Upgrading WordPress to 3.3.1

It’s taken a little while for me to take it up, but I finally broke down and upgraded my WordPress install to the latest version. I’m only just starting to get to know this version. Still, it’s pretty clear that the WP team has made some good additions.

Drag and Drop Media Upload

Right away, I noticed a simplified media upload mechanism. WP is getting smarter. It can now detect the media type you want to upload and sort it appropriately. Even more interesting is the drag-and-drop functionality for media uploads. I gave the tool a quick test drive by uploading a header image, a shot of my backyard pond, below.

Header for Spring 2012 English Composition Course
Backyard Pond.

Flyout Menus

Anyone who spends time with WP knows that the dashboard sidebar menu structure is a bit long.  On a laptop, it’s not uncommon to see the menu run below the fold, forcing a scroll just to locate the settings options.

Flyout menus changes all that.  It’s easy to see your menu options on hover, saving the extra click and streamlining the look of the text in the dashboard sidebar.

Why Update?

Good question. When is something good enough?  I can’t really answer that question.  There are security issues to consider, of course, and the newest version closes some vulnerabilities. In all honesty, the security concerns weren’t enough to move me to the upgrade.

I needed a little down time on my running sites to feel comfortable with an update.  The semester break created that down time for me.  (I didn’t want to break course websites midstream.) But that wasn’t even enough, really.

In the end, my desire to create an option for users to subscribe to Page updates through RSS led me down a path that required the update. RSS Pages for WordPress 3+ required an update to my WP 3.  That update went well, although the plugin page indicates that it had not yet been tested with 3.3.1.  Consider this a leapfrog moment.  I installed the plugin and it seems to be working just fine.

Xtranormal in Composition

It’s official. Xtranormal is a great little online tool for composition courses, particularly if your course emphasizes the conversational nature of academic writing.

After contemplating the use of Xtranormal in my composition course for about a year, I offered students the option of creating an Xtranormal script and video in lieu of two low stakes assignments. Working in groups, students who opted for the video project produced two-minute videos that put Malcolm Gladwell, Sherry Turkle, and Nathan Rott into conversation on the issue of social media and social action.

Writing effective source-based papers with a strong dose of argument is a tough task for college freshmen. Producing animated videos that put texts into conversation can actually reduce the level of complexity involved in getting the argument rolling. On top of figuring out the texts, locating moments of connection, and putting the texts together in the service of a position or view, students need to wrestle with effective integration of texts, a balance of quotation, paraphrase, and summary, documentation style, organization, and sentence construction. It takes a full term (or two) for students to become even somewhat proficient at juggling all these elements, and it can be frustrating for them. Their ideas and readings can quickly outpace their ability to represent their views in the structure of the academic paper. Here’s where Xtranormal is a great tool.

Xtranormal uses Flash and text-to-speech technology to enable novice movie makers to produce animated videos online.

Students prepare a script that puts a couple characters in a scene and sets them in a conversation. When students have to use some of the language of the texts they’re reading as they develop the script, they really begin to do some of the hard work of academic thinking. Xtranormal is fun because the author chooses characters, a voice, a background, camera angles, sound effects, and more.

The major drawback, really, is Xtranormal’s revenue model. Rather than offer a free, ad-supported version for those unwilling to purchase the characters and sets, Xtranormal teases creators by providing seed money to make the first video. There is an education discount that puts the tool within some teachers’ budgets, but it’s likely that most students would have to work with a limited set and character selection to work in the budget of the teaser film. (Home economics for digital production?)

Xtranormal was optional this term. I think I’ll require a project of this sort next term.

New Look – Please Comment

I just completed the “rough” migration of my website into WordPress 3.0. I’m wrapping the weblog and the pages all in one blog. I’ll post the procedures once I finish tying up all the (very) loose ends on the project. For example, I just realized that I deleted the files that were controlling my CSS-switching experiment, a 4-5 year effort that I’d hate to lose just because I’m moving to WordPress for the site. Repairing the damage will take a little time. (Major ouch!)

What’s good about this move?

  • I get Web 2.0 functionality and the database web moving forward.
  • My weblog is integrated with the rest of my site.
  • With WordPress 3.0 I can roll multiple sites/blogs into a single install, and manage them from one admin panel.
  • This enables me to move all my course sites into WordPress (going forward). I experimented with WP-driven course sites in Spring 2010 and I mostly liked it.

