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.

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.)

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.

Embedding video with wordTube

Not sure if I missed it on the first run through the installed plug-ins, or if the admin team is very active with add-ons for users, but after spending some time today trying to get a Youtube video to show in a Page I noticed the “wordTube” plugin.

I activated it, found a wordTube link in the Media area of the dashboard, and added a Youtube video. Cool.

After some finagling I sorted out the method for getting the video to load in the page.

Here’s “The Machine is Us/ing Us,” by Michael Wesch, as a video embedded in a blog entry:

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Nice. Easy. Unattractive!

Positioning and resizing a wordtube video in a post

Dumping a video on the page is one thing. Getting it to look good by positioning and resizing is something else.

I was able to resize the wordtube media with a little code, and to center the media by wrapping it in a div and affixing an inline style of center to it. No sweat, though it would be nice for students if this could be handled through buttons.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Here’s a cheesy caption one might put beneath the video

If you know your way around an html element or two, and a little about css, the following will help you out. If you don’t know about html/css, you probably want to just wait for some new plugin or enhancement to wordtube.

  • Code I used to adjust media size: media=# width=xxx height=xxx
  • Code I used to center the media: div style=”text=align:center

Loading the video into a “portfolio” page

Here it is loaded onto a page nested within the Courses area of the sandbox eportfolio. (Scroll to the bottom of that page for the link(s).

I tried to adjust the default size of the video in the page by modifying preferences in wordTube. While I thought I had made the mods, I’m not seeing a resized video. I suspect this is because I’m grabbing a smaller version of the Youtube video. (More tweaking will provide answers.)

Ajax/Javascript to Drag/Drop Sort Pages?

A quick search revealed that I’m not the only one bothered by the lack of drag/drop Page sorting functionality in WordPress.  In 2007, a Brazilian wrote a plugin for WP that does just this during the Google Summer of Code – http://bitsinashortbit.wordpress.com/2007/09/16/the-final-bits-of-gsoc/.

I suppose I might implement this kind of thing in my own blog.  (I think I’d just go in and mod the template pages, in all honesty.) But I certainly can’t do it from my limited access in a blog in WordPress mu.  Someone at the uber-admin level would need to put this functionality into the blog tool.

Why Do This?

  1. Any e-portfolio should enable the author to name the areas of his/her portfolio, and to sort the items in appropriate ways.  The template I’m using in the demo blog sorts via alpha list – totally meaningless, if you ask me.
  2. Drag/Drop functionality is available in other platforms/packages, and even in other areas of WP (notice the widgets sorting).  Why not put it where it matters, like in the pages listing?
  3. In WordPress mu, an individual blog admin has very limited customization options available. Enhanced individual blog admin controls add power without necessarily requiring added coding knowledge.

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?)