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What’s up with this blog?

This blog is a sandbox of sorts.  There’s interest in WordPress as an eportfolio tool in some areas of campus. I’m comfortable with WP generally, and my personal blog is a WP blog.

But I’m not nearly as familiar with WordPress mu.  The Academic Commons enables me to try out the “user” side of mu, to test its limits and to see the organization options available.

If you come across the blog in the Academic Commons and have some thoughts on WP mu as an eportfolio platform, please share insights.

Questions I have after 1-2 hours working in mu:

  • Can I sort the order of my “pages” in the horiz nav?  Normally, I’d go in and edit the php files, but this seems not to be an option given my limited permissions in mu.  Ideally, there’d be some sort of Ajax-like implementation (or javascript) that offered the user/admin a drag-to-sort option in the Edit Pages area of the dashboard – like Blogger and like the Widgets sorting in WP.
  • If students load eportfolios into WP mu, is it possible for the institution to easily sort and pull samples out of the database?  Assessment is the motivation here, and without this possibility I think WP mu is limited from an institutional perspective.  (Obviously, it’s still a wonderful tool for the user/student.) I can’t see any of the options for this work from my vantage point within a single blog in mu.
  • Word docs are excluded from media uploads for security reasons. Is this an Academic Commons restriction, or a general mu default restriction?  I converted to pdf and uploaded, but that’s another step that students would have to take.  And it requires the Acrobat package, unless a student turns to open source pdf maker tools. (I suppose there’s a way to write a pdf converter into the upload process so word docs get transformed. But why overcomplicate matters?)

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the welcome! Very helpful information, all around. You’ll find me poking around, making suggestions and adding .02 where I can. When I’m not visible, I’ll likely be lurking. (I’ve subscribed to some of the feeds on the site.)

    Like you, I feel strongly that students should use “real” tools, the software they’ll encounter after college. WP is a solid candidate when viewed from that angle. (The package named for a writing platform that hangs on the wall in many F2F classrooms is not.) But I am still thinking of WP as a blog tool, at bottom. I’m trying to push the envelope in my thinking, mostly because my college often follows the lead of others. Macauley, Blogs@Baruch, and CUNY Academic Commons all point to the emerging (or potential) authenticity of WPMU as a “CUNY-accepted” platform.

    I was getting ready to install WPMU on my server just to do some testing. Then I ran into the AC, and thought I’d save myself lots of personal coding headaches, and get an instant community at the same time. I was quite pleased to see BuddyPress AND Mediawiki installed and running, mostly because any full-featured Web 2.0 eportfolio option needs social networking and collaborative writing functionality of some sort.

    Regarding the Page order, many, many thanks. It isn’t the drag/drop I had hoped for, but it is entirely functional and even intuitive.
    Pages, Categories, Tags are wonderful. These are all great tools, and I know the import/export functionality in WP is good. One thing that makes E-Port important for an institution is the ability to engage in program, major, or course-wide assessment of possible competencies/literacies/skills. For example: Let’s say my department decides it wants to know more about how our majors have progressed as writers responding to literature over several semesters. Or perhaps, we want to assess the quality of reflections on writing development that students produce at the end of 4+ years. The ability to pull several samples from a set of students (seniors, for example) for assessment purposes is an important benefit of the tool.
    Doc format still won’t work for me. Not sure why, but here’s a screenshot of the error I get. I’ve also added some info about what I’ve tried. (Using Firefox 3, Intel Mac, and a .doc created in NeoOffice. Wondering if the Open Office created .doc might be a culprit.

  2. Hi Michael,

    First, welcome to the Commons. I’m very happy to see you playing in the sandbox — we definitely encourage users to kick the tires on this thing.

    And, in fact, one of our major goals in creating the site was to make something that would be organic, flexible, and responsive to the needs of its users. So please do continue to use the site and identify features and plugins that you’d like to see added, and we’ll do our best to add them (please keep in mind, though, that we have a small staff right and that we’re still in the middle of working on major features of the site as a whole).

    So, to answer some of your questions:

    WP as an ePortfolio tool: Have you seen what Joe Ugoretz has been working on at the Honors College? He has a WPMu/BuddyPress set up, much like the Commons, that he’s using for ePortfolios. Here is a link: http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/

    The ePortfolio group, which I see you’ve joined, has had many discussions about various ePortfolio options. I think they’ve set up a page on the wiki, too. My personal thought is that WordPress has the potential to be a wonderful ePortfolio tool for a few reasons:

    — its flexibility offers students many different ways of configuring their sites
    — information posted to it can be easily exported out of WP and imported into other platforms
    — it offers students the chance to build ePortfolios on a platform that they can continue to use after graduation, thus making the ePortfoliio not a static artifact from the past, but rather a living document of the present.

    Sorting the order of pages: Yes, you have the ability to sort page order. But you have to set the order on the editing screen of the individual page, rather than on the “Pages” section of the dashboard. If you are on the dashboard, go to “Pages” and click “edit” under one of the pages you’ve created. On the right hand sidebar, you should see a box that says

    Order
    [0]
    Pages are usually ordered alphabetically, but you can put a number above to change the order pages appear in. (We know this is a little janky, it’ll be better in future releases.)

    Please try this out. If it doesn’t work, I’ll install the plugin you’ve mentioned in your second post. Maybe I should install that plugin anyway.

    is it possible for the institution to easily sort and pull samples out of the database?
    Yes, but can you say a little more about what you mean by samples? Since WP uses MySQL, the database can always be queried to produce desired data, and RSS feeds offer another powerful method of pulling data from individual blogs. (in fact, we’ve only begun to take advantage of that on the Commons, because we’re still trying to get all of our customized code and features working).

    In terms of sorting, one can do all sorts of sorting with categories and tags.

    Word docs: Actually, Word docs are not excluded, though the directions for including them could be much more clear. To add a Word doc to a post, go to the Post editing screen. Look for the “add media:” line right on top of the editing box. If you click on the image that looks like an asterisk, you’ll be able to add Word docs to your post (first upload it, then insert it into your post).

    Thanks again for exploring the Commons. Please let me know whether my responses have fully answered your questions.

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