What’s not good?

  • My focus on content migration took my eye off design. I have a “designed” site, to be sure. But it has a very bloggy (or blocky?) look/feel to it.  In time I’ll push this issue, starting with experiments in course website.
  • Lots of up front work to move things.
  • Errors will be huge. (Let’s hope I don’t err.)

Wi-Fi via USB Tether – Mac via Android, Courtesy of June Fabrics

PDAnet (junefabrics.com)

Last week my wife and I made the move from Palm to Android. It was sad to see my venerable Treo go, but it really wasn’t cutting it any longer. No wi-fi or GPS (in 2010!). And while it had good bluetooth functionality, the IR port on it just screamed retro. (People in IT literally laughed when I pulled it out of my pocket to schedule a meeting or check an email.) While I have yet to box it up and sell it back to Sprint (for $10 – ouch!), it’s done.

The new hotness (for me) is the HTC Evo, a candy bar of a phone with a 1 ghz processor and a 4.3″ display. It would seem huge to just about anyone in the market these days.  But it’s actually about 2/3 as thick as my Treo and not all that much larger. HD video, 8 megapixel camera,  GPS, wi-fi, and so, so much more. I’m still working my way around this beast, but it is so nice and super responsive.  I used the GPS (my first GPS experience, really) on a Maine trip and I might as well have a Garmin since the screen is about the same size.  Spoken turn-by-turn directions courtesy of Google.

And today, after discovering that my wi-fi will be a bit spotty in my Maine residence, I decided to try to use the phone to establish a wi-fi connection via USB tether. June Fabrics’ PDAnet on the Mac and on the Android. 5 minutes of installation and setup. Voila! (The image in this post comes from the June Fabrics site.)

You’re reading a blog post made from the Mac via USB tether. How’s that for cool? (Yes, I have the WordPress app for my phone and  I can post that way. But the point here is to test my ability to conduct “real” work from a 15″ screen  via my phone’s data connection. Done.)

Looks like it won’t last through the next OS update. I’ll have to think about that data plan add on, or find a reliable hotspot.

WordPress 3.0 – Test Drive

I took a test drive with WordPress 3.0 today. I installed it on my server, set up the Network capability, and took a shot at creating a couple test blog sites with the install. So far, so good. I also tried out the child theme feature recommended for theme customizations. That element also seems to be working fairly well.

After tweaking the CSS for the test “child” theme by mocking up a recreation of my main website, I’m now contemplating a wholesale adoption of WordPress for my entire website. I’m a little nervous about such a move, though I can easily see how it makes sense.

I have yet to push enough 3.0 buttons to decide if I really want to go “all in” on WordPress as a CMS for my site.  My current design is pretty tired, having been written back in 2007 and 2008.  If I’m actually going to write a new CSS for my site, I might as well consider doing it in WordPress. Hmm.

WordPress 3 and Multiple Sites

WordPress v.3 has now been released and I’m intrigued. This spring I ran two course websites in WordPress.  Previously, I had always built sites in Dreamweaver. The WP approach makes it much easier to build in RSS, and to add Web 2.0 functionality right in my single course site.  I no longer had to build the course site, and the blog as a separate site.

My success this past term got me thinking to the next 5 years, and to installing WordPress Multi-user (WPMU) on my server space.  This would enable me to build multiple course sites in a single WP installation.

With WordPress 3, it seems, I can simply upgrade to 3.0 and get multi-site functionality. The WPMU community that has grown up over the years may not be so happy about WP pulling multi-user functionality right into the core, and I can understand the sentiment given all the work in WPMU Dev, and elsewhere.

For me, this might be just the ticket. I wasn’t looking forward to getting WPMU running on my server, though I don’t expect it can be that difficult. WordPress’s “5-minute installation” just reduces all that worry – or so that’s the hope.

Anna Charles and The Jump

I just learned that The Jump (Journal of Undergraduate Multimedia Projects out of UT-Austin) has accepted one of Anna Charles’ projects for publication in its upcoming issue.  Anna is one of the Communications Technology majors at York College, and I couldn’t be more excited for her.  I’m also excited for the CT program, and for Daniel Phelps, the Television Studio Director at York and Anna’s teacher for the project that will be published.

Her project is a great, short public service announcement-type film. I blogged about it a couple months back, as soon as I saw the film.Anna works as a studio consultant in the E-Writing Studio on campus, and assists students with their ePortfolio projects.

