Building with Howard: Creating a Learning Environment with Open Source Tools Pt 1

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with Howard Rheingold—at least virtually—and go through the process of setting up a course hub using WordPress. The above video is the first part of a series in which we will work through building a learning environment using open source tools on a LAMP environment. This video focused on creating the central hub for Howard’s course Social Media Issues that he’ll be teaching this fall.  O ver the course of the conversation Howard and I covered how to 1) install WordPress using on your web server, 2) post content, 3) search, add, and activate plugins (in this case FeedWordPress), 4) add widgets, and 5) change the theme.

Howard’s interested in creating a dynamic course environment wherein students can establish and control their own online presence and have their work syndicated into a central course hub (not unlike the environments Alan Levine has been building recently for universities like Harvard ). By installing and activating the FeedWordPress plugin, we effectively enable the ability to add the URL of students’ sites (assuming they have an RSS feed) so that their posts can be fed into a central aggregation point for the class to view and comment upon each others work.

What’s more, this WordPress hub will have a series of pages that contain various information about the class, such as an about page, a  syllabus page, an FAQ, etc. It can include or link to social media conversations happening on the open web. For examples, you can embed a conversation from Twitter happening around a hashtag into the sidebar link out to class Tumblr, etc.

At the same time, the WordPress blog hub is just one facet of the course. We’ll be doing another episode tomorrow afternoon in which we plan on covering a few more of the affordances of  the hub and then moving on to integrating a wiki into the course environment. We’ll be demonstrating the open source application MediaWiki (which powers Wikipedia), and I imagine we’ll have a full session given it can be a lot more painstaking that WordPress.

I’m excited about this video series because it really brings me back to instructional technology work I was doing  in earnest at UMW back in 2006 and 2007. We were experimenting wildly with open source tools to see what kind of environments we could create for the campus community. This experimentation ultimately led to UMW Blogs and then ds106, and while these examples forced UMW to starting wrestling with questions of scale, the fact remains just about anyone can access and start experimenting with a wide array of web applications for the price of lunch.

I love that Howard is ready and willing to sit down and think through his course with me over the next couple of weeks.  This is distributed edtech at its very best, and hopefully sharing the process of building this course site will both inspire and help others to experiment as well.

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11 Responses to Building with Howard: Creating a Learning Environment with Open Source Tools Pt 1

  1. Larry Hanley says:

    This is a real treat! (And I’ll hold off on any “passing the torch” type rhetoric.) Like many other Bavicans, I’ve been inspired, motivated, excited, super-stoked, etc. by ds106 for a long time. And, I’ve tried to bricolage my own pale imitations of ds106.

    Now that you’re taking ds106 “institutional” so to speak, I have a different kind of “how to” question. In my experience, Acad. Technology (and IT) departments are all about control and efficiency, e.g. the typical undying devotion to big box CMS’s. I’ve been arguing for a more “ds106” dissemination of control and autonomy for a long time on my campus. But, some (e.g. administration) are too scared (of faculty, students, the web, etc.) to surrender authority, and the AT folks are fearful as well of having to support a million flowers blooming in cracks, crevices, and elsewhere. My question: can you offer some practical counsel in re persuading command-and-control devotees to move toward a more syndicated (and perhaps, “syndicalist”) structure of authority and learning? (And, please, don’t tell me that the higher-ups at UMW are just so much cooler and chill and simpatico, etc.)

  2. Fantastic! The creators of my two favorite courses are collaborating to share the love of hosting, social courses, busting everyone out of tired course designs. Can anyone get their hosting from Mary Washington?

  3. Jordan Epp says:

    This is awesome. Can’t wait to see the next part. Keep doin whatcha doin.

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