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    Jared Bennett 9:33 pm on April 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Going Mobile 

    WP-Touch — One of the plugins we offer as an option on the Commons — has been network activated. I wrestle with how we deploy plugins. If you are not familiar with the idea, a plugin is like an “app” for your blog, adding additional functionality that by default you don’t have. We don’t activate all of them because we know there are a lot of different ways that people use the Commons, and some plugins don’t fit the type of site you are building. Running too many un-necessary plugins can create bloat, and could slow down your site. But sometimes I wonder if more people would use a certain functionality if they knew more about the plugins we have available. This is one I think everyone should be using, especially when you consider the amount of users who are accessing your site via a mobile device.

    If you want to read more about how Google is prioritizing search on mobile-friendly sites, you can do so here: That link will also explain how you can customize your mobile theme on the Commons through the WP-Touch menu.

    It doesn’t hurt that WP-Touch is a product of our local #HamOnt friends over at Brave New Code. Hope you like the new mobile experience. As always, add your comments below if you have have anything you would like assistance with.

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    Jared Bennett 8:04 pm on April 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Open Graph Protocol 

    Open Graph LogoI’m exploring the open graph protocol to enable links shared on social media to be content-rich. This functionality exists already on the Jetpack enabled blogs.  The same functionality should now exist for all blogs that don’t have Jetpack active: like this one.

    When tweeted, this post should have a media-rich Twitter Card.

    Like this:

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 2:30 pm on March 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: linux, nginx, , server,   


    We moved the Commons over the March break. When we started this journey back in June 2011, the only server option we had was an internal Windows server here at the board. Of course it was a big win just to be able to launch our own blogging platform, so we weren’t about to quibble about server flavours.

    Those of you who know the server landscape, will know that running WordPress on IIS (Windows) is not a popular option. Traditionally the open source community has embraced Linux as the server of choice. Google runs on Linux. Facebook runs on Linux. Invariably in the discussion forums where we lurk to sort out issues and glitches, suggestions abound for how to fix something on Linux, with little to no information on how to sort out the issues on IIS. Although there have been improvements in how IIS handles PHP code, we always knew there would come a time when we would need to move to Linux to serve our growing user base more effectively. That day has come. With more than 18 000 users, and more than 5000 blogs, often the Commons was the most frequently visited server in the board.

    We’ve moved to a Linux, running NGINX on SSD servers. We are now on the cutting edge when it comes to server infrastructure. We trust that this move, which also includes a redundancy solution that should make server downtime an incredibly rare occurrence, will help us grow to continue to meet the needs of all of our HWDSB bloggers. We are very excited about this change. There are improvements and functionality additions that we couldn’t make on the old server, that we will be able to provide here.

    That said, for the next few weeks we will need your support as we sort out all of the implications of moving the server. Any irregularities you find, please don’t hesitate to post them here in the comments, send an email to @jarbenne, or connect with the IIT Help Desk.

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 9:51 pm on February 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Avatar Reset Necessary 

    It has come to our attention that the Avatar builder on the Commons 2015-02-16_21-45-02was impacting the performance of the site in a negative way. The code for this has been re-configured, but in order to complete the migration, users need to Navigate to their Profile and click Change Profile Picture. Your previous avatar will still be saved, and you can then hit Next, then Save.

    We apologize that this didn’t occur automatically. This process will cache the avatar locally on the server, and ensure that the site can serve up the avatar images more efficiently.

    Thanks for your cooperation.

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 4:33 pm on January 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , buddypress,   

    New Blog Creation Process 

    By using this new plugin we built, moderating blog requests just got a lot easier, and requesting a blog should now be a much more logical process. Here are some of the things we are excited about:

    • Users who are requesting blogs will be prompted if the URL they are requesting is invalid, or already used.
    • Users will be emailed when their blog has been processed (previously we didn’t have a mechanism in place to notify you that you had a blog.
    • We no longer have to manually create blogs using a CSV upload (this is how we previously created sites)
    • We can see who made the request and can follow-up accordingly (previously, if the username field in the request form was incorrectly filled out, we couldn’t discern who had made the request.

    You can see how the new process works in this video. All of the links to the Blog Request Form have been updated across the Commons, but if you had previously navigated to it directly, please update your bookmarks.


