Gravity Forms: Exploring a Design Pattern

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by clement127 One of the things we use a lot is what I’ll call templated submissions using Gravity Forms. It’s a solid performer across a variety of activities, disciplines, and instructor technology comfort levels. Costs/Benefits The content is guided/scaffolded so you get consistently constructed products (core elements are there and presented in a consistent manner) in a way that never quite works out with free form entries.1 Want to make sure students apply four lenses of analysis to a website review and end up with consistent titles and formatting? This is the type of construction where forms really help. Often this pattern is used as a way to get the advantage of creating web content without having to give students their own usernames/blogs/etc.2 It does reduce that overhead and makes good sense in situations where a full blog or authoring rights to a common blog may be overkill. One of the main advantages of this type of pattern is ending up with a visible, interactive, and useful aggregation of content. Make that matter. When these assignments have a larger purpose and audience things get far more interesting. A Few Examples These are live classes so please don’t submit entries at these sites. PSY 323< - focused on student submission of video/presentations […]

Private Comments via XMLIMPORT

Making shareable (Sharing with a single person or specific group but not with the world.) comments on public writing is a fairly awkward spaaaaaace right now. There are things like AnnotateIt and Awesome Screenshot and the annotations in Diigo. So I’m looking around for other free options and brain storming odd ideas and not find a whole lot and I came up with the following . . . Note: I’m not saying this is a good idea, it may even be a bad idea but it might inspire someone to do something more interesting down the line.1 I at least found it mildly amusing. Here’s how you might pull an author feed from WordPress into Google Spreadsheets with separate cells each paragraph (for paragraph level commenting). The idea being that you can share the Google document with just that student and do the commenting via the GSS commenting feature. Google spreadsheets will import lots of things (xml, atom, rss). WordPress provides lots of specific feeds (author, tag, categories, combinations thereof). So step one is to get the author feed – for example You can then use the IMPORTXML formula in GSS to import that XML and do some XPATH parsing of the pieces. In this case I used =IMPORTXML(“”,”//p”) to pull out the paragraphs. I can then share the […]

3D Passenger Pigeon Bones

I’ve been working with Bernard Means who runs VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory1. We spoke briefly a while back about building a site to allow for interactive views and downloads of 3D STL files his team has made of passenger pigeon bones. One of the goals was to allow mobile devices to interact with the site in an “app-like” fashion. This is more than a desire for the PR boost that seems to come with creating an “app”2 What we’re working toward is the ability to cache this stuff and enable archaeologists in the field to interact with the virtual shapes on mobile devices or download the shapefiles, print them out, and carry the replicas into the field (next up is a consideration of points). We wanted to get the passenger pigeon bones out in time for the anniversary of the extinction of the species which was 100 years ago today. Due to the excitement and drama that is the new school year, I didn’t end up getting the bones or focusing on this until Thursday. This was the first website I’ve made by hand (non-cms) in a while. I figured it’d be good for me and I thought it’d help remove complications. I don’t know if that ended up being true but it was a decent idea. It was a […]

Sociological Theorists WordPress Site

Our Sociology Department Chair, Jennifer Johnson, is out there leading the way for the Sociology Department at VCU. She’s not only thinking through how syndication will impact the design of their entire program and curriculum (online and off), she’s also teaching a course on Sociological Theory in a way that shows how student work can interweave in interesting ways. There is a real focus on interaction between undergraduate and graduate students and the idea that the student work will be centered around the theorists themselves. The site reflects a number of those choices and it’s going to be fun to watch it grow. They’ve already got upwards of 90 posts and we haven’t even finished the second full week of classes. The site is a basic mother blog setup with a few tweaks. You’ll notice the landing page is a basic grid layout with the theorists images linking to the categories. So the Max image links to Most themes don’t really encourage this particular layout. There are plugins that will allow you to give categories “Featured Images” like posts have. In this case that felt like more trouble than it was worth as I’d also have to do some extra work to make the categories display the way I wanted. I figured someone smart had done a decent grid […]


Field Botany Changed the World

Two pretty telling student quotes from the video1 above. “I was real excited that our blog is now an example for anyone. If you want to look up high bush clover you can look on one of our blogs and find our pictures.” “I think that knowing that the blog and the material would be accessible to anyone made the idea of putting it out there made the idea more exciting in some way but also I put more thought into it for that reason.” The Field Botany blog ended up with 3,675 posts from 27 students. That’s some pretty serious output. That content will remain accessible and the site can evolve2 with each iteration of the course. Two rather simple questions stay in my head lately. How can we have students do more than stairmaster work? – I’ve never cared for burning calories just to burn calories. I’d rather go somewhere. Even running in a circle is better than running in place. I can’t stop thinking about how much time and energy go into things that neither the student nor the teacher want. Since we can aggregate and archive student work, how does that change what we ask students to do? Student work can be valuable. It can add value in the context of other student work. It can […]

