CAS’ifying WordPress 3.1

Still on hiatus from social media (and really enjoying the general silence and calmness that’s brought me) but did want to share this in case it helps anyone else out. As part of hosting the new BC Ed Tech User’s Group site, now powered by WordPress/Buddypress, we hooked the user accounts up to the BCcampus Central Authentication Server.  Not only will this allow single sign-on for the ETUG users to other BCcampus resources, but more importantly, as we role out Shibboleth with our partner schools (the first one with SFU to go live in a few weeks) it will mean that users can access the community with their existing institutional accounts.

We were greatly assisted by the existence of the wpCAS plugin and the phpCAS library, as well as the work by Steve Hannah at SFU to do account provisioning in an early version of WordPress.

But as is usually the case, it was not simple “plug and play” and we needed to re-write some of this to work in our environment and against the new WordPress 3.1. The wiki page documents this work, the lion’s share of which was done by my colleague Victor Chen, and is free to reuse, modify, etc. – SWL

Feedback on Possible BC WordPress in Education Summer Camp

Wordpress Schawg by Peregrino Will Reign

Last February, in the run up to Northern Voice, a bunch of us in BC post-secondary got together on the UBC campus to meet and discuss the various ways in which we were starting to use WordPress (and WPMU) on our campuses. I had some high (unrealistic) ambitions for the meeting, and while I felt like we didn’t necessarily meet those, it did feel like it was a good start to the conversation here in BC that allowed people to meet each other, see what they were doing, get inspired & encouraged about their own work, and share some of the issues we face in common.

I’ve been wanting to do a follow up, and since this year’s ETUG Spring Workshop is happening June 7-8 at the University of Victoria, some of us thought we’d try to organize another “WordCampEd” around that event, given that it typically brings together many of the interested folks.

So, three questions in this informal poll, which you can reply to in the comments below (and please circulate this as widely as you like; we’re not “exclusive” though it is likely to be mostly folks from BC post-secondary attending.)

  1. Does this sound like something you’d like to attend? We’re not asking for you to sign up yet (it will be free), just a show of hands to help us figure out what size/type of venue we need to find
  2. The ETUG event is on a Monday June 7th and Tuesday June 8th. Yes, I know, weird. In terms of doing this kind of session, should we be looking at:
    • full day session? half-day? less?
    • Sunday the 6th? (might have to be off campus.) During the ETUG meetings (potentially as a proposed session)? Afterhours on either the 7th or 8th? Or the day after, Wednesday the 9th?
  3. What would you like to focus on? Do you want scheduled talks? Unorganized collaboration time? Self-forming interest groups? Something else? Think about what we can usefully do in a face to face session that we couldn’t just do online (and the answer might be “nothing,” which is ok too.)

Let us know. I’m not “leading” anything, just starting a discussion. So far I know there is interest from UVic, the hosts of the ETUG conference, and a few others who were instrumental in the earlier gathering have also indicated interest. You should all consider yourselves part of the organizing committee. Indeed, somebody please jump in and take over, I’m happy to help but would much prefer those with a bigger stake in their WP installations to lead the charge. – SWL

What I learned at WordCamp Victoria

This past weekend I joined about 100 others for the first Wordcamp Victoria, a celebration and exploration of all things WordPress. Hats off to Paul Holmes and the other volunteers for organizing a fine gathering.

Now I am not a great joiner at the best of times, and when it comes to “camp” style gatherings I take my camping seriously, so I ended up pretty much hanging out in the “campout” room, a place for informal gatherings. Far from being a waste of time, for me this was the absolute best use of my time, allowing me to get into deep conversations, learn specific things I was particularly interested in, and forge new relationships. In particular, I was fortunate to spend most of the day next to Lloyd Budd, not only a fantastic ambassador for Automattic but a nearby neighbor in Victoria, and have some far ranging discussions with Chris Parsons, PhD-student Privacy Research extraordinaire. This on top of catching up with old friends too.

So, what did I learn? In no particular order:

How to stop targeted advertisers from tracking me so easily

Chris, fearless privacy warrior, pointed me to the Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO) plugin for Firefox as the absolute simplest way to cut down on all the tracking cookies from targeted advertisers. Nice!

Where to find additional Buddypress themes – sometimes it’s as simple as “let me google that for you” – thanks Lloyd.

How to implement a twitter clone in your organization

Lloyd referred a few times to P2 ( which I didn’t grok until I realized it was the next generation of the older Prologue theme. I look forward to trying this out (possibly in conjunction with feedwordpress to capture those existing twitter users, ahem) for BCcampus.

How to optimize images automatically for your wordpress blog

The Smush-IT plugin from my buddy Alex Dunae looks like it will do just the trick. Nice one Alex!

What to do if you are serious about needing to cache your wordpress site

Use Batcache.  Nuff said.

