I’ve updated WordPress to the newest version which adds some interesting functionality. Some highlights include the new Theme Customizer which should make tweaking the look of your site more intuitive, and the ability to drag and drop widgets and custom menu items on an iPad.
I’ve also added the ability for users to enable a small number of Plugins. Think of Plugins like “apps” for your blog. They allow you to provide added functionality to your site, (without necessarily having to contact someone to activate them). This is a big step forward for us. Plugins are really the heart of the WordPress community, and allow us to customize the site in many ways to make the tool do what we want it to do. Buddypress is one of the plugins we use, and it creates the social learning network that connects our users together: it really is the backbone of the community.
What does this mean for you the user?
Plugins are a double-edged sword. The more plugins you have running on your site, the slower it can become, so activate them sparingly and deactivate any plugin you are no longer using. One of the major updates is the addition of the Jetpack plugin: http://jetpack.me/. This plugin enables functionality on par with WordPress.com, and allows our users to easily add items like Stats, Email Subscriptions to posts and comments, and social features that allow your readers to share your posts via Facebook or Twitter. To se the Photo Carousel feature in action, check out this post and click on the first picture in the gallery: http://vbennett.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2011/11/28/flexibility/
This plugin requires a wordpress.com account in order to be enabled, which I am always hesitant to do. The basis for the Commons was to ensure that students and teachers did not have to sign up for multiple accounts in order to start blogging. This update changes that slightly (in order to provide analytics to your site, you needed to create a Google Account, so some might say that the need for a separate account has always been part of the Commons infrastructure). I would never want to require users to sign up for a separate account, but in this instance, I think that this plugin is our best bet in enabling users to opt in to certain functionality if they require it, while still ensuring that the core functionality of the Commons remains accessible to all members of HWDSB through their Board account. Most of the functions available in this plugin will be most useful for teacher, rather than student sites (contact forms, twitter widget, etc).
A few of the other plugins of note which those of you who are interested can read more about or see examples of at the links provided, :
WPTouch Pro: http://www.bravenewcode.com/product/wptouch-pro/?utm_campaign=wptouch-home-top&utm_medium=web&utm_source=bravenewcode Allows you to build a mobile theme for your website.
WordTwit Pro: http://www.bravenewcode.com/product/wordtwit-pro/ allows you to connect your twitter account to your blog.
Blubrry PowerPress: http://www.blubrry.com/powerpress/ Which is currently running on http://mrfoxradio.commons.hwdsb.on.ca if you’d like to take a look, and creates an iTunes compatible Podcasting feed http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/mr.-fox-radio/id435635130?mt=2&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
Editflow: http://editflow.org/ which enables additional steps in the writing process. This is great for classroom/group blogs. Once of the features I’ll be sharing more about with teachers is the ability to provide private Editorial Comments on student work. The pedagogical difficulty some of us run into is when to make descriptive feedback visible to the public (which is some instances helps the entire community grow) and when to make that commentary private. We would never share Assessment OF Learning in a public forum (final marks). This addition allows for private conversations to occur around the work between the author or authors before the piece is eventually published.
MCE Table Buttons: I hate tables (there, I said it), but I know that some of you like to design sites on a grid. This plugin makes that function available to you if you need it.
Mediacore: This allows you to easily embed public content from http://hwdsb.tv. Have questions about .tv? This is an experimental space exploring the provisioning of a video platform for the board, avoiding the trolls who comment on YouTube, and highlighting the work of HWDSB filmmakers.
Polldaddy Polls and Ratings: You can see this being used here: http://mrcooksclass.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/ about half way down the page. This is another one that requires a separate username and password, but if you are looking to gather feedback or create exit cards, it’s a nice plugin to have.
The Events Calendar: Activate this and you’ve created a Calendar for your site (you can still link to an FC calendar if you would rather do that, or embed a Google Calendar). You can see what that looks like here: http://stamandkinders.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/events
Wiki: We used a wiki to help create our Digital Citizenship Toolkit. If you need Wiki functionality, you can create one right on your blog using this plugin: http://learning.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/wiki/digital-citizenship/
WordPress.com Custom CSS: This is for the Brave: Students who want to learn how to REALLY customize their site can delve into the Cascading Style Sheets. Check out Lesson 3 on this site if you are interested in learning more: http://www.codecademy.com/tracks/web
Twitter Tools: Another way to integrate Twitter. I use Twitter Tools on the sidebar of this site to create a Twitter Widget, and to send out a Tweet when a new post is published.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of what has been happening here at Commons Development for the past couple of days. There are some additional projects, including tackling where you can go to get help. Currently if you have a blog (Get one in the Top right Corner menu at the Blog Requests link) you can view Video Tutorials under the Dashboard menu. I’ve also endeavoured to create a support area accessible through that same menu, or on the sidebar of the Commons here: http://commons.hwdsb.on.ca/wiki/support and have also dabbled with a Support Group/Forum. These need to be centralized somewhere to make finding help when you need it easier. This will be a huge, ongoing project to create the instructions necessary to allow you to access the documentation you need without emailing the 21CL team. That said, the best support is the contextual kind, and we are always more than willing to come out and work with your team to explain how the Commons (an a host of other tools at our disposal) can help you Blend learning.
Please report any bugs or glitches you see in the comments below. This process will continue for the next few weeks, and all of these updates are subject to the scrutiny of the community. If we find issues or problems we may change our path.
We have always endeavoured to ensure that the Commons is a responsive system, agile enough to appease the needs of a changing environment. Sometimes living on that edge means you fall off of it from time to time. Thanks for your patience as we continue to build the airplane while it’s flying.