Class Projects Using WordPress

Last semester, the IT department launched a new instance of WordPress to host sites for class projects.  WordPress is a versatile and easy to use web platform that can be used for blogs, portfolios, traditional web sites, or combinations thereof. The way a WordPress site looks and feels can vary widely, depending on the “theme” chosen- and some of the newer themes are very slick-looking indeed. Also, since a large percentage of new websites worldwide use WordPress, this is a great skill for students to be learning.

Two classes this past fall used WordPress- the course topics were very different, but the way they used WordPress was quite similar. Both faculty were drawn to WordPress because of its ability to easily let students incorporate visuals and multimedia into their projects.

In Alex Dika Seggerman’s class, Globalizing Contemporary Art, the class focused for a couple weeks at a time on art from a given area of the world. Each week, the students chose a work of art, researched it, and wrote a blog post about it for the class “archive.” The blog posts were then categorized, so someone browsing the WordPress site could view, for example, all the posts related to Korean art grouped together.

HACU-0105__Globalizing_Contemporary_Art_–_Page_8
WordPress site for Globalizing Contemporary Art. Each image represents a blog post.

Working with blog posts and categories is a great way to let students add content to the site and then display and group that content together in many different ways. It’s also easy to see one student’s work all on one page. A single blog post can contain images, media, links, etc, as well as writing.

Example Blog Post for Piece of Work
Example Blog Post for Piece of Work

 

Rachel Rubinstein also had students write blog posts about the various themes and topics in her class, The Art of Being Jewish in (Post)Modern Times. We used categories in their site as well to pull posts on a given topic together.

Both classes had a final project assignment which involved creating a digital exhibit. In Professor Seggerman’s class, students chose an item from the Five College Museums collections and created a researched web exhibit about the object. Each student had a dedicated page for this project on the class WordPress site. Some used the single page for their project, while others designed entire new websites dedicated to their art object and simply linked to those sites from the WordPress site. In this class, students had additional guidance from Kress Curatorial Fellow Jocelyn Edens on designing their exhibits.

Professor Rubinstein also had her students complete a final project which was a curated multi-media exhibit about a topic of their choice (relating to the course subject). As above, students each had their own page on the class WordPress site where they built their “exhibits” which included writing, images, embedded media, links and references, etc.

 

Exhibit Page for Student Project in The Art of Being Jewish
Exhibit Page for Student Project in The Art of Being Jewish

 

Both of these classes were studying contemporary culture in its various forms, so it made perfect sense to use a contemporary tool. That said, WordPress can work well for any class project where you want to students to collectively build a shared repository of information, or simply share content or ideas with each other. Web publishing is a key skill for students to gain experience in, no matter what their field.

WordPress sites can be kept private to just the class, or just to the Hampshire community, or can be opened up to a wider audience (as long as copyright and FERPA guidelines are taken into account- hence the fact that we cannot share the actual sites with you!).

Asha Kinney in IT and Alana Kumbier in the Library are available to support these projects from start to finish. Here are our recommendations, coming from the experience of the past couple semesters:

  • Build in class time for students to learn to use WordPress. While most students can get up to speed fairly quickly, it’s essential to block out at least 45 minutes of class time to introduce both the assignment and WordPress itself.
  • Have the WordPress project be a required assignment for the class that is tied to a key learning goal. While it can be nice to keep a blog on the side for a class, we find that these sites really don’t fully develop unless the WordPress project is fully integrated into the course.
  • Since completing a successful digital project takes a lot of time and effort, think about substituting in the WordPress project for another project you might have assigned- don’t simply tack it on as an additional project.

Interested in using a WordPress site for a class next semester?

Request a site

Moodle News for 2016

Great things await us in 2016, at least in the realm of Moodle! Here are some updates on new features you may want to put to use next semester.

Importing Course Materials: Yes, You Can

Faculty can now import materials from one course to another without getting an error message! Yeah! Here’s how. We’re still happy to do it for you, too, just let us know.

import

Home is Where the Hamp Is

Using our new “set default home” feature in the log in block will save you a few clicks each time you log in. Setting a default home makes Moodle remember that you are from Hampshire, and will take you right to the Hampshire log in screen instead of first having to choose Hampshire from a list. Just think of all the time you will save!

default_home

 

Where am I? What day is it? Now you can find out, thanks to Moodle!

In courses using the default class-by-date format, Moodle will now automatically highlight (in beige) the sections nearest to the current date. This way you can see at a glance where you are in the course and in the semester.

This particular feature was developed by our student web programmer, Andy Zito, and lays the ground work for further improvements to our Moodle formats! Thanks Andy!!!Highlighted Sections

Collapsed Topics: Give Your Moodle a Makeover

Is the “scroll-of-death” in Moodle driving you crazy? The new-ish collapsed topic format makes your course more navigable. You can even use it in combination with individual dates for each class meeting. Find out more about it here.

collapsed topics

Many thanks to our new web programmer Kevin Williarty who joined us in 2015 and made many of these improvements possible. Also big thanks to our student web programmer Andy!!

