WP-o-Matic and cron

When I logged in and started posting this AM I noticed the little popup notice asking me to configure WP-o-Matic. This looks like a great little tool for feeding multiple blogs.

Question: Full functionality requires the ability to set up a cron job, something I didn’t think was possible in the limited admin environment of WPMU. Am I missing something? I can do the pseudo-cron, a browser-based approach, with some apparent compromises. Hmm.

Long time no blog

In recent weeks I have turned my attention inward a bit, focusing on the details of our own eportfolio project and some of the main areas of my summer responsibilities. Work continues in the eportfolio effort, though it’s a bit less visible.

WordPressMu & BuddyPress Installed at York

On Wednesday we had a wonderful little meeting to discuss/demo the install of WPMU on a York server. We have lots of issues to sort through, of course, but I was quite pleased to see that the technical issues that had held up LDAP integration with WPMU and our Apache server were successfully resolved by Eric.

When we’re ready students will use the single sign-on they have for their York email, their CUNY Portal Account, their Blackboard account, etc. to create a blog/eportfolio. Not sure why, but I didn’t realize how elegant this would look in practice. Hit the login link, enter the username/pw, blog gets created.

By Thursday we had BuddyPress added to the mix, and I got a test account to play with. We don’t have an overarching “theme” for the WP/BP site, but that will come in time.

In under one minute I exported this test blog/eportfolio from the Academic Commons and imported it into my test account on the York install. I was a little surprised that the theme didn’t transfer, but that makes sense since all I grabbed was the XML file with the posts and comments.

Oh, here’s the link to the install: http://blogs.york.cuny.edu

Having Trouble Aligning Images Left or Right in WPMU?

The GUI for inserting images seems to readily accept left and right floats (or the deprecated “align”), and if you use the Advanced tab in the add image dialog box you even get the option to add custom styles to the image such as a margin around the image. This looks very full featured, and so easy for the novice.

Unfortunately, many of the older templates currently on offer do not have the CSS necessary to implement the approach this version of WPMU takes. Atahualpa, the theme I’m using in this blog (today), does seem to contain the CSS necessary to handle the float issue with ease.

Frustrated by the teaser of left/right alignment of images and text wrapping nicely around it, and remembering a journalism colleague’s words that WordPress Multiuser didn’t work so well for his journalism class because they couldn’t make the text wrap around the images, I took a little time yesterday to fix this problem using the DIV element and an inline style.

What to do:

  1. Insert your image and size it as you see fit.  Don’t bother to align since it won’t work, at least not for many of the templates. (Alternatively, try the alignment. If it works, no sweat. If (When?) it doesn’t work, read on.
  2. Once the image is nestled in your page or post, select the HTML tab. You’ll see something like code describing the presentation of your image and any associated caption.
  3. Put a <div style=”float:right;”> at the front of that code-like stuff to float your image to the right and have text wrap to the left. Use “float:left;” for the reverse effect.
  4. Put a </div> at the end of that code-like stuff to close the DIV element and effectively wrap your image within an inline styled DIV element that applies a float to your image.
  5. Save your Draft, Preview your page, and if all is well, Publish!

Here’s the code in action.

Lorum text wrapped to the left of a right-floated image

I’ve added a left margin of 10px to keep text from running into the image box (Atahualpa doesn’t seem to do well with a margin added via the dialog box)

Google Chrome Joins Browser Wars

Google Chrome Joins Browser Wars

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Lorum text wrapped to the right of a left-floated image.

I’ve added right margin of 10px to keep text from running into the image box (Atahualpa doesn’t seem to do well with a margin added via the dialog box).

Google Chrome Joins Browser Wars

Google Chrome Joins Browser Wars

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This is all much easier than it seems to be, really.

The right way to do this is to add the missing CSS, something that’s not possible given the limited admin capabilities in WPMU. Of course, that’s the whole point of this sandbox test of WPMU! What can – and can’t – you do in WPMU?

Given what I can do with this limited admin offering, the inline approach strikes me as a reasonable workaround!

Will students take the time to do this? Will they care about floating an image to the right or to the left? Hmm.

First spam comment

Saw my first spam comment on the blog today.  A “you post they host” comment held for moderation because of my settings.  I noticed the intall of akismet about a week ago; guess it’s time to get another wordpress.com api key so I can better control spam on this blog.

One spam comment can be swatted like a fly. But perhaps one is a harbinger of things to come.  Just another thing to include in the list of stuff to help students deal with in a blog/portfolio platform, if it’s to be open.

Let’s Get Serious about Assessing E-Portfolio Here

So far I’m mostly been moving the sand in the box, seeing what I can build, what things can do, what happens if I kick the stuff around. And every time I find that the sand won’t do something, the admins come along and plug in a new shovel so I can make the sand do what I want it to do.

