Time to be a mentor

I am technically a “mentor” for the UBC Blog Squad. Although I haven’t done much mentoring. In fact they pretty much school me in dedication and writing ability. Many of them have written some absolutely fantastic stuff.

So here goes, my attempt at a bit of helping out:

I’ve noticed that many of you haven’t changed your blogroll yet (although I see that Genevieve has added a bunch of things to her one). Your blogroll can really complement your blog, by telling people at a glance what you are interested in. It shows people what you are reading and gives background for your own writing. It also doesn’t have to simply be one long list. If you go to the “blogroll” tab in WordPress you will see that you can add categories.
You can then add specific blogs to each category. Here is a quick example of what this would look like:

There is also a link at the bottom of the “add to blogroll” section that you can drag into your browser so that when you see a site that you really like you can add it to your blogroll very quickly.

P.S. My actual blogroll is a terrible example. Seeing as I am not using WordPress at the moment changing it is a lot harder for me to do than for all of you!

Who owns a class blog post?

So after a lengthy discussion with Vince today I have decided to change my mind on a few of the things that I seemed so certain about just a day ago.

So here is the deal:

I wrote that we would allow professors who so wished to republish all of the student’s blogs into a class blog using wp-o-matic. I’m not sure if we should do that anymore. My reservations come from that fact that if it is republished in the Professor’s blog then I feel that the students loose ownership and that rings strange to my sense of morality.

Let’s consider a few hypothetical situations where a student writes for a class and his blog entries are republished in a class blog :

  • A year down the road the student realized that what he wrote does not represent him and he wants to get rid of it. He can delete the entries in his blog, but they will still be saved in the class blog. He could of course ask the professor to take his posts off, but what if it is 10 years down the line? What if there were a lot of other students who feel the same way?
  • The student decides to delete his blog. If the professor decides to publish the class posts (without attribution), the student has no way of claiming authorship over the post.

There are also hangups for the professor:

  • If the professor accidentally resets wp-o-matic It will recreate all of the entries. WordPress doesn’t have automatic mass deleting of entries (I mean we could write a plugin for it… but plugins take time).
  • If the student updates their blog then those updates are not automatically reflected on the class blog.
  • If a student adds a strange feed (one with say 150 items regarding unsavoury topics) then if those are republished, it is a nightmare to get rid of them. If we just use BDP RSS, all it takes to undo the damage is delete the feed in the BDP RSS options menu

There are probably many more reasons why actually republishing would not be a good idea.

So it comes down to figuring out why we wanted to republish the posts and finding alternatives.

  • Creating a repository: I don’t think at this point we are wanting to create a repository, this isn’t eduglu (as I may have wrongly alluded to in my previous post), it is a blog based course platform where student input is used. A repository of teacher resources should be done in an entirely a slightly different way.
  • Keeping examples of what students did previously: Why not just leave the blog active and create a new blog for every year that links back to previous years. Not only would this give the students an opportunity of pulling out if they don’t want their work published anymore, but it would also allow them to continually update what they have and allows the course to have a history. Using templates and import/export It would be much easier to create a new blog than to get rid of everything from the old blog.

I’m wondering does this make sense? Or are we missing something? We will probably change our minds a hundred times between now and October, but for now I think this model is the most sustainable and easy to implement approach, for us and for the professors.

Making WordPress work for UBC

I’ve just come back from Northern Voice 2008, an absolutely phenomenal experience that I learned a ton of great things from (and will blog about it as soon as I have got the important stuff off of my chest…).

Probably the most important thing that I learned is that the work that Vince and I are doing for UBC Blogs matters to others outside of UBC. From reading posts on Brian Lamb Jim Groom and D’Arcy Norman’s blogs I knew that a lot of people were struggling with the implementation of a free, easy to use “course management system” based on blogs, but for some reason it just didn’t click that I could (and should) be helping everyone out by describing what we are doing. It was only when Jim Groom and Lloyd Budd both on seperate occasions excitedly asked the question “where are you blogging this stuff” that I realized that I have been neglecting my duty to the community by not outlining our solutions to the problems of implementing a university-wide blogging platform.

So here it is, my plan for using WordPress as a University wide blogging platform:

To start off, I’ve been mentally breaking the problem down into two parts. We are in a sense providing two completely different services. One part is that we are providing a platform and community for student bloggers. The other part is that we are providing a course management system for professors. Although both services are interlinked, they each have their own fundamental challenges.

  1. Challenges in providing blogs for students:

    We want to provide students with a way to easily tell their story and with a way to find other students who are interested in their story. The second part is a little easier to do (seeing as umwblogs has already successfully done it), using plugins like muTags, List All widget and BDP RSS we are hopefully going to be able to provide enough ways for students to connect with each other when blogging and help them to easily form that community that so many bloggers crave. for a sneak peek here is the link to one of our many dev sites (warning., it is a dev site, so don’t expect it to look the same every time you stop by).

    the “easy” storytelling part is the true challenge. Despite what many professors might think, many students are scared of technology and the thought of having to learn an HTML tag or two sends many students running away screaming. Students are also scared of registering for too many services online, I know that we all have that fear… but many students find it crippling. Solving the “no HTML” problem was easy… we used WordPress. Solving the “signup” problem was a bit more difficult. We (and when I say “we” I mean Enej and John and Vince, with me shouting out ideas and debugging from the sidelines) created a plugin that integrates UBC’s Campus Wide Login (CWL) with the WordPress login. The process is a bit intricate so I will dedicate a full entry to it tomorrow.

    Start a blog

  2. Challenges in providing course blogs:


    How to use WordPress to create a versatile, easy to use eduGlue blog? At Northern Voice, Vince, Jim, Brian and I met to try and figure it out. Here is what we came up with:

    The first step is to create a widget plugin that can be embedded in the sidebar of the course blog. That widget would have fields for students to paste their name, RSS feed and blog URL. The name and blog URL would be added to the course blogroll and the RSS feed would be added to the BDP RSS aggregator. BDP allows one to aggregate blog posts and display them in a fully customizable way (and touch wood… we haven’t been able to break it yet). A professor who wants a ghost blog (one that doesn’t keep the student’s entries when they leave) would simply output the BDP feed into the course blog and everything would work well. If the professor wants to keep a repository of all the posts written for the class by students, the BDP aggregated feed could just be fed into wp-o-matic the spamblogger that Jim has been experimenting with. Professors want this kind of flexibility and this solution provides it quite elegantly, only requiring a few simple plugins.

    This solution allows students to post in whatever medium they feel comfortable with, it allows students to keep their content and it stops professors from having to do anything technical when setting up a blog, aside from applying the course theme that we create that lets professors choose whether or not they want to keep their student’s content.

Whew… so that is what we are doing… in a very general nutshell.I will be elaborating in weeks to come, but for now if there are any questions, comments, suggestions, pieces that I can elaborate on etc let me have them and I will be sure to act on it.