Gravestone Iconography

I found a decent paper on gravestone imagery and a few other sites as I explored around. There are quite few people interested in gravestones. I figured I’d create a little mini-guide using the images I’ve taken at Hollywood Cemetery. It’ll likely make sense to do something more formal later on but doing elements of possible future student work helps me work through things. Clasped Hands The “handshake” on the grave can mean different things. In this case you’ll notice that the sleeve on the right is feminine and the one on the right is masculine. This tends to mean a husband and wife joined in life and death. Three Chain Links This one is often a Masonic symbol or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (new to me). I had thought it was something to do with the Father/Son/Holy Ghost. Flowers It is interesting to think of flowers of symbols of short life. It bring a new perspective on their use at funerals. IHS While it looked like a dollar sign to me initially . . . IHS are the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus and may also represent hoc signo vinces (in this sign you will conquer) or Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, savior of men). The Dove A symbol of peace and rebirth. Southern […]

Hollywood Cemetery – Preliminary Thoughts

I’m pretty excited about a new project we’ll be working on this year. We’re going to look at a local historically significant, but still active, cemetery through a variety of disciplinary lenses. Hollywood Cemetery is the permanent home of two presidents of the USA (James Monroe and John Tyler) and one president of the CSA as well as a variety of other interesting local people. Dr. Ryan Smith from VCU’s history department has already had students doing quite a bit of work with local cemeteries. Back Story also recently republished a podcast (Grave Matters) which mentions Hollywood cemetery quite a bit and is all kinds of good. Even the Girl Scouts have some great information on Hollywood Cemetery1. So that brings up the question- What can we do that hasn’t been done and how can we make this something really valuable to the community- both locally and at large? The Players and Their Lenses Looking through the lens of sociology, Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren will be helping us think through work around mortality, social status etc. by analyzing the data from gravestones.2 Dr. Bernard Means will be bringing an archaeological3 and 3D imaging background4 that he has honed in VCU’s Virtual Curation Lab. Dr. Ryan Smith will round out our professorial group with his focus on history. I will be playing […]

Field Botany WordPress Site Breakdown

The Field Botany class is underway and the vegetation is rolling in despite floods and hail. There are 20 student participating on 20 different blogs. Right now we have almost 700 posts in the mother blog. Amazing to see all this great work and to be able to keep it instead of having it stuck in paper notebooks which only a few people ever saw and no one in the public could use. This early days for the site but in the end the intrepid biology duo of Jill Reid and Dianne Jennings will worked with their students to create a site that local residents can use to identify plants in our James River Park System. The nice thing about this setup is it can be used as is or modified to support a variety of other scenarios pretty readily. It has already inspired a sister project that will be documenting mortality and local cemeteries with Susan Bodnar-Deren (who just finished the first round of theOnline Course Development Initiative). Plugins Used On The Mother Blog/Set Up NS Cloner – Site Copier – This was handy for setup. In this case we wanted student sites to have the categories, pages, themes, and plugins already activated. This plugin let me do that easily from a blank template site. The free version doesn’t […]


As We May Think – Annotated

Below is my attempt to use Bush’s essay “As We May Think” as an associative trail. While the hyperlinks are good to go, I don’t think the comments will work all that well in the HTML published format so you can always join in on the actual Google Doc. It’s a mixture of the questions that came to mind as I read, hyperlinks out to additional information, and some other connections that occurred simply because of the way my mind is structured. It made for an interesting experiment and decent preparation for the upcoming #thoughtvectors course. A Google Doc is certainly an easy way to do a version of an associative trail. It allows for hyperlinking and commenting but leaves a bit to be desired in terms of embedding in the blog. I’d like to be able to trigger something like on the post level in blogs. I’ve tried a number of annotation tools but have yet to find one that really does quite what I want. I certainly use diigo’s highlight/notes function on a regular basis but I worry about the non-html elements on the long term side of things. It also falls short in that I can’t respond or extend note elements in the way I’d like.

Four Leaf Clovers, Question Paths, & Literal Names

Yesterday, I decided I’d look for four leaf clovers getting in and out of my car. Not hanging out searching, just opening my eyes and paying a bit more attention. Wikipedia tells me there’s one four leaf clover per 10,000 three leaf clovers. What surprises me is despite their relative rarity just how many four leaf clovers seem to be out there. It’s like interesting things. If you just start looking around, you end up amazed at how many interesting things surround you daily that you never noticed. One interesting thing leads to another. It gets to be harder to pay attention to more mundane things like crossing the road because there are so many interesting things to see and think about. Generating Questions I tried to take pictures representing each question I had walking to work the other day. I only decided to do it about halfway in but it was interesting to see it snowball because I made it intentional. The results are embedded below as a set. Additional questions are sometimes in the descriptions and won’t be visible in the embedded view. Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR. Literally Literal Dodge Caravan takes on a very odd feel if you read it literally. I decided to start capturing all the car/bike names I came across that were also actual […]