It’s time to start thinking seriously about mining data off the back end of the project.  (I’m just getting started.)

MySQL and Usage Stats

The back end of the web is, I must admit, one of the places where I’m still quite unfamiliar. It’s not a dark alley I fear so much as a space I haven’t explored enough – yet. I can upload stuff, make some mods to files on the server, etc. But manipulating and culling material out of a database is not my thing at all. And so I have some serious questions about what CAN and what CANNOT readily occur back there.

I’m thinking now about stats on my own usage of the AC over the last week or so.  Can the admin quickly pull that data to provide stats on such hypothetically meaningful information as:

  • How many posts have I made in my blog?
  • How many files have I uploaded?
  • How many times have I added a page, made an edit, etc?
  • How many comments have I made on others’ blogs?
  • How many friends to I have?
  • How many times have I logged into the AC?
  • How many edits have I made to the Mediawiki install?
  • How many widgets/plugins/etc have I activated? How many themes have I tried out?

Why does this matter?

I’m seeing that e-portfolio adoption is about much more than simply getting students to reflect on and upload work samples in their classes.   I think it is important to start to think about e-portfolio in terms of usage.  I’d like the system to be able to report, for example, that 250 students created 1200 pages, and commented on 400 posts in an academic year; that students, on average, friended 39 peers over the year; that students change their themes 7 times in a year on average, and that they add 4 widgets/plugins/etc.

MySQL and Portfolio Samples

At WordCampEd there was some serious discussion of assessing e-portfolio samples over time, with Bret Eynon raising perhaps the single most important assessment issue of the day:  If students can freely add to, subtract from, and edit their e-portfolio elements at any time, an effort to assess development over time likely to be highly problematic.  One possibility involves archiving e-portfolios each year, something that I think Joe suggested.

The possibilities here are fascinating.  Imagine not only evaluating a student’s writing and reflection at Year 1 and again at Year 4; imagine evaluating a student’s level of engagement with the platform, and level of engagement in the community.  NSSE surveys students about engagement on campus; this would potentially measure engagement on a whole different dimension.

My question for now is far simpler, while still being very important.  Is it a straightforward database query to pull, say, a random sample of 5% of the final papers from a freshman writing cohort, together with the students’ reflections on those samples?  (I imagine that the reflections would be in a Page, and the papers would be word docs or PDFs attached to the page.)

RSS Error

Added the RSS feed today. Oops. There’s a parsing error:

XML Parsing Error: XML or text declaration not at start of entity
Location: http://michaeljcripps.commons.gc.cuny.edu/activity/feed
Line Number 2, Column 1:
^

I don’t have permissions to dig through the source here, so I can’t really do anything to address the issue. I simply clicked the Add RSS button, saved, and got an error. Odd. I don’t get this in my own blog, a WP install.

A quick search for the error in WPMU forums revealed that I’m not alone here. Not sure how easy this will be to address. Perhaps its a bug that emerged in the upgrade from an earlier version of WPMU?

Filesize limit issues abound on media uploads

It appears that 1500k is the default max file upload in WPMU, or that the admin team has initially set this very, very low limit. Even a 5 minute mp3 audio podcast won’t fit in the limits.

I did notice that one “error” indicated that 50M was the limit, which seems quite reasonable. But 1500k just won’t work if we imagine students posting audio and video clips they produce, extended powerpoints, even high quality images or PDFs. It may be that there are a

Obviously, remote hosting of the media is possible. And there’s a value in learning to bring together in one place media housed at various locations in the cloud. But it seems a bit more cumbersome than necessary in an environment where a terabyte of hard drive space runs about $100, and less in bulk.

Atahualpa and Customizing the Theme

The people behind Academic Commons, at least the WPMU aspects of it, are very, very responsive. I switched to the Atahualpa theme, and took a few minutes to make a header graphic for the sandbox blog.

Some snags on the upload, mostly because it’s a bit clunky to get a header into the system. For some reason, default header image alignment is centered? Not something I would have chosen, but ok.

And then I had to figure out why the left and right portions of my header weren’t showing in the prepared black. Hint: Opacity is set at about 50% by default on the left and right sides of the header (sidebar stuff, really, it seems).

But not that big a deal. I used the logo from atahualpa, tossed it on a black background, and then used the Stop font in my library for the BG image. 20 minutes from start to finish, including some interruptions. And now that I’ve been through it once, I expect it could be done in under 30 seconds if I had a header ready to roll.

Cool feature, for about 5 minutes: I can make lots of headers and they’ll change on new page views. I can imagine this being interesting if I want to show different little graphics in different headers (duck, nail, pig, bird, shoe, whatever).

If you’re not digging into Academic Commons’ WPMU blog, do it now. I feel like there are 3-4 developers responding to my ruminations on “what would be nice” to have in the system. Thanks!