Proud Spammer of Open University Courses

There has been a bit of excitement about the possibilities for pushing the uses of RSS towards a mythical eduglu as of late. Brian posted about it here and got some great feedback, soon after D’Arcy Norman and Bill Fitzgerald ramped up their work with Drupal. Then there was David’ Wileys re-publishing of his course on, and Brian (again) frames the implications beautifully, and then Stephen Downes uses this example to point towards Tony Hirst’s Disaggregation of MIT OCW. In short, an amazing distributed thread to follow.

So while I was looking at Tony Hirst’s work with MIT’s Open CourseWare, he must have been leaving a comment pointing to a series of feeds on the Open Learn OER site. Additionally, he suggested that there isn’t any reason why these feeds couldn’t be pulled into a blog rather neatly. And you know what, he couldn’t have been more right!

I gave it a shot on a WordPress Multi-User installation I keep around for just these sorts of things. I pulled the Open University courses feeds into individual blogs using Wp-o-Matic, a tried and true spamblogging plugin. And I am pretty excited by the results. (As an aside, I find great pleasure in re-purposing the wicked tools of spammers to make re-publishing open educational resources that much easier.)

The first course from the OpenLearn site I republished was titled Goya. I chose this one for two reasons: a) I wanted to learn more about Goya, and b) it had a number of images and videos associated with it and I wanted to see how they would work. As a result, I now know more about Goya & the images and videos pulled into the site beautifully, very impressive XML! The first time I pulled this course the Introduction and background posts balked, this didn’t happen the second time I tested it however.

Image of th Goya Course in a WordPress Blog
Compare the re-published blog site above (click on the image to see it) with the original course in the OpenLearn OER here.

Moreover, each of the course sections was in the proper logical order, meaning that the topmost post on the blog was the introduction, next the background, etc. This fortunate happenstance made reproducing the course outline on the sidebar of the blog simple. I just included the recent posts widget and re-titled it Unit Outline. After that, I had an entire course republished in my WPMu account within minutes.

As for the other two courses I tested (Hume and Word and image), they work perfectly save for a few stray a tags on the Word and image site. Compare the original Hume course on the OpenLearn site with the re-published blog site here. Do the same for the original Word and image course and the republished one here.

This was a pretty amazing experiment for me because it illustrates just how much I learn from reading blogs on a daily basis. Ideas happen in a series of relations, and I so thoroughly enjoy taking other people’s genius and testing it out. When I saw the Goya class get pulled in successfully in just over a minute, I started to realize just how powerful these open resources can be once they are freed from their repositories. What is stopping K-12s and universities from setting up WPMu installations (or Drupal, or what have you) and pulling these amazing resources in? Or even pushing them out themselves? Another question that needs to be asked is how many of the other open resources out there have the stellar RSS feeds these OpenLearn OERs do?

I can’t answer these questions, but I will venture a hunch about the first two I asked: once teachers and students begin to realize the unparalled ease and immense utility they get from having instant access to re-purposed open educational resources, it may very well have a deep impact on current habits of publishing all their hard-earned work within a blackbox.

As an afterthought, I tried this same experiment in, but unfortunately that service only allows you to import specific RSS feeds from other services like Moveable Type, Blogger, etc. So, in the end, a spammer shall lead the way 🙂

This entry was posted in experimenting, open education, plugins, spam, tags, widgets, wordpress multi-user, wpmu and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Proud Spammer of Open University Courses

  1. Brian says:

    Such a fab post on so many levels. It’s been kind of an exciting week — it will be interesting to see what happens when a few of us get together.

    But now that you’ve gotten your ya-yas out, we can only hope you’ll get serious and direct your energies to the problem of moving IMS content packages around from one LMS to another, which is still rather difficult. I think we need a richer metadata spec.