Additional Ways to Slow Down the Blog Bot Armies

Our inimitable guest from the East Coast, whose name escapes me, swore by Sabre (simple anti-bot registration engine)

And a whole lot of cool ways to start WordPress themes

Including the bare-bones sandbox theme, artisteer, the wordpress theme generator, and for the designer but not programmer, psd2html, a service that takes a Photoshop site design and quickly turns it into a WordPress theme.

And finally, we did have an actual “camp” session at the end of the day around WPMU, and I am proud to report that higher ed did REPRESENT! There was much love from people in corporate site development for many of the heroes from higher ed (and of course for their pioneer working on WPMU. That made me really proud.

See – you CAN learn without a curriculum or organized program. Having a desire to learn, some specific things you are trying to learn, and the ability to listen when there are smart folks around willing to share is really all you need. ‘Til next time – SWL

WordPress for Education Camp – Vancouver version

Just wanted to put a shout out here to any educational technologist and educators in BC who are using WordPress (or WordPress MultiUser) in support of the educational practices, simple content publishing or resource sharing… If you hadn’t heard yet, on Thursday, February 19, 2009 (start time not announced yet, but we’re a fairly civilized bunch, so it won’t be *too* early I hope) a FREE ‘camp‘ for using WordPress in education is happening out at the UBC main campus.

The event is being held to coincide with the fantastic Northern Voice conference. The Northern Voice conference, while not free (WordcampEd IS, though), is very reasonable ($60 for the two days) and so if you were thnking of travelling to the mainland for it, sign up soon, as it is filling up fast, but also consider coming a day early and spending the day with us working on some wordpress in education challenges.

If you have never been to a camp/unconference before, I HIGHLY recommend it. Just make sure to bring your ideas, your laptop and your gumption! And please, dive into the wiki that D’Arcy has set up; the whole idea behind an unconference like this is that it will be what we make of it. Yes, there will be some pretty decent wordpress hackers thee, but there will also be those, like me, who continually fumble with it and are just as interested in *what* you can do as in how. So don’t be shy!

(And just to be clear – this shout out isn’t meant to *exclude* anyone outside of BC. Far from it; if you care enough to travel from afar, we’d LOVE to have you. Just trying to reach out to people in my particular region.) – SWL

BCcampus OER site – Free Learning

If you read ed tech blogs, especially the ones I read, then conversations about “open content” and “open education” feel like they have been going on forever. Indeed, at the Open Education conference this year, we celebrated 10 years of Open Education, so it’s been at least that long.

But my experience travelling around my own province for the last few years is that OER is still not a widely publicized phenomenom, and that faculty and ed tech support staff are still living with “scarcity mentalities” when it comes to the availability of free and open educational resources.

So as one small step to address this, we built this new site, Free Learning. There are many other good OER portals out there. If faculty and students were already using these, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But, in my experience, they are not, and as someone who works for the Province of BC, I have a hard time justifying marketing budgets for sites like those. So we built this one, also to give more play to locally developed resources that are Fully Open.

But in building this, I did not want to create a monster we would then have to maintain forever more. I wanted something that was simple to use and provided straightforward value to end users, but was also simple (and free) for us to maintain. Thus we built the site in WordPress. Using the Exec-PHP plugin allowed us to include some additional PHP web service calls to the SOLR repository to display the Creative Commons resources there in a tagcloud, something that system does not do natively.

I am especially proud of the OER and Open Textbook search pages. These provide a tagcloud of sites stored in Delicious, and then allow users to perform a constrained Google search over just these sites.  You are guaranteed that the sites you search are explicitly “open educational resources” from high quality, well known producers. Adding new sites to the list of sites, to the tag cloud and to the Coop engine is as easy as tagging them in Delicious. Since I already do this… it means no extra work. The site ticks along simply because I am online and find new OER sites all the time.

Total time on the project (including wonderful work by my colleagues Victor Chen and Eric Deis) was maybe a week. The bigger job now is getting it known and used around the province. I demo’d it to folks from around BC at the “Learning Content Strategies” meeting we held last Friday. Hopefully that is the start. And we also mentioned that this site could itself be a service for them – using WPmU, we can easily spawn another version of this site that responds to their own domain name, with their own branding, yet still uses the same background engine (meaning their effort is almost none, if that’s what they want). The cost is close to zero, but for our trouble they get a custom branded OER portal they can market to their own faculty. See – I DON’T CARE if you use THIS site or SOME OTHER SITE. I just care that people ACCESS OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES. And if re-branding this makes it easier for them to sell this to the people they support, great. I’ll happily provide you a version, or give you any of the code. That is what building it on top of open source technologies (and freely available services) allows us to do.

Please have at ‘er, let me know if it is useful, or any criticisms or complaints you might have. After all, we aim to please. – SWL