What I really loved about his week’s session was how it really got down to the nitty gritty of how to customise your site and your pages and posts to utilise plugins on WordPress, how to not be afraid of your C-Panel (confession: I used mine to set up an SQL database to install WordPress and then shuffled away quickly and haven’t been back since), and even introduced how you might create a syndicated/aggregated feed of student and course materials for a course website or online learning resource.
As someone who’s hoping to teach a connected course further down the line it was great to realise you can get up a syndication feed via WordPress relatively easily – though you obviously require more complex customisation and categorisation of your materials to get something as advanced as the stream at the bottom of Connected Courses’ own webpage. As they mention in the screencast, it’s so much easier to get students to engage with each others’ work when they automatically appear on the course website (as opposed to them having to make extra clicks and follow links to get to others’ websites and then the relevant materials). I also found the idea of multiple tagging across these posts to enable both faculty and students to divide posts not only by class but also by their study groups or their research topics particularly useful. For anyone potentially interested in creating an aggregated stream for a course website/blog I strongly recommend a quick listen to video – I think they begin discussing syndication over half way through once the extra contributors join the conversation in case you want to jump ahead to the appropriate bit – and there’s also a great walkthrough and intro to FeedWordpress available here at Alan Levine’s blog.
The title for this post is actually paraphrased from a talk Jim Groom gave a while back on Connected Courses and the development of the DS106 course which I found via a link from Kevin Hodgson on Twitter (find him via @dogtrax). This video is great inspiration for showing you have creative (and slightly crazy!) a successful connected course can be and how it can continue to grow and develop long after (and even sometimes before) the course is over.
However, the idea of ‘controlling’ one’s infrastructure here is picked up to emphasise the freedom I’m beginning to realise I have through choosing to create my own domain. I felt so empowered when I first installed WordPress (old skool style over FTP before I knew about 1-click installs and Installatrons), and it’s great to see via the most recent hangout that I can easily add subdomains to my site via C-Panel to also install applications like Omeka (to create an exhibit to showcase a research project or archive materials) or a class wiki (perhaps to house my syllabus and readings, etc.) without having to create and host entirely new sites or feel like I’m cluttering up my main personal webspace.
As a side note (and also brought to my attention via @dogtrax), I also found this post on the importance of backing up your own work and course content (both as a student and a faculty member) a good reminder that even in supposedly “open” courses with are supposed to remain up in perpetuity, it’s important to save local/hard copies of your materials and data. As Lisa concludes:
“Use the open web, use whatever works out there, build communities and take your students there and rage against the privacy-invading, data-mining machine. Then print a copy.”
Although this site is still very bare bones and basic at present I’m hoping that as I work through the connected courses material I might also allow myself to be a bit braver, to really “pop the hood” so to speak, and see just what functionality is open to me – through both WordPress dashboard and through my C-Panel. It will be great to see how far I can develop this site between now and the end of the year. Keep your eyes peeled!