Where Do We Start With APIs At The University of Oklahoma?

I’m dedicating more time lately to research how APIs are being used at universities, and a couple months back I published my first white paper on using APIs in higher education. As I do with other sectors, I would like to shed light on how APIs are being used at universities, and potentially share best practices, and stories between higher educational institutions, amplifying the positive effects of APIs.

My efforts are beginning to pay off, and I was recently contacted by two friends, Mark Morvant (@MarkMorvant) and Adam Croom (@acroom), at the University of Oklahoma. They had seen my University research, and read my white paper, but what really lit their fire was the piece in the NY Times about student-built apps teaching colleges a thing or two—after reading that, they decided to give me a call to discuss APIs more.

I started with the two approaches to using APIs that I am seeing at universities:

  • API Access To Institutional Resources - APIs being deployed to provide better access to data, content, and other digital resources across campus, allowing integration with internal or external systems, and across campus web and mobile applications.
  • Using Public APIs On Campus - Putting APIs from the public space, like Twitter and Google Maps to use in classrooms, and even in administrative operations, allowing for the better access to information, and seamless integration with existing campus workflows.

Then I discussed the different approaches to introducing APis on campus that I've come across so far:

  • Top-down IT Lead APIs - School executives take the initiative to make APIs a mandate across all campus operations, acknowledging the benefits APIs can deliver.
  • Middle-in Faculty Lead APIs - API efforts led by teachers and other faculty, taking advantage of APIs in their daily work, and hopefully also in the classroom.
  • Bottom-up Student Lead APIs - The kids today get online technology, and encouraging them to use APIs in all aspect of their learning will only increase overall digital literacy.

After that, we talked about what the best way might be to kick off an actual API platform at OU. There wasn’t a clear top-down mandate at OU, so I figured the best place to start was middle-in, as well as bottom-up. We had the middle-in started, with Mark and Adam wanting to see APIs at their institution, but how could we plant the seeds for a bottom-up, student led movement, something that would ultimately get us to where we could demonstrate the value of APIs to campus leaders.

Without any clear place to start, I’m exploring the ou.edu website looking for any spreadsheets, CSV files, or obvious tables that could contain some easy data or content that I could easily turn into APIs--pulling ideas from my university API building blocks list in my research. Once I have a few targets established, I will then setup a basic developer portal to house all of the early API efforts.

Once I have a basic developer portal, and a couple of data or content APIs, I can then make a plan for what is next. My goal is to just get going, and tell the story about APIs at OU. I’d say this is definitely the most basic API effort I’ve ever kicked off. We are truly starting at ground zero here, and even though we have the initial desire to have APIs, we don’t know exactly the how or what of APIs at OU, but we have to start somewhere.

This is what I love about APIs. Where do I start? What will make the difference? There are no perfect answers, and there is so much work to do, but we have to start somewhere. Hopefully I can find some easy targets for generating the initial APIs, and publish a basic developer portal using Github Pages, and jumpstart the API conversation at OU. Once I do that I will connect back with Mark and Adam, and I’m sure by then I will have more ideas of what we can do next when it comes to APIs at the University of Oklahoma.