FacetWP – a semi-tutorial

I don’t usually usually pay for WordPress plugins but this is one I’ve come to like1 quite a bit. To start off, I have a historic interest in facet based searching. It is one of the main things that continues to appeal to me about Exhibit (one of the earlier javascript based tool libraries aimed at non-developers). I’ve looked at a lot of different options to make that kind of thing work for WordPress over the last 5 to 7 years.2 This is by far the best option I’ve found. Why I Like It You can see all the bells and whistles on the demo page. The brass tacks version is that it allows you create a variety of guided search options and create custom page templates with or without the search pieces. I’ve used it personally and on rampages in a few slightly different ways. Here it is just using the custom display (no search) to show 3rd Space related images and I’ve used it to do something similar on this page with posts from my blog in the ‘Photography’ category.3 On this site, it’s allowing faceted searching based on tags created by students through a Gravity Form. Another example that’s using two facets (date and work type) based on parent/child category relationships to sort out my work. Given […]

Troubleshooting Patterns

I got an email from a professor who was using Gravity Forms to allow students to create blog posts. The problem was that when they submitted posts via the form the category ended up being the default category no matter what was selected. Here’s a few of the things I did trying to figure out what was going on. It’s just a matter of isolating variables but occasionally it’s helpful to see how people work through this sort of thing. First, I googled it but that well was dry.1 I made sure the Gravity Forms category selection worked on other sites on the same installation. It did. That let me know it was at least blog dependent. There were only two other plugins active. They were both turned on and off with no change. That meant no plugin conflicts. On the input side, I tried selecting multiple categories. No dice. I tried changing the default category. It change the default category but didn’t fix the issue. I couldn’t think of any more input based variables to mess with so I moved a bit deeper into things. On the form side, I tried changing the category selection options. I tried using checkboxes, multiple select, all categories, select categories etc. None of that made any difference. I copied the form to see […]

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 http://rampages.us/sociologicaltheory/category/marx/.1 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 […]

The Mother Blog Primer

The Concept FeedWordPress is the plugin that allows us to create our “mother blogs.” Consider it an example of the “you are what you eat” concept. The “mother blog” is composed of the consumed feeds. FeedWordPress is our spoon. The mother takes all the student posts from their personal sites and unites them in one place. It helps answer questions like – How can students work in their own sites and use them for multiple courses but still provide the class/cohort advantages of a central/standardized community hub? How can I allow personalization but not go crazy going to 50 different student sites with different layouts? Are there interesting ways I might reconsider the work students do if I can aggregate that work, can provide different lenses of focus, can keep it beyond the narrow confines of a course, and have other students use it in interesting ways? A Brief Overview of the Mechanics Some Tips The child (source) blog needs to be public for this to work. If a child blog is set to Visible only to registered users of this network, Visible only to registered users of this site, or Visible only to administrators of this site then the feed won’t work. Here is how you change that. Add /feed/ to the URLs you’re adding as children in the […]


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 […]

A Hub for The Circle

VCU is reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. All of the first year students will read the book in addition to a number of different faculty members and it’ll play various roles in various classes. So all that means lots of potential for interesting connections but very, very little consistency or hope for consistency.1 The usual things that help you structure a site an experience like this aren’t going to happen but I would really like to allow people to engage with the larger community around this book. That’s the whole point of everyone reading the same book! So I’m relying on the basic blog-based aggregation hub option. The plan is for it to be a lot like the #thoughtvectors site which Alan has explained at length. People can enroll via a Gravity Form that’ll get them tied to their teacher/class and/or we can cherry pick anything with the #VCUcircle2 tag from the Rampages community feed. That is pretty standard these days. 🙂 But a major uniting factor in these sites is usually common assignments or common frameworks. Lacking that, I looked for other options. The interesting option here is the ability to unite the conversations using the page numbers of the physical book which seems counterintuitive but has the potential to be pretty neat. I see it as an […]

The Tao of Posts

I’ve been having quite a few conversations around student portfolios eportfolios online representations of their learning over time. These conversations have mostly centered on using WordPress and, almost inevitably, the first instinct is to create a series of pages that are aligned to either courses or assignments. Those pages usually contain a number of different pieces of content. That structure makes the most sense to people who are used to building websites in the Dreamweaver/static paradigm. I don’t think this is the right path in most cases. It’s easy in the short term but starts to limit you (absent lots of work) in the long run. Strange that I don't really know what a web page is anymore. Individual tweet? Blog post? Flickr image? #vcuols — Tom Woodward (@twoodwar) May 14, 2014 At the heart of this is the issue that “page” is hard to define. In the broadest sense anything I can address with a URL is a webpage. That’s a big bucket. WordPress makes things more complex by including a way to create pieces of content called “pages.” Pages are usually contrasted to posts. I usually described1 the page/post difference was that posts were pieces of content that flowed with the timeline (more ephemeral but archived) and pages were pieces of content you wanted to be more permanent/static. […]


Jetpack Tiled Gallery Example

I turned on the Tiled Galleries (directions on that link) in the WordPress Jetpack Plugin. This is an example of what it looks like. It’s easy to do and has some decent options. You do have to accept what you’re given but such is the price of convenience . . .

Some FeedWordPress Advanced Filters Details

Here are a few things that have come up recently that might be of value to others wandering the FeedWordPress/FeedWordPress Advanced Filters Syndication highway. Same Name, Different Pictures I ran into this with the Field Botany page. A variety of factors came into play here. We now have over 1300 posts with at least one image, usually more per post. This ups our chances for conflict. A lot of these images were taken on mobile device, in particular Apple devices, which have a very unimaginative naming structure (essentially Picture 1, Picture 2 etc.). This doubles down on our chances for conflicts. We are using Advanced Filter for FeedWordPress to pull those images into the mother blog. What would happen is that a post would come in on Blackberries. It would have a few images named Picture 11, Picture 14 etc. Later on a post would come in on Poison Ivy and it would have some pictures. One of them might be named Picture 14. As a result, the original Picture 14 would appear and it’d look like the wrong label/picture had been given. It’d all be correct when you traced it back to the source blog. You can see how this might happen in the example below. The cure (no known hiccups at this point) is to use the developer […]

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 […]