OK, I’m officially in full blown UMW Blogs blogging mode, I will most likely prove insufferable for the next month or so, and that’s just the way it is, suckas!
Today I actually gave my first advanced training session on WordPress to a group of five faculty. And I have to say it was a ball. Professors Steve Harris (History), Michael Killian (Biology), Betsy Lewis (Spanish), Andrew Dolby (Biology), and Zach Whalen (English/New Media Studies) were nice enough to remain polite through a kind of abstract session on UMW Blogs as syndicated publishing platform. Because all of these faculty were to some degree familiar with UMW Blogs, and could navigate the application rather well, we went through a few quick questions about uploading and the new interface and then proceeded to focus on how the syndicated logic of a course blog works. Exactly how does WPMu re-publish students work form their own space into a course blog? What kind of setup allows the student to compose and publish their work on their own blog/academic portfolio space yet feed it out easily?.
These are the questions we wrestled with, and I figured I’d blog the details of this setup for other mavericks WordPress users like Professors Sue Fernsebner and Jeff McClurken who will likely be adopting a similar method. So what follows is a tutorial for creating a syndication rich course blog using sitewide tags and FeedWordPress.
For a while now we have been using BDP RSS at UMW Blogs for aggregated course blogs, but with that plugin out of development for a while now, it is time to explore some other aggregating options. The heirs to the spam aggregating plugin WP-Autoblog (long defunct) are WP-O-Matic and FeedWordPress. Given the elegance and simplicity of FeedWordPress it is the republishing aggregator of choice at UMW Blogs these days. What does it do? Well, quite simply it republishes a post (or several posts) from one blog into another, and provides a series of option to customize the republishing of a feed.
So, take this plugin (which I will go into more detail on below) and marry it with Donncha’s new Sitewide Tags Page plugin, which generates feeds for sitweide tags from a WPMu install. In other words, every time a person uses a shared tag on a post in their own blog, it automatically becomes part of a larger feed for that tag. So, if students for History 101 tag all their posts for this class hist101 in their own blogs, a sitewide feed on that tag will be generated, and it will look like this:
So, that url above contain the posts from every student blog tagged with hist101, groovy, right?
OK, so the tag needs to be unique and students need to remember to use, but if those things happen, then this is one single feed for an entire distributed class that could consist of as many as 30 blogs. And this is where the details of FeedWordPress come in handy. So, we have the feed for all the student blog posts relevant to History 101, all we need to do now is activate the plugin FeedWordPress and do the following:
- Go to the Syndication tab in your WordPress stall that is created once you activate the plugin and add your sitewide tag feed, and click syndicate.
- If the feeds work swell, no errors, then click the syndication button.
- After that, go to the Syndication–>Options Subtab and customize the options for your feed (make sure it updates automatically and you consider if you want the permalink to take people back to the student blog, etc.
- Categories for syndicated posts do work (attention WPMu über admins: I learned this thanks to the ever wise D’Arcy Norman, you just have to do the Magpie RSS Upgrade included with the plugin). You can have the feed you are syndicated come into its own category or even include the categories the students use in their posts. I still can’t get this plugin to include tags fro the original post, however.
- Comments and ping can be enabled or disabled (you may want to disable them if you want people to comment on the student’s own blog (this is where changing the permalink option to original post might be useful). You all can choose the author settings here.
- After it is customized to your liking, you can then return to the main syndication tab, and check the radio box aligned with this link and click the “Upgrade checked links” button. And the posts will start a feeding 😉
If you would like to get a sense of what a course blog like this might look like, take a look at the master course blog wrangler Gardner Campbell’s phenomenal Milton Seminar taught this summer. I love his design, and he has the permalink going back to the student’s blog, while aggregating all the distributed comments for all the students blogs in the sidebar (using the BDP RSS aggregator) . Gardner used FeedWordPress to great effect, and while this blog isn’t feeding off of one sitewide tag feed (there were few enough students so that Gardner could add the students’ feeds manually) it does demonstrate the wonderful power and elegance of the FeedWordPress plugin.
Now, imagine the sitewide tag feed for Gardner’s blog as just one less step to do, and one giant step towards complete automation. We are getting there people!!! Die BlackBoard die 🙂