The work Anna has done in this film is actually work that is well within the range of our CT majors. I see this acceptance as a good sign that more CT majors can find publication venues for their work, perhaps even in The Jump.

Anna Charles' Proto-PSA Going Viral?

York College E-Writing Consultant Anna Charles has posted a great film short on homelessness that she directed. This film includes shots from Manhattan and from the Ely Ave subway station. It’s work done as part of a class this term, and it’s really a nice proto-public service announcement.

Check it out and share!

WordCampNYC 2009

Roundtable: The Future of WordPress in Education (11/14/09)
Roundtable: The Future of WordPress in Education (11/14/09)

WordCampNYC 2009, held at Baruch College/CUNY this weekend (November 14-15) was a HUGE success, though I did find it to be something of a WordPress lovefest. I guess that’s to be expected when hundreds of folks who have chosen WordPress as their web publishing platform come from hundreds of miles to hang out and talk shop.

As an academic involved in advancing WordPress as an ePortfolio platform on campus, I stuck to the Academic Track in the program. The academics at WordCamp appeared to me to be dwarfed by the developers, newbies, and others.  The audience in the panels I attended hovered around 25 folks, and I got to meet some interesting faculty doing pedagogically valuable things with technology.  The entry point for discussions was WordPress, but we didn’t stay there.  As an academic, I often find that panels can get boring because they run on too long.  The opposite was true at WordCamp.  I regularly wished there had been more time for Q&A, though this was due to short sessions and an engaged audience, not rambling by the presenters.

Here’s a run down of some of the panels I attended, and some of the issues discussed.

Luke Walzer

It’s all about the FRO, man! Luke talked about how the Baruch freshman year experience folks got into the idea of blogs in the Freshman Seminar, about how 1600 Baruch freshmen are now blogging this fall, and about how their using what he called a “mother blog” to aggregate the individual posts in each seminar.  What a cool potential model for the York freshman seminar!  Diffusion of innovation, anyone?  That’s so cool!

Jeremy Boggs

Jeremy focused on ways to use WordPress for research and search management, and explored the possibilities that WordPress could become a vehicle to manage and aggregate online research. He also observed the ways that CommentPress, a WordPress plugin, might be used to encourage paragraph-by-paragraph critical reflection.  CitationAggregator apparently makes it possible to aggregate cites from one’s various accounts around the web. And while I do not know the plugin Headup, Boggs explained that this tool reads your post as you write and can pull in relevant content from the web.

Tom Woodward

Tom’s presentation on WordPress in K-12 contexts was a real eye-opener.  This was a presentation that got me thinking about publishing and elementary students, particularly my own children and their school. Hmm.  I’ll be talking with fellow PTA members.

Dave Lester

Dave Lester’s presentation focused on ScholarPress, a plugin that he and Jeremy Boggs collaborated on.  ScholarPress essentially turns course website development into a matter of completing form fields.  I didn’t find it particularly interesting for my own purposes, with the notable exception of the potential for the importing of bibliographic material into a 15-week schedule. Mostly, I’d just make my course website so that it looks the way I want it to look.

I did find both Courseware and WPBook to be intriguing tools, and I’ll definitely implement WPBook for my Spring 2010 course if I decide to go with a Blog-based course website.  I still haven’t decided if I’m moving from my 3 year exploration of CSS style switching, with a steady accumulation of themes as each semester comes around.

Serena Epstein and Shannon Hauser

These two former students from the University of Mary Washington, current stomping grounds of Jim Groom, gave a wonderful interactive presentation that cast WordPress as an addictive drug.  Their presentation totally fit into the general WordPress lovefestiness of WordCampNYC. I even found myself participating, though I don’t have a problem with WordPress.  Hmm.

Roundtable: Future of WordPress in Education

The engaging discussion in the roundtable just went too quickly.  Privacy, choice, the possibilities for integration, the future of Blackboard, and more.

Joe Ugoretz and Lisa Brundage

Joe and Lisa showcased the great work with eportfolios under way at the Macaulay Honors College.  What can one say? Truly exceptional students with wonderful financial and technological support, taught by some of the most engaging faculty CUNY has to offer.  There are some outstanding portfolios happening in their platform, and it’s really nice to see what they’re up to. Intriguingly, I learned that faculty are actually using the blog platform to focus course projects.  This is something I WILL use in Spring 2010.  I’m thinking of a synthesis of Boggs’ ideas and Ugoretz’s ideas in my Writing for Electronic Media course.  Now I just need the project!

Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower

I had a nice lunch with a couple web developers from DC. We had some interesting discussions about open source CMS platforms.  I was intrigued because they were working to move clients to WordPress as an alternative to static, Dreamweaver-based sites or other CMS platforms available. Very pragmatic web developers coming to WordPress because of ease of client use and not because of WordPress evangelism.  I actually saw their presence at the conference as a sign that folks are opting for WP because it’s just good, and easy. These guys were just discovering WordPress MU, and I think they had just heard of BuddyPress that day.

Kathy Yancey @ Georgia Conference on Information Literacy

Kathleen Blake Yancey delivered the keynote at the 2009 Georgia Conference on Information Literacy, a talk entitled “Creating and Exploring New Worlds: Web 2.0, Information Literacy, and the Uses of Knowledge.”

Sources=Materials

Yancey worked to open our conception of sources a bit, to broaden it from alphabetic or written to include multiple media, and consider that one’s sources both come from others and are created by us. Is this new?  The multiple media component is certainly a relatively new phenomenon, at least the ubiquity of it is.  And most students in colleges generally experience research or engagement with source materials as the manipulation of other people’s material. But much of the material we think of as “source” material has been created by someone.

Information Ecology

Yancey argues that, as teachers, we should push students into the “stew” of information, scholarly material found in libraries and academic subscription databases, material in blogs, in more popular press publications, and more.  We should then encourage students to evaluate the information found in these sources as a way for them to take charge of the information they encounter.

Content

Information literacy practices must have content in them if students are to make meaningful use of them.  Yancey claims that one key to the transference of skills from one context to another is content.  In the absence of content, skills become something we may practice without really understanding the why, the reasons the skills are valuable.

Sam Wineberg and Information Ecology

Yancey notes that, for Wineberg, we establish credibility through corroboration (or fidelity), sourcing, and contextualization.  When students don’t engage in these practices in writing about history, they run into trouble.  When confronted with a variety of texts that describe/explain a historical event, students struggle to determine which source(s) are most authoritative.

Assignments

Note the role of “content” in each of the following assignments

  • Analyze an entry in an encyclopedia and one in wikipedia. How do the entries compare? How are the pieces written? How does one evaluate the entries?  Shifting the order of filtering and publishing.  Encyclopedias begin with filtering, then publish.  Wikipedia publishes first, then filters.
  • Build a blogging map on a topic. Find blog-based material on a specific topic.  What do we learn about evaluating sources by engaging with these blogs.  Are .coms better than .edus? Yancey argues that when we dig into a source we can’t simply “source” by looking at the URL.
  • Sourcing backwards.  Start with an editorial in the NY Times.  Then work backwards and locate the kinds of sources the editors draw from in moving to the editorial.

What is the Role of Content?

Logic of Research Practices – transform our thinking from filling in slots to citation, to thinking about the logic in citation or documentation

  • access
  • intellectual property
  • economy
  • standardization
  • transparency

Identify key terms that together are Information Literacy.

  • Circulation – Who cites whom in an article. We can see that scholars are in conversation with each other. In the new circulation, on the web and in television news, we can see propaganda served up as information.  Yancey claims that this development is possible because of changes in the position of filtering in the new information ecology.
  • Credibility –
  • Corroboration –
  • Plausibility –

Yancey argues that we should also use “critical incident theory” practices in the classroom.  Build assignments that put students in positions to take a critical incidents approach in locating and working with sources.

I very much like the suggestion that we have students confront specific critical incidents by juxtaposing information sources as part of evaluation. What I’m not so sure about is Yancey’s conception of “content” in this framework.  Obviously, content matters, and I’m supportive of her point.  (Absent content, information retrieval or research is merely an empty exercise with little relevance to us, or to our students.)

At the same time, I suspect that this kind of work will have the greatest impact in the context of actual courses, places were it may be least likely to find an audience.  Students in a history, biology, or literature class, when asked to conduct research as part of the course, would likely be most receptive to this kind of approach.  But faculty teaching these courses are more likely to be focused on the content knowledge itself.  Embedding the kinds of information literacy assignments into the curriculum will be a challenge that may even be more daunting than the efforts to infuse process writing pedagogies into such courses.