All right, I have to blog about this again because I really think we are there. It all may need a little fine-tuning but not that much. I have been talking about WordPress Multi-User and the ability to feed numerous student blogs into a class portal of sorts that serves as a feed aggregator for all the virtually distributed student work for a particular course. Well, I got all the RSS feeds for the students’s blogs working fine with the BDP RSS plugin. This plugin basically publishes the most recent posts from all of the distributed blogs to a more centralized WordPress page. I was even able to add a comprehensive list of class blogs -that also serves as a tool to scan the most recent posts for each student blog- using the Optimal plugin. (See the play-by-play hack for integrating these plugins into WPMU here.) Additionally, I used BDP RSS once again to collect all the RSS feeds for comments throughout the class blogs in order to display the most recent commenting activity on this RSS driven class portal. Here is an example of this in action. As you can see, both the aesthetic and the logic of the interface is replicating a blog, the only difference is that this blog has 20 to 30 distributed student authors whose work is feeding into a central space that makes reading, commenting and sharing ideas that much easier. So far, soooo good!
The final test was category feeds for each of the student blogs so that they could be using one blog for several courses by feeding their work out to the appropriate course portals. And…. it is a cinch! If each student creates and uses categories to organize each of the course blog posts, then they can simply use the appropriate category feeds to send them on their merry way. (This may prove a little trickier for comments, but I am working on that one.) In other words, let’s say Juana wants to feed out to Professor X’s Global History Course portal, all she has to do is set up a category for global history, distinct from her econ 101 category and Bio 200 category, and she’s all set. Her global hisotry posts will be accessible from that feed. If, for example, she was to name the category “global” the following URL would serve as the RSS feed in WPMU: http://blogs.umw.edu/juana/category/global/feed/
That’s it, all of her Global History posts would now be sent to the class portal, and the same would be true for the rest of the students in her class. Meanwhile, she has a centralized space for all of her courses that she can carry over, archive, share, etc. This pushes the possibilities of WordPress beyond any course specific structure allowing for tremendous potential outside of the traditional classroom as well. You can decorate with flickr, entertain with YouTube, and wow your friends and family with the latest plugins. You can use it to promote work you’re proud of and bury the work you are not -it is your space, you own it, you maintain it, and you can make it better. I think this is it, we have all been talking about these possibilities for some time and I really believe the are not only possible, but seconds away from being ready for a larger-scale pilot. The questions surrounding whether a blog or e-portfolio or LMS or this or that is the tool, or some combination thereof seems somewhat irrelevant to me these days. The blog can quickly and easily be a portfolio or a LMS or whatever, and, even better, it plays relatively well with forums and wikis too!
What would shore this up for me in terms of a Fall 2007 roll-out (and remember that I have no power so these ideas of grandeur are solely the opinions of a peon) is a centralized space that allows students to go to a page on WPMU and enter the appropriate RSS feed for each of their class portals (I’m thinking drop-down menu, one field for the feed, and see ya). As an administrator, I am already using BDP RSS to make this all happen and from what I can tell it shouldn’t be too difficult to protect this self-service page so that only instructors and students can access it. This would evenly distribute the work of collecting and managing all these feeds to each individual user. I really believe that this is eminently doable, I mean the RSS BDP code has already been written for WP, it just has to be modified and made semi-public so that we can scale it effectively. As Scarlet O’Hara is my witness, we’ll never go hungry again- -for we are all about to feed to heart’s content!