Field Botany WordPress Site Breakdown

Field Botany Site
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 copy over users which the pro version does. Another thing to look out for is that Jetpack will get messed up if you copy it like this and you’ll have to deactivate/reactivate. It would have been better just to turn it off before copying.
  • FeedWordPress – As usual Feed WP is pulling it all in. In this case we wanted to make sure that we kept all the content even if student later decided to trash their own sites. So in Posts & Links, things are set to keep the posts. Keep in mind, that you need a post before the feed will work. It’s also better to type in the full URL to the feed (http://theblogurl.com/feed/) rather than relying on auto-detect which will sometimes throw XML errors that don’t actually exist. Another heads up is that the default RSS feed length is 10 items so if you wait to add blogs until they have more than 10 posts (easy to happen in this case) you’ll have to go back and increase the default RSS feed item number (under Settings>Reading). You’ll be much happier if you don’t have to do this.
  • FeedWordPress Advanced Filters – This let’s you pull the images in the post into your own WordPress install. I thought that was happening already but luckily the featured images got all confused and in tracking that down Alan pointed out this feature. It seems like the post ID can get confused when looking for the featured image (at least the way I designed the theme- which may be all kinds of jacked up).
  • Ultimate Tag Cloud Widget – This gives you a lot more control on the tag cloud. In order to keep track of some stuff we set some automatic tags (2014, student, summer) on the FeedWordPress end. We didn’t want them showing up in the main tag cloud so the UTCW lets you drop them from view.

Plugins Used On Child Sites

  • Jetpack – The unique piece here was enabling students to post via email from their phones in the field. This really shortened the time between photographing and identifying the plant and getting that data connected with the image. In the past students would often forget what photograph went with their notes. Granted students could use the WordPress app but this cut out installing an app and avoided the typical confusion when people attempt to log into WordPress.com instead of our actual site.
  • Autopost Thumbnail – This just takes the first image in the post and makes it the featured image. That’s for the featured image sort visuals. People could have done this manually but this makes it easier and anyone who wants can override it manually. You do have to remember to run it the first time or it won’t work. It installs under Settings>Auto Post Thumbnail which can be a bit hard to find.

Things to Work On

Right now the location pages (like Belle Isle) show only the 80 most recent posts. I need to install some sort of pagination option. That’s tied to the theme which is how the sort stuff works. What I really need to do is separate out the functionality into a plugin that’ll work in any theme. Mixitup.io has also improved quite a bit since I did this and there will be good things that will now be possible.

The tag cloud is probably large enough to have it’s own page. I will likely use FacetWP1 as a main sorting/finding feature as well. You can see early stages of it over here. The categories have continued to develop as Dianne and Jill fine tune the site so I’m not doing anything too serious until that firms up.

Given most of these images are taken with cell phones, I’m also considering seeing if I can scrape the exif GPS data and plot them on a map.


1 Great plugin for this type of thing although it does cost something.

Comments on this post

  1. Jim Groom said on May 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    I like this a lot. martha Burtis built somethign similar for students who went to the Galapagos this semester, check it out: http://umwgalapagos.com You two should compare notes 😉

    • Tom Woodward said on May 24, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      I want to go to the Galapagos.

      I like the auto-load/infinite scroll aspect.

      I got sort of stuck with the 2012 theme as that was the one I tried it out with originally. I’m going to be working on this general concept a bit more so if Martha knows any good tricks . . .

  2. CogDog said on May 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Impressive work,Tom. It’s worth it to hammer through this kinds of site projects.

    The site duplication seems complex; I know that Tim was doing stiff at UMW with installation scripts that could set up sites with plugins enabled (but I guess on multisite you could manage it with networked plugins).

    Also a different approach to field observations that your prof might look at is this iSpot hub I saw at the Open U

    http://www.ispotnature.org

    Sort of crowd sourcing ids with submitted mobile photos.

    But a WordPress high five for getting this one operational.

    • Tom Woodward said on May 25, 2014 at 9:42 pm

      The site duplication wasn’t my favorite but it wasn’t that bad time-wise (other than resetting all the Jetpack stuff which was super annoying) but I do hate to do stuff that computers ought to do.

      I’ll check in with Timmy & Co but I think they key for them was non-multisite installs . . . so as part of installing a fresh WP, you could do all those hookups and standardization.

      I think something like ispotnature (my son does http://www.projectnoah.org/) might work in the future. This is a mimic of their traditional notebooks and I think we’ll be able to explore new possibilities as we get used to what happens when this stuff is networked.

    • Tom Woodward said on October 29, 2014 at 9:07 pm

      Since Brian’s comment refocused me on this, I have a much, much better way to duplicate sites. It requires a WPMU Dev plugin but you can set up blog templates which come complete with categories, plugins, themes . . . whatever. You just set up a template blog and it’s an option when signing up for a new blog. Dead simple for everyone involved and no more hassle for me.

  3. Brian said on October 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I somehow didn’t take this in at the time, but there is so much goodness here. CogDog reminded me. Now that Alan is in Kamloops for a few months, hoping to apply the principles you outline to a few projects here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Tom Woodward said on October 29, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks Brian. I’m looking forward to seeing what y’all come up with.

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