 As always if you need Moodle help or have any questions please email moodle@hampshire.edu.

La Vie en Chrome

This piece reflects the personal experience and opinions of Asha Kinney and does not reflect the opinions or recommendations of the Hampshire College IT Department 🙂 .  

This past summer, the “m” key broke off my ancient PC laptop. I was aware that its days were numbered, but this really hammered it home. I was also starting to realize how quaint it was to have all my family photos stored on a local device- yes, they were backed up, but still. I realized it was time to act in a manner befitting an IT professional and get all that stuff into the cloud, one way or the other.

At around the same time, I discovered that through my Marlboro College alum account I had unlimited cloud storage on Google Drive. Giddy up! I proceeded to upload 200 gigs worth of photos and bade farewell to the Dell of yesteryear. However, I still needed a computer to work on. My work Mac was also starting to feel its age. It took about 15 minutes to boot up in the morning, and a day without a spinning beach ball was a very lucky day indeed.

Enter the Chromebook.

A Chromebook is a small, cheap ($200-$300) laptop that is neither Mac nor PC nor Linux but it’s own thing- totally Google, running Chrome OS. The concept is that your electronic life is entirely in the cloud, and nothing is stored on, or run off of, the actual computer. The computer runs a web browser, and that’s about it.

This reliance on cloud services means the computer itself doesn’t have to do much work, and this means there’s not much to go wrong. It’s super fast. It boots up in three seconds. There are no spinning beachballs, ever. Did I mention the $200 part?

Here’s what it’s great for:

  • Email- using Gmail or Webmail or similar web service.
  • Basic productivity stuff using Google Docs/Slides/Spreadsheets. Any basic file in a Microsoft Office format can be imported and worked on just fine. The computer uses your Google Drive as its main file system. Some stuff can be stored locally, but not much.
  • Managing photos, media, music, etc (which can all be stored on Google).
  • Using any other service or site you access through a web browser. This is nothing to sneeze at, as there are even photo editing, page layout/design, and video editing apps now available through web interfaces.

However, there are lots of people for whom a Chromebook will simply not work. Do any of these apply to you? If so, you’re going to hit a wall pretty quickly.

  • You’re wedded to an email client like Apple’s Mail, or Thunderbird.
  • You rely on Adobe products or like to annotate PDF’s.
  • You want to connect to Hampshire’s network printers or file servers.
  • You use the super-advanced features of Microsoft Office programs.
  • You require any specialized software that is not available through a web browser (and/or does not work with the Chrome browser).

Even with these caveats, you can see how the Chromebook is a great choice for the average person doing average stuff. Many higher-ed and K-12 systems are going Google and are giving Chromebooks to their students. The Amherst Regional System just announced their move to Google and subsequent purchase of Chromebook carts for classrooms.  

Does this all mean selling your soul to Google on a personal or institutional level? Yes, yes it does. Increasingly, though, schools and colleges do the math and decide that they simply cannot afford the luxury of NOT going Google. A lone institution would never be able to provide the cutting edge tools and systems that Google does. Similarly, a $200 computer is a huge leveler for students who cannot shell out $2,000 for a shiny new Mac. Thus, it becomes an internal war of conscience between providing your students access to the best possible tools, versus protecting what little privacy they have left. Google makes this choice easier for schools by claiming to protect the privacy of educational accounts, but do they really?

But let’s get back to our little friend, the Chromebook. I spent about six months living very happily with it. It required re-thinking how I did certain work, but I was able to find a way to accomplish most tasks. This is saying a lot given my job as an instructional technologist! When I hit a wall (see list above) I bumped to my Mac.

But then, something happened. I decided to give my Work Mac a fresh start and wipe the hard drive. It perked right up. No more spinning beach balls. And lo and behold, it could do everything I needed to do, without my having to hunt around for the way to do it. I was forced to admit that for me personally, and with my particular job, I really do need a computer that can just do everything, with no limitations or qualifications.

The Chromebook is still great and useful for lots things, but to loosely quote the late, great Queen of Camden: my odds were stacked, and I went back to Mac.

 

Getting It Done! Wednesday, February 25, 12-1 p.m., FPH 102

Join Asha Kinney from IT and Alana Kumbier from the Library for some practical tips on how to keep up with your work and lower your stress level at the same time. They will share a strategy based on the book “Getting Things Done” for staying organized and avoiding wasted time and energy. They’ll also demo some great online tools for staying organized like Trello and Google Calendar. Free lunch!

