would be some sort of CMS, btw. Publishing companies managed content all the time--involving writers, editors, managing editors and even legal departments to approve, edit and then publish content, including version control.) Most of us are probably against 'platforms' like this, but they might have advantages.

Next year, I will be investigating using a customized version of (open-source) WordPress to expand The Bridge, LaGuardia's student newspaper as part of our new effort with the Journalism Option in the Liberal Arts, which I have been working hard to create. (Starting in Fall I 2011, LaGuardia students can take a program of courses and then graduate with a degree that mentions Journalism.) I'm betting there are add-ons to WordPress to add some control of workflow. (There are a lot of smart people using this for the CUNY Commons at the GC and other CUNY schools, who I have been talking to lately.) WordPress is also used at several major media companies as an online publishing 'platform.' One day, we'll see a sort of platform for researching and writing student papers too. It's interesting how life circles back and forth. I hadn't thought about the word 'workflow' much at all lately, but in a conversation with one of my oldest friends in NYC, who is now a senior technologist at a European publisher, who also has over a dozen published peer-reviewed papers on the history of science and software design--the topic came up. I realized I was trying to do this in setting up my two recent 'virtual peer editing' exercises.... It turned out, we still had something to talk about.

1 comment:

  1. Rich, I didn't realize that you had worked so extensively with work flow, but I see where you are going with this. It makes me feel "good" that I finally "landed" at wordpress. I guess that I felt that it had the most latitude to create newspaper/magazine style formats.
    Again, I find myself agreeing with you, and listening with "open ears," before I see your name at the end of the blog. We are in the publishing phase of our Penny Dreadful and I have to say that it looks amazing. I'd love your input.

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