    As always, we post on this site to both notify our users, and also to be transparent with the WordPress and BuddyPress community, to help others who are maintaining a site like the Commons to take advantage of the lessons we are learning.

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    Jared Bennett 1:49 pm on December 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    New Year, New Jetpack 

    This will be the first is a series of posts describing some of the changes we are implementing/have implemented on the Commons over the fleeting break. Instead of writing one huge update, I’m opting to pen a number of smaller updates as things get accomplished.

    The first update will only apply to those of you running either the Jetpack or Slim Jetpack plugins. People running the Slim version were probably not aware of it (21CL would activate it in the background to unleash specifically requested functionality), but it was active on approximately 40 blogs, and I’ve just gone through and deactivated it, to then activate the full Jetpack plugin on your site.


    Slim Jetpack was a plugin that took all the components of Jetpack that didn’t require you to have a username, and allowed you to enable them on your site. Although there were advantages to this, especially in a world of under 13 year old users who can’t sign up for a username, the Slim Jetpack plugin hasn’t been updated in about a year, and I’ve since found a couple of ways to tailor Jetpack so that I can weed out the functionality I don’t want, while keeping the functionality that makes your site better.

    Jetpack Network Settings

    Jetpack Network Settings

    This came in incredibly handy:

    Along with this Blog Post:

    And this WordPress Forum thread:

    The next step will be to continue some additional testing before enabling Jetpack Network-wide. I’d like to do this; but I’m not yet convinced that users who are under 13 will not be prompted to sign into in some circumstances, despite the fact that I have left the Sub-site override setting unchecked. I hope to sort that out in the next few days.

    Despite a number of different developers assuring the WordPress community that Jetpack is awesome, (which in most circumstances it is) I know that it really wasn’t built with our K-12 EDU network in mind. There are great minds at work making improvements, and of course, one of the roles we play in the open source community is to participate in ways that ensure that the tools work best for as many instances as possible by reporting bugs and suggesting enhancements (especially when our ability to code is on the lower end of 10000 hours of practice): (#1060, #247/#866,#1427). While we wait for those improvement to be fully implemented into the plugin, I am exceedingly thankful for the patience and help of developers like Jeremy Herve and Ben Lobaugh for creating and/or pointing to the relevant functions required to get us up and running.

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 6:26 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: groups   

    Groups and Blogs and Groupblogs and Courses (oh my) 

    Since the inception of the Commons, teachers have had the ability to create Groups. This additional capability had to be manually added to teacher usernames, so not everyone had it. We tried to keep up, but there were numerous teachers who probably didn’t have the ability to create groups.

    A Group on the Commons was comprised of an Activity feed (very much like the larger feed you can find under the Community link on the main page at this URL: and a Discussion Forum. You could make the Group Public (which really meant available to all members of HWDSB), Private, or Hidden, and students could request membership to groups, or join automatically, depending on that setting.

    This functionality pre-dated the availability of The HUB as a means of creating a private collaboration space for students, so in the early days of the Commons, teachers looking to migrate out of First Class took the opportunity to create Groups. Now we have The HUB, and it syncs automatically with the Student Information System so students don’t have to request membership, and teachers don’t have to manage users. The HUB has discussion forum capability too, and allows for richer tracking of student involvement within the discussion forum with analytics and user logs, along with a host of other features that make it a better space to collaborate privately with the other students in your class. We are also working with software vendors to make The HUB a single-sign-on solution for other tools. This is already the case with Voicethread, Gizmos, and tv.HWDSB.

    The activity feed in the group is another more social means of interacting with others, but without a group, this functionality can be found by using one of the many P2-style themes available in the Theme repository on the Commons (more on that later) on a Groupblog….


    This is where things got more confusing. Within the admin menu of a group, you could enable a “Groupblog”. This was a blog that had its membership tied to the group, so students who were members of the group, were automatically added to the blog as an Author or Contributor. In the past, we used this as a bridge to allow students to quickly join a blog (the ecoschools blog, and the Bulldogs literacy blog are good examples of this) — the group functionality (discussion forum and activity feed) was never used, and once students were on the blog, they didn’t visit the group again.

    Now we’ve eliminated the need for this step with the new Request Membership widget, that can be added directly to your site. Here’s a run-down of what that plugin does:

    Having a Group, and a Groupblog, also created a too-many-spaces issue:

    • Should I post on the main activity feed of the Commons?
    • Should I post to the more private activity feed of the Group?
    • Should I post in the Discussion Forum?
    • Should I post on the groupblog?