Wednesday, February 25
12-1 p.m.
FPH 102

Student Toolkit for End of Term

It’s not too early to think about the end of the semester, it will be here sooner that you think! Get some strategies in place now and things may feel a little easier in December!

Juggling Workload

Last month Alana Kumbier (Library) and Asha Kinney (IT) ran a workshop for the First Year Students Program called “Getting It Done” which outlined a strategy for keeping your work organized and lists some good tools and techniques. Slides and notes from this workshop are here.

Tools for Staying Organized

Here is a playlist featuring some online tools that can help you keep your work, time, and research organized. Need help deciding which to use? Here’s a matrix of what we think each one is best for.

Presentations

Many of you will need to do presentations for class. This video has some tips on keeping your audience awake, what software to choose, avoiding technical disasters, and calming presentation day nerves.

Create a PDF Portfolio

Some classes will have you submit an end-of-semester portfolio of your work. This video shows a few different ways to combine multiple file types into one PDF document. This one is a little long, so check out the video description on YouTube to jump to different sections for Mac or PC, etc!

Notes from Last Week’s Moodle Meet-up

A group of faculty met on September 20th, 2013 in the Center for Teaching and Learning to discuss Moodle. Natalie Arnold of IA and Jason Tor of NS showed their moodle sites and strategies with the group. Here are some highlights and tips from the discussion.

Useful Practices & General Tips

  • Moodle is helpful for keeping the class organized, especially when it comes to group projects and making sure each group knows what it is doing when.
  • Giving TA’s editing access to Moodle and letting them help set up the site can be great, as they are “less scared”.
  • Since the Moodle site can become very looong, Natalie puts information pertaining to the final project at the very top instead of the very bottom.
  • Readings can be assigned to groups within a class- either by just stating on the site “this article is for group x” or you can set Moodle to limit access to a resource to a group of students.
  • Natalie found that putting information “one click down”- ie on a sub-page or within an assignment- became problematic because students wouldn’t always click a link and were missing information. She started putting all important info right on the main page.
  • She found that lots of repetition was also important in making sure students didn’t miss important information, especially in tutorials.
  • Jason used the “Questionnaire” feature to poll the students at the beginning of the term about their current knowledge and interest levels, goals for the class, etc.

Questions & Clarifications

  • Quickmail versus News Forum: The News Forum is a one-way forum which the instructor can post to, and posts go out as emails to the whole class. Students cannot post or respond to the news forum.
    • The news forum no longer appears by default in new course websites, but it can be added in by adding in the “Latest News” block.
    • Quickmail basically does the same thing so IT recommends people just use that.
  • For those that don’t want or care about the Course Information block: you can click the little eyeball appearing to the top right of the block when editing is turned on. This hides it from everyone, including the students. Minimizing or docking the block only affects an individuals view.
  • Discussion of reports in Moodle. You can view a student’s activity report, but please bear in mind that it is not 100% accurate. Depending on how a resource is set up, Moodle may not know whether a student clicked it or not. Files, for example, default to “force download”- which is far better usability-wise but does prevent Moodle from registering if a student clicked a link.
  • That said, even if a student downloaded a reading that’s no guarantee that they read it!
  • General questions about tracking student work in assignments and forums. Both can be set up to use Moodle’s “grading” feature to allow the instructor to keep track of who’s submitted what.
  • Question of how to have students build portfolios from semester’s work and then submit on Moodle. There’s not a great automated way to do this but students can compile their work as a single PDF or similar and submit as assignment.

Use of Discussion Forums in Moodle

  • Natalie used forums and had them as a required class activity. Students had to post and also had to post a reply to someone else.
  • She found that having a discussion forum changed the class dynamic in a positive way in that students were more comfortable in class after interacting online.
  • Jason required students to post a question about the week’s reading to forum. This made it very apparent who had done the reading and who had not.
  • He had students attempt to answer each other’s questions, he also addressed them in class. He generally only chimed in on the forum when a student gave a wrong answer to a question.

General Discussion of Jason’s “Team-Based Learning” Approach used in Biochemistry Class

  • The class worked in groups on problem-based case studies and reported out during class on their findings.
  • Jason took more of a guide-on-the-side role, never lectured, and simply floated around class answering questions the various working groups had.
  • There was no way to not participate in class. Also, it would quickly become apparent when students didn’t prepare or do reading since there was no way to fly under the radar.
  • General discussion of how this kind of learning experience builds greater retention of material and really stays with the students.

We plan on offering similar sessions in the future so stay tuned or check out the Center for Teaching & Learning Program Calendar here.

A Look at iOS 7

A major update to the operating system running on iPads and iPhones was released yesterday. It’s called iOS 7 and contains some major changes in design and function. Here’s a quick look at the new features!

Disclaimer: While we haven’t come across any major problems with iOS 7, we’re not recommending everyone rush to update. History tells us that updates like this never work 100% perfectly! So update at your own risk.