This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

Horses for open courses: Making the backend of a MOOC with WordPress #altc2013

Talking dirty codeOn Tuesday (10th September, 2013) I’ll be giving a short presentation at altc2013 on using WordPress as a course platform for ocTEL. You can read the full presentation abstract here. It’s been useful to think about what it all means. WordPress is a fantastic platform for putting things together. The diversity of plugins and themes, the majority of which are open source, means you can quickly put together a powerful platform. The huge headache having now gone through this process twice is integration.

For example, in ocTEL learners had their profile which they could edit using the forum plugin bbPress. Separately the FeedWordPress plugin was used to pull content from spaces being used by students such as Twitter and Google+. To allow students to administer their own blog feed as a source for this required this, this and this (and no doubt some other code I’ve forgot to highlight). If you were wondering what the image down the right hand side of this post is it’s the functions.php code written for ocTEL. This along is over 400 lines and there is more for page customisation.

In some ways this extra code isn’t needed, it’s there for a better user experience. Other staff including Martin Weller have very successfully used WordPress/FeedWordPress as a component of their online courses. The downside is that administrative burden is placed on the tutor rather than distributing to students (this burden could actual be a positive thing. If you are asking students to self register feeds there is a good chance it won’t happen. If you are is the position to directly ask or make response a requirement, say at entry, then it’ll get done.)

So do we wrap these experiments in a box or do we stand back, admire the fine lines and let the next platform author decide what ideas, snippets of code they want to reuse? This is the question Alan Levine (You Don’t Get ds106 in a Box) and Jim Groom (ds106: Will Work for Feed Syndication Framework), and I’m sure others, have been recently asking.

Boxing some of this would be good but whereas previously I was thinking about big boxes I’m more inclined to keep the boxes small and interoperable. Already Alan is extracting the ds106 assignment bank into a theme others can use. I recon my offer should be to turn the Course/Conference Reader into a plugin and revisit the Feed+ Machine to plug some of the syndication holes. 

Anyway I hadn’t planned to talk dirty code and I’m sure anyone who was planning on coming to my session is now having second thoughts. I promise to keep it light, to prove it my current slide desk is here (work in progress).

Martin Hawksey is Chief Innovation, Technology and Community Officer for ALT his work is focused on the development of ALT’s member services exploring how connectivist approaches can be used to support the community. This includes the application of data aggregation and dissemination techniques using existing open source platforms such as WordPress.

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