    As someone who works with teachers on creating a digital wing for their classrooms, the question of whether they should use a Group, a Blog, or a Course in The HUB comes up all the time. Again: TOO MANY SPACES.

    Due to all of these issues, we have turned off the ability to create Groups on the Commons while we re-define how they should be used. For teachers who embraced the Group functionality, I truly believe that all the functionality can be had with a blog, and then some. Check out for an example of a P2-style (that’s the type of theme that lets you post right from the front of the blog, removing the complicated nature of the Dashboard from students looking to post. Check out: P2, Responsive P2, or Mercury for P2 theme examples in the Appearance menu of your blog). On that site I’ve also enabled a Discussion forum, and a Badging functionality to give you an idea of the different options available on a blog. If you have a group, and want to migrate, reach out to the 21CL team for assistance. If you have a group, and you no longer use it (some haven’t been active for a couple of years) please help us out and delete the group. If you are looking to archive some of the content, we can help with that too.

    The Case for Blogs

    Blogs have greater privacy flexibility. Groups could not be made public, but a blog can be seen by outside collaborators. That’s the true power of the Commons, and what separates it from The HUB. A blog, whether that’s individual student blogs, or one Groupblog, can allow collaboration to happen not only with the other members of the class, but with other classrooms across the school, within the board, and around the world. That said, if you want a blog that is private just to the members of your class, that’s always an option too: you can always open up the blog once you’ve successfully covered the digital citizenship skills you feel are necessary before availing your students to a public soapbox.

    All of this is part of the evolution of the digital tools and resources available to create a digital wing of your classroom. As The HUB evolves to fit the collaboration needs of the students within the classroom, the Commons will continue to fill the more public stage required to access an authentic audience, to connect classrooms across the board together in collaborative projects, and to create windows into the classrooms at HWDSB so that parents and community can share in the awesome things happening in classrooms across the board. We know that implementing blended learning can be a daunting task, and too many tools can create confusion. I heard once that technology is all about finding the proper sized wrench to pound in a screw. Remember that the 21CL team is always available to help chose the right tools for the task, which in the end is how all good lesson design should evolve: what are you trying to do? What tool would best accomplish that task?

    Regardless of the tool you use, make this year the year you add a digital wing to your classroom. The advantages for students is far-reaching.

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 2:40 pm on April 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    WordPress 3.9 

    We’ve updated the Commons to the latest and greatest version of WordPress. You can check out this link to see the new changes, or check out the video.

    [wpvideo sAiXhCfV]

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 2:15 pm on April 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    New Profile URL Schema 

    Previously, in order to visit another users profile manually (by typing in the URL in the browser) you needed to add the sub-directory “/members” to the URL. You can still do that, but now just adding the username at the end of the Commons URL also works ie: rather than

    Cool eh?

  • Profile photo of jarbenne

    Jared Bennett 11:50 am on April 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Flagging Content 

    Just a few notes about flagging content:

    When you flag content, only you and the community administrators see that it has been flagged. If content is flagged twice by two separate users, an email is sent to the user (and the community admin) notifying them that something they posted on the Commons has been flagged by other members of the community.

    Please teach your students how this flagging functionality works, and explain how it can be used to ensure the Commons is a safe and caring environment for learning. You may want to also ensure that they understand that the homework you assign on your class blog probably doesn’t merit a flag 😉 As one of the moderators on the site, one of the frustrating elements of this functionality is the abundance of flagging that happens on appropriate content, making the process of sifting through the reports that much more difficult.

    One of the key functions of the Commons is to provide a space where students can learn about how to manage their digital footprint in social networking spaces. As members of the “village” helping to raise the child, it is important that we remember that beyond flagging, we all have a role to mentor each other and suggest ways to contribute appropriately when we happen upon individuals still grappling with how best to contribute using the indelible ink of the internet. The directives of the 21st Century Learning and Technology Policy and its associated directives set out Standards of Behaviour for Privacy, Ownership & Authorship, and Identity, Credibility & Positive Participation that you may find helpful when having these conversations. The resources provided by CommonSenseMedia provide lesson plans for every grade level, that align with our policy (both were created based on The Good Play Project: Our Space Resource).

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