About the CAGD Project

The CAGD website was started in 2004, as a repository for research material from students on the BA Hons Contemporary Art Practices course (then BA Hons Contemporary Creative Practices), at Leeds Metropolitan University. It became apparently quite quickly though, that the tools that we'd developed would be useful for a lot more than simply collating material, and as more courses were included into the system it has grown to become a fully-functioning online e-portfolio, course management, social network, reflective journal and collaborative space, with (to date) more than 350,000 pieces of work and research and 1,000 active daily users.

At its core, the site is a space to share work, and to share conversations about that work. Students (and staff) are able to upload almost any type of material to their account, and then share it with any groups of people that they're a member of.

Everyone on the site is organised into groups "” both formal, hierarchical academic courses and informal ad hoc groups created by any member of the site, based on a shared interest, a collaborative project, or a simple convenient way to bunch people together. Each of these groups have tools to enable the sharing of resource materials, announcements, and pieces of uploaded work/research.

The course management tools allow staff to easily assign personal tutor groups, send information out to people for whom it's relevant, and move students between courses and year-groups when the need arises. They also provide ways to get an overview of engagement with the site, which can act as an early warning system to flag up potential causes for concern.

The feedback journalling system gives students a way to document their progress through the course, combining rich text with uploaded images, videos and audio posted by themselves, and by their tutors. Each journal is private to each particular student, and is only visible by themselves and the staff on their course. It is, in essence, a group blog based around each student.

The built-in messaging tools allow students and staff to talk to each other directly. They allow a complete history of communication to be seen in one go "” charting a conversation right back to the start of the first year for a student. It also allows staff and students to see when their messages have been read by the other person.

The final part of the site is the publishing and importing tools. Information and links can be imported either by pasting URLs into the site's uploading form, or by using a content-aware bookmarklet that can automagically import YouTube and Vimeo videos, OpenGraph information, and other websites, taking a screengrab as it does so and pulling titles and descriptions as well. Admin tools within the site can take students work and publish it to our external School website with one click, and work can be shared on Facebook and Twitter with a convenient short URL. Collated work within groups can be shared through RSS feeds, and the site API is under development to allow for complete portfolio publishing for every student on their own web pages.

The system has been in use within the School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Metropolitan University for seven years, and we are in the process of preparing version 1.0 which we intend to make available outside of our own institution.