  2. Pingback: Ruminate » Blog Archive » Confused About the Blog Uproar

  3. Jim, I bow to your insane genious! Harnessing the power of a spamblog engine to do your open content bidding. There’s a reason you’re The Reverend. Well done! 🙂

  4. Tony Hirst says:

    I notice you’ve looked at mediawiki/wp integration in the past.
    The OpenLearn team are currently looking at opening up editing privileges on OpenLEarn content, but I’m guessing edits will happen at the html presentation layer and not the underlying xml layer (which generates the rss and html presentation layers) which just spells death to me… so i hope i have the story wrong…

    Do you know of any wp2mediawiki importers? (I recently came across mediawikipage2rss plugin via Leigh Blackall which goes the other way, ish – )

    It would be interesting if we could maybe use a mediawiki as an editable content store and then wp as one possible presentation layer /personalised environment – a user could import the content, add their own sidebar widgets, and so on, to create their own environment? Or a ‘centralised’ wp course offering, wrapped with appropriate collaborative widgets (and maybe opensocial(?) widgets, that are personalised according to the viewer of the page based on their current cookied authentication)?

    Getting the content into a widely hackable, containerised platform like wp also allows us to leverage all sorts of other gateways. For example, on my ‘if openlearn was in wp’ timeline is a note to explore dumping rdf out – – and then maybe hooking into something like freebase?

  5. Hello, Jim,

    As the other people have responded, this is a great post — I’ve been working on sorting out some details in response to the posts of the last few weeks as well, because it seems that one piece that frequently gets overlooked (or at least under-examined) is how these various courses are remixed and reused. Right now, it take some technical chops to quickly and easily remix individual elements from different courses into one different course. I see this as a barrier to more widespread adoption of OER’s.

    Until, of course, your post, which focuses directly on how to recontextualize the content. Very nicely done.

    @Tony, re: “The OpenLearn team are currently looking at opening up editing privileges on OpenLEarn content, but I’m guessing edits will happen at the html presentation layer and not the underlying xml layer (which generates the rss and html presentation layers) which just spells death to me…” I think we can work around this. If the raw course materials are available in full via an rss feed, then they can be imported into another, more editable context. In the workflow that I’m hoping to sketch out in the next 24 hours, there is a place for an “official” content repository, which flows to the smaller, fully editable working repository, which then flows — in remixed form — into courses (and, of course, into the hands of learners who may or may not be enrolled in a course).

    At NV, I would love to have a breakout session where we tackle some of these issues.

    And we could leave Brian’s issue of creating the more complex IMS spec for last — we might not have time for that one 😉



  6. Tony Hirst says:

    @bill re: “Right now, it take some technical chops to quickly and easily remix individual elements from different courses into one different course. I see this as a barrier to more widespread adoption of OER’s.”

    A way round this is to use something like google reader, sign up to a load of static course feeds and then just favourite the posts you like.

    I’m waiting for the drag and drop goodness to extend inwards from dragging feeds at one extreme, and dragging links/copytext at the other, so that you can drag actual feed items from one grazr widget to another. (Old write up here: There is now a grazr firefox/flock sidebar widget that you can use to edit opml reading lists, which means you can drag feed urls, link urls and highlighted text from a browsed webpage into the grazr sidebar.)

    You can thus use the the grazr shopping cart as a “shopping basket” eg dragging individual feeds from to compile your own OER reading list on a particular topic.

  7. Hello, Jim,

    Keep up the spamming!

    I just put some thoughts up inspired by this post, and some of the others flying around the web:



  8. @Tony — on Chris Lott’s blog, you say:

    “From what I can tell, a lot of the oer material released to date as opencourseware is virtually unusable by anyone except sophisticated/experienced learners or maybe educators looking to reuse it (though how i’m not sure)…”

    This is exactly what I mean when, in this thread, I say:

    “Right now, it take some technical chops to quickly and easily remix individual elements from different courses into one different course. I see this as a barrier to more widespread adoption of OER’s.”

    The difficulty of recontextualizing content that is supposed to be Open Courseware is a barrier to more widespread adoption — the Grazr techniques you describe work, but they are too technical/involved for many users.

