ODL at Drupal Camp PA

This past weekend (September 22-23) web developers, industry professionals, and The Office of Digital Learning (Eberly College of Science, Penn State) converged on the University of Pittsburgh for the 4th annual Drupal Camp PA.  The camp featured a number of engaging sessions, workshops, and lightning-talks geared to “Level Up” participant’s knowledge of Drupal and adjacent web technologies.  With so many innovative topics on the schedule, we found ourselves very excited for the opportunity to share some of our own initiatives.


Some of you may remember an article I did reviewing Drupal Camp NJ back in February.  The article focused on a new trend called, “Headless Drupal” in which developers decoupled Drupal’s front-end (theme layer) from it’s back-end (data/content layer) using custom JavaScript frameworks.  This “Headless” approach offered a number of benefits including increased performance and enhanced design flexibility / sustainability.  At the time, this was a relatively new concept and had only been loosely adopted by the development community.  However, in just a few short months, the idea of decoupling Drupal has soared to the top to become an industry standard.

Since then, our office has been using this decoupled approach regularly for online courses (ELMS:LN) - so we were ramped up for the opportunity to host a workshop at the camp.  Lead by Bryan Ollendyke (ELMS:LN Lead Developer) and our team’s Michael Potter, the session garnered more than twenty-five people from varying degrees of experience and system-applications to illustrate just how transformative this new development technique has become.  In addition to helping attendees set up the necessary Polymer tooling to get started, the duo went into great detail as they described and demonstrated the process of creating custom html tags (web components) and implementing them into a Drupal platform.  The presentation was well received, inspiring an organic discussion that affirmed the concepts of sustainable component-driven architecture while rooting the seeds of creativity deep into those who attended.               


While web component architecture is one of our team’s most exciting initiatives, it’s certainly not the only manner we use to offer quality user experiences throughout our websites; H5P is another tool we implement regularly.  H5P is an HTML5 authoring suite that creates a variety of interactive tools that can be implemented into any website.  Having worked with this authoring suite extensively, I was excited for the opportunity to host a session during the camp.  Specifically, I demonstrated just how easy H5P is to use by creating a few sample content types and highlighting a number of significant benefits, including how developers might use the xAPI data generated from those interactions to learn more about the people  interacting with the content.   

Typically, I have always participated in camps as an attendee, so I was a little nervous initially to lead the discussion.  Fortunately, my first experience presenting was an enjoyable one and I was able to facilitate a rewarding discussion afterwards with the attendees.


These are just a few of the informative sessions that took place over the weekend.  I have had the opportunity to attend a number of Drupal camps and Drupal Camp PA always ranks among the top with regards to the quality of its sessions and the overall experience created by the organizers, sponsors, and attendees.  The consistent combination of great people and interesting topics creates a welcoming atmosphere for people of all backgrounds to expand their horizons.  The opportunities to network with other industry professionals to share ideas we can all leverage in our respective projects are invaluable.  Simply put, the people who attend Drupal camps are transforming the industry by inspiring creativity and camaraderie.  As our keynote speaker eloquently put it:   

“I came for the code and I stayed for the community.” - Jessica Dearie - DCPA17