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. People also usually consider the post content to be “blog”2 related.
To complicate things (at least in my head), if I click on a category or tag I end up on a page (although not a WP defined page) and that page is composed of posts. Additionally, some themes have page templates that present posts. The more I think about it, the more potential for confusion I see. I can’t find it but there’s a twitter (page) out there somewhere with Alan saying blogs and posts are the same thing in the WordPress database.
It may appear that this is one of those irritating discussions that while true are only of interest to nerds and have little practical value.
Nothing3 could be further from the truth. The tao of posts is a way of life and the way you think about constructing a portfolio-ish thing matters quite a bit in terms of what you want to do and what you can do.
To begin with the “page” is much like the desktop folder of old, or old school browser bookmarks- it is directly hierarchical and content can only exist in one place at a time. This sucks. It is especially bad when you consider that the purpose of many portfolio-thingees is to try to get students to understand (and reflect on) the interrelationship of concepts and courses. Their content might be completed as part of a specific course but it’s also tied to a particular skill/understanding or many skills/understandings. That’s a good thing. It’s a blurry world. We want interdisciplinary, vertically aligned, transmedia, multi-whatever but when you build with pages you’re almost certainly making that kind of consideration antithetical to the way you’re organizing the content.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you are giving up the ability to tie content to particular courses (or any other concrete categories for that matter). You can still do that, you just do it through categories and/or tags. That’s going to allow the “learning artifact”4 to be associated with whatever concrete things you need. It is often handy to be able to associate content with courses but that association tends to be functional. It’ll help with grading or with creating lenses of focus etc. The aspirational/philosophical elements tend to evolve and overlap in ways that extend between and beyond courses. Now that assignment/work/product can be found via UNIV200, via “critical thinking”, and via “integrative thinking”. If you tried to do something similar with that piece of work in a page things would get ugly very quickly.
None of my thoughts are unique or groundbreaking but they’re often absent from these conversations. The very same forces that have driven users to adopt tagging in social bookmarking, smart/virtual folders, and search as an interface could provide not just solutions but actual advantages in considering presenting and interacting with student curated content. These dynamic aggregation opportunities have distinct advantages if they’re considered in light of learning goals and the way you’re going to encourage students to think and interact with their own work. It’d be difficult to say the same thing for the static presentation considerations forced through the typical page based construction.