The fail is in the new Pedagogy First! blog, which I am trying to set up for the fall Certificate Class (an open course). Last year, we made all certificate candidates blog as internal authors on our PF blog in Typepad. It was a great blog, but prevented them having the experience of ownership and continuation; we want faculty to keep blogging and reflecting after the class is over. And Typepad only allowed one administrator — we need more.
I was modeling the new blog on ds106, using FeedWordPress to pull in the feeds from all participants’ blogs. Both Martha Burtis and Jim Groom helped me out (Martha fixed some awful problems), but it’s just not working. First it was bringing in duplicate posts by the ton, though Martha fixed that by doing something with toggling authors on and off. I tried different themes and settings. I even tried switching to the wp-o-matic plugin instead, but it required way more administration and it really isn’t supported. (I’m not a coder and I can’t afford too many issues.)
The final fail happened this week. My design calls for sticky posts, to be posted each week by our Blog Meister, Jim Sullivan. But using FeedWordPress, every sticky post I tried got wiped out by the next syndicated post, which then became sticky. Nothing I tried worked. At first I thought the problem was the Atahualpa theme (my favorite), so I followed this advice. But it didn’t matter – it even happened in the Twenty Ten theme, which was what ds106 used.
After weeks of this struggle, I started to get angry, not at things not working but at the complete waste of my time, because I wasn’t learning anything in this whole process. Nothing that I could use later. I don’t mind working, but I hate not learning.
I did hit on a crazy idea. Google Reader can create bundles of feeds – this is what Alec Couros did for his EC&I831 class, created a bundle with all the class participants’ blog feeds, then gave us the bundle. There is a plugin called Postalicious that is supposed to take Google Reader bookmarks and add them as posts – I tried it but it just adds links, not the actual posts. But maybe there’s a plugin that can do this, that can act the same as FeedWordPress without the drama – maybe Feed to Post or something. Worth a try to see whether Google Reader can do the heavy lifting instead of a plugin, I think….otherwise, we’re going to have to just do bundles instead, I guess, and teach everyone how to use Reader.
Hooray organizational plugins
Success is happening in the Program for Online Teaching blog, which is POT’s main website. Over the last several years, it’s become a hodgepodge of resources for faculty. Things are hard to find unless you use the Search box, and even then there’s no way to search for things inside screencasts or videos. Our stuff is also scattered across YouTube, Vimeo, blip.tv, Screencast.com, etc. (as I wrote this, I decided to make playlists, which is a good thing).
I began organizing screencasts as posts, with categories from a drop-down menu item called (duh) “Tutorials”. I used the plugin Simply Exclude to make sure the posts in these categories didn’t show on the front page. Now people will be able to use the Tutorials drop-down menu to find things related to Blackboard, Moodle, rubrics, interaction, etc., and I can put any post into as many categories as are appropriate for easy finding (I know I prefer finding to searching!).
Then I looked at the Handy Guides page, where no one would know to look if they wanted, say, the Resource Guide for Online Instructors or the handouts from our Beginners Workshop. Most of these are PDFs. I discovered the Embed PDF plug in, and it works.
This is oddly synchronous, since I had just concluded that it would make sense to use Google Reader to help with pseudo-syndicated posts at the Pedagogy First! blog, and Embed PDF solved my problem by using Google Docs as its heavy lifter. It posts the pdf in a frame inside the post, with clicks to zoom in or open it as a Google Doc. This is just what I wanted – now each PDF handout and guide can have its own post, and also be…findable.
Yes, it’s possible I would have thought of this without the frustration of the failed syndication, but I’d like to think differently!