These images are slides from a short (10 minutes) presentation I gave at this evening’s #NYEdTech meetup. Our conversation revolved around WordPress as a learning management system, with supporting appearances by Moodle and Blackboard. In the interest of capturing more information on what I talked about, I’ll expand on the slide notes below.
Overall, I had a few significant takeaways from this evening. A key distinction between WordPress and other “traditional” learning management systems is that the former promotes a very “constructivist” educational approach and the latter are strong on generating learning metrics, whether or not professors use them.
Also, WordPress needs a more flexible privacy framework for authors. There are roles and capabilities when it comes to the publishing workflow, but a piece is either published or password-protected at the end of it. As a plugin, it would be useful for students to be able to control whether a piece is public to themselves, between themselves and a few users, between themselves and a specified group, or open to anyone on the web.
Lastly: “Students use Blackboard and Moodle, then graduate, and never use them again.” WordPress has applications in the real world.
CUNY J-School in a nutshell
- WordPress Multisite 3.1 – Install WordPress once, install your themes and plugins once, and create as many subsites as you need. Our naming schema is *.journalism.cuny.edu and for courses we’re starting to include the year in the URL. Thanks to a domain mapping plugin, publications and students can use their own personal domains on their J-School website.
- 258 student, project, class, and publication sites – Considering the Class of 2011 is only 90 people, and the school is having its 5th anniversary this year, I’m quite happy with this number. The Interactive 2 website for this spring is a good example of what we’ve done with course websites.
- 481 users – Students, faculty, staff and the occasional community member.
- 134 themes available for anyone to use, 16 custom designs – Most of these are from Graph Paper Press and WooThemes which offer affordable licenses on relatively good, GPL’d themes. The custom development work we do is available for remixing on Github.
- 76 plugins – One of these days, I’ll add a view to the tech website to show all of our currently installed plugins. Until then, I published a list of plugins for publishers that has a number of them.
- 2 GB production Rackspace Cloud server, 1 GB development – According to our CPU and memory usage, this is a pretty good fit for us. With bandwidth, our total costs are around $160/month.
- Nginx/PHP5-FPM + MySQL – After battling with Apache for six months, we moved to Nginx/PHP5-FPM at the end of January. Overall, I’ve been much happier with it as it seems to be much more efficient. If you go with Ubuntu 10.10 and PHP 5.3.3, it’s as easy as Apache to set up.
- ~ 200k monthly impressions – Roughly calculated with Quantcast. Still looking for a better cross-network analytics tool.
Current uses of WordPress
- Class discussion
- Students publishing assignments
- Portfolio websites – For examples, check out Alissa Ambrose, Matt Draper, Felipe Cabrera, Zach Kussin, Ian Chant, Patrick Wall, or Megan Izen.
- Running a news publication – The NY City News Service is the publication for the entire school. There are a number of award-winning student productions as well.
- J-School marketing and information
- Documentation and technical resources – Our tech website hopes to be a compendium of knowledge and structured information.
Problems we want to solve with WordPress
- Assignment scheduling with structured capture – Cross-subject collaboration on assignment calendars currently happens through a combination of emails and meetings. This spews problems like a fountain. Ideally, we’d like to capture all assignments within WordPress in a structured way, possibly as a custom post type on each course website. We’d then surface the information so students always have up to date information on their assignments, professors could create new assignments for their students while being respectful of the existing ones, and administrators could look through all of this data to see what intellectual resources need to be created, etc.
- Tracking student knowledge/experience against topics
- Pro-active student support
- Equipment management and conflict handling – Building off the equipment requirements field in assignment scheduling, we’d map demand to supply to see when the pinch points are going to be on, say, the Canon 60Ds. Students could also see current and scheduled availability.
- Better search to make evergreen archives valuable – WordPress’ search is abysmal. Faceting against content types, tags, people, publication dates, etc., in conjunction with a tuned relevance algorithm, would do wondrous things.
- Event management (promotion and possibly RSVPs) – The J-School has an events calendar based on a custom post type, but we’d love to build signage off the data for monitors around the school as well as allow users to RSVP for events.