Some information on how I’m formatting the WordPress blog for our Program for Online Teaching Certificate Class at Pedagogy First! (I blog, you know, to help me remember what I’ve done. In this case, I’m also blogging about this process because others are trying to design similar courses and ask what I’m doing.)
Bringing in the Feeds
To join the POT Certificate Class, participants have been adding their feed via the (outdated, I know) Add Link widget, which pushes the info into the Blogroll. Then FeedWordPress picks up the Blogroll to syndicate.
The feeds that are put into the widget usually need some hand-worked corrections. Some people don’t know their feed and just put in the blog URL. Others are rightfully confused by the stupid complexity of discovering a feed, or discovering the feed for the “potcert” tag that’s supposed to be used by folks who blog about other things also (thus this page of advice).
Customizing the Feeds by Hand
As the Blogroll gets longer, two things happen.
First, it’s hard to tell whose blog is whose. Add Link uses the standard name of the feed as it comes in, so it can be something like WhatamIdoinghere>>potcert. I have to go to the blog to see that WhatamIdoinghere is a blog written by John Smith.
I want to change the name to John Smith so it shows that way in the blog roll. To do this I have to go into FeedWordPress Syndication, go to the feed, and change the name to Edit manually. Otherwise (if I just change it in Links) it reverts every time a post is brought in.
Coming in through the Blogroll also means that all authors are added as Users. I also have to edit their names by hand, since they often come through oddly as the username from their blog.
Splitting Blog Posts into Two Parts of the Swimming Pool
Getting more complex, I wanted the Blogroll split into types of participants, listing Certificate Students, Mentors, Facilitators, Non-Certificate Contributors, and Cohorts under separate headings.
I only wanted the certain types feeding on to the main page, the Certificate Students and Facilitator posts especially, the posts that belong in the “shallow end” of the pool where newbies are learning.
I wanted the rest of the posts feeding onto a separate page that’s super easy to get to, for the “deep end” of the pool (with diving boards and toys and people doing cannonballs).
But, the way FeedWordPress works, only one Link Category can be syndicated. In the original setup, this Category is the Blogroll (a default). WordPress no longer supports subcategories. I tried the Hierarchical Links Categories plugin to create subcategories, but although it does list everything correctly in Links, the subcategories don’t show up in the Links widget for the Blogroll on the main page. So I had to group Certificate Students, Mentors and Facilitators as one category that’s really the Blogroll.
For the deep end, the separate page of contributions from Non-Certificate Contributors I loaded all their feeds into Google Reader, created a Bundle, then wanted to take the RSS feed for that bundle and somehow put it on a Page. I first tried the RSS in Page plugin. They did all feed, in full form, onto the Non-Cert Posts page. But they were ugly. The Google Bundle page itself looked great, but I was unable to embed it in a Page using iframes or templates. It just wouldn’t show up as a web page.
So I tried other plugins.
WP RSS Multi Importer let me add the feeds one at a time and attributed them to the source, but lost all the formatting, creating big blocks of text.
HungryFEED was perfect. It let me take the Google Reader feed and format it so it looked good. I could even increase the size of post titles and authors.
I can see this as a good way to create a blog for any class (such as a History honors class) and allow external feeds of all kinds to be on a page – the readings could all be added this way, for example.
Alan Levine explained in a comment on my last post that I could use categories a certain way in FeedWordPress to do something similar, but I couldn’t figure it out. FWP had already added a ton of categories along with the feeds, and the way to get just one category to feed on the main page while another fed on a separate page was beyond me.
When the Blog Went Down
Thanks to Alan Levine providing a link to here, I was able to add a bit of code to the .htaccess file inside the WordPress folder for the blog to automatically redirect people to a static site while the blog was down. It was up and down in multi-hour stretches for the entire week before and several days after the class began, until Bluehost got tired of me begging and moved my account to another server.
At the end of the standard code in the .htaccess file, after # END WordPress, I just added:
Redirect 301 /wppf12 http://lisahistory.net/potcertbackup
This created the proper redirect and I just erased it when the blog was stable again.
This one I haven’t solved yet.
As it stands, I need all people who want to participate in the class to email me first, both to make sure we have room and so I can keep their email for my email list.
I also need all participants to provide information on a Registration Survey, including their blog URL and feed. We need their emails to contact them, their goals so we know who’s going for the certificate, their location to get them mentors nearby, etc. So I have a Google Doc survey for that.
But in addition to emailing me and doing the survey, participants also need to add their feed to the blog themselves. That’s three places they need to go.
On the main website, I have directions:
But oddly, not everyone follows them, so I have some some participants who just me, some who put all their stuff on the survey but no email and no feed, and some who put their feed into the blog without doing either the survey or emailing me (this I thought was rude so I put a password on it).
The three different places is confusing, and the survey is a problem because people can’t fully do it until they have a blog set up already, and that usually happens after they’re in the class.
The last step I’m working on is making a FAQ. The one from last year was only about the Certificate itself, how to get it, how to get flex credit at MiraCosta. It has become apparent that we need to answer questions about getting a blog, setting it up, finding a feed, understanding the terminology (blog, post, comment, feed, RSS) etc.
In future, we should provide an on-campus workshop to do some badly needed f2f for our own instructors, broadcast on the web or duplicated with cohorts, who I believe are already doing something similar. The two-week pre-class workshop in Facebook was designed to provide this, but for the most part those who attended it already had set up their blog. Newbies started right on September 1. Must be all that educational institution training! We may even pull back the date so people new to blogging can get set up before the class starts.