    If the existing Open Courseware repositories allowed their content to be accessed via rss feeds as part of their normal procedures, more people would benefit.

  9. jimgroom says:

    @Bill and Tony,

    I wish I had the time to dedicate to these comments, damn new jobs and family 🙂

    I actually don;t really see the mixing and matching of different courses using this model as a porblem. All you would need to do in WPMu is pull the course in, delete the elements that came in as post that you don’t want, then just reorder the posts by changing the time stamp. Tom said as much ina post on Chris Lott’s blog, and it would work perfectly. Still extremely simple, and it is a way to remix several courses into one resources. In fact, WP-o-Matic (to answer another question Tony) would let me pull in all the courses into on blog and work from there, or choose an handful of courses for one blog. Automating the process of a blog for each course as it is set up now would be a little more difficult, but with WPMu, it definitely can be done.

    The MediaWiki as a content store pushed out to WordPress is something I have been thinking about for a while. We were throwing around the term Bliki, and the integration plugin for sign-on no longer works with 2.3.3 (or WPMu 1.3.3) but I think the code can be updated. The real issue, as you point out, is pull the MediaWIki code into a WP post or page seamlessly on demand. I originally got the idea from a Typo3 extension that did this beautifully, they basically sued fcurl to pull in the html layer, and it looked good, we played with some possibilities of going the other way, i.e., WP to MediaWIki, but have yet to hit paydirt. I am glad you are interested in this possibility, because I have been excited about it for a little while, but just haven’t found the plugin or the time to hunt down some one who could actually code it.

    I imagine it wouldn’t be that hard, but that is where I quickly get out of my depth. I would love to talk more about this and other issues you mention in more detail. feel free to e-mail me

    And as a fair warning, I may do the same to you sometime soon 🙂 Thanks for all the unbelievable goodness in this comments, and Brian’s and on OUseful, amazing stuff you are working on for sure. Brian has praised you up and down, and I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to join the chorus of accolades.

  10. Hello, Jim,

    RE Mediawiki to WordPress/Drupal/Feedreader — Tony pointed this out somewhere on the intarweb, and I’ve been dying to try it ever since:

    And, @Tony, re Jim’s comment: “Thanks for all the unbelievable goodness in this comments, and Brian’s and on OUseful, amazing stuff you are working on for sure.” — Tony, I definitely need to echo that. I have a lot of catching up on Real Live Work to do tomorrow as a result of spending way too much time today reading back posts at OUseful.



  11. Emma says:

    Thanks for the pointer to that WP plugin … I’d been looking for something like that for some time.

    I’ve currently got a WP blog – and have been importing the posts into an Elgg powered one (
    I’d been looking on/off for the option to post to the WordPress blog in the same way (really to prove that I could do it, rather than anything else!); however, never found it. (Probably was using the wrong search terms, as I searched for a RSS importer, rather than aggregator…)

    Now that the future of the Eduspaces is a little up in the air, I’m looking round. That said, I have no intention of moving the WordPress blog, nor, given that it’s my only blog, would I have another one that I’d need to import. But it’s nice to know I *can* should I wish to!

  12. Pingback: Blogging IT and EDucation » Blog Archive » A rambling route through sites!

  13. Pingback: Gluing it all together « Learner Advocacy and Personalized Learning

  14. Pingback: Movable Type as an Open Content Toolset : Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation

  15. Pingback: UBC Blogs » Andre Malan’s Site » Making WordPress work for UBC

  16. Pingback: UBC Blogs » Making WordPress work for UBC

  17. Pingback: Open is just another word for nothing left to lose (guest post from Moonchild Terry) at Radical Reuse

  18. Pingback: Three flavors of course blogs, very yummy… - ETUG

  19. Pingback: Making WordPress work for UBC - ETUG

  20. Pingback: Zemos98: Brian Lamb, los mashups y la reutilización radical en educación – El caparazón (desde 2007 contigo)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.