Free Range Edtech

Author: Alan Levine

An early 1990s builder of the web and a blogging advocate, Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling, photography, bending WordPress, and exploring the serendipity of the infinite internet river.

Putting WordPress Posts to Work with Display Posts Plugin

Posts. Posts. Posts. That’s what you write and publish in WordPress. They show up on your front page, newest first. Maybe you organize them into categories, which you can display… newest first.

But there’s a lot more you can do to use them in other ways with the Display Posts plugin, available to everyone’s sites hosted at the OpenETC. You can embed a listing of posts in page, a widget, even… inside another post! And you can use extra options to change which posts are selected, in what order they are listed (including my favorite, random) and how they are displayed (to show an excerpt, date published).

This is one plugin I use over and over.

I saw a possibility when Emily Schudel shared in our Mattermost Community (what, you are not in there? Join now) a fantastic project she has done for over a year for the Camosun College eLearning site. First, check out the Camosun Faculty Stories. They are a wonderful testimonial to the care and effort Camosun faculty put into adjusting their teaching to pandemic conditions.

Here you can find inspirational stories from faculty across Camosun College who bravely moved their courses from face to face to completely online, sometimes in a matter of a few weeks.

You will find a list of 22 Faculty stories Emily has collected and published as posts, and organized them as well into a Faculty Stories category. It is published as a WordPress Page, and I would guess that each time Emily publishes a new story, she has to update this page.

This is one place where Display Posts can make the list of stories dynamic, the page of Faculty Stories could be updated by itself when she published the next story in this category.

The first step is heading into your WordPress plugins, look for the one called Display Posts, and click the Activate link.

Nothing happens.

Yet.

This plugin is used in content via WordPress Shortcodes, they are things in brackets [.....] that are a placeholder for inserting content when published.

The basic use of the plugin is

[display-posts]

which would merely display a list of the 10 most recent posts. But it offers a wide range of extra options you can add to make it do something different.

To automate what is done in Emily’s manually edited lists of posts, I would use something like this shortcode – I know the options well but they are well documented:

[display-posts category="faculty-stories" order="ASC" posts_per_page="-1"]

This says to select posts only from the Faculty Stories category (using the part of URL used in displaying the category) https://camosunelearning.opened.ca/category/faculty-stories/ The ASC option for order flips the default action to list newest posts first, we want to list them in the order they were published. The posts_per_page value of –1 is a trick to have to display all posts (otherwise you only get only 10 posts).

If Emily wanted to include an excerpt from the post and a link to continue reading, this should work:

[display-posts category="faculty-stories" order="ASC" posts_per_page="-1" include_excerpt="true" excerpt_more="Read more..." excerpt_more_link="true"]

There are other ways Emily could put her posts to work. She could create a sidebar or footer text widget (or use in any page/post) with a Display Posts shortcode that displays 5 random stories.

[display-posts category="faculty-stories" orderby="rand" posts_per_page="5"]

Each time the page is viewed, it should list five random stories from the collection.

I find this plugin useful too on sites where I change the option on my site to use a WordPress for the home rather than just the newest posts — see Take Control of the Front of Your WordPress Site. I used this for the Stories of OpenETC in Action site to have a welcome message on the landing page. In the middle of this page, I use the Display Posts plugin to list 5 random stories:

[display-posts posts_per_page="5" orderby="rand"]

that generates a different set of 5 on every view:

Screenshot that shows a list of 5 different linked stories, on the right is the text of the shortcode listed above
See the randomness at https://openetc.opened.ca/

You can just have posts come up as WordPress gives them to you, or you can take over control and display them in many more different ways with the Display Posts plugin.

And if that’s not enough, wait until you see what is possible for Pages with the Page-List plugin.


Image Credit: Image by Daniel Hannah from Pixabay 

OpenETC Was All Over the OERxDomains 21 Conference

Last week the Association for Learning Technology and Reclaim Hosting hosted a jam packed 2-day online conference covering open education and web-based teaching/learning as well as taking on issues of care, social justice, and pandemic survival.

The OpenETC was more than well represented with four–count them– four presentations with materials/resources hosted here in our co-op. You can find details, the recordings, on these sessions at https://opened.ca/oer21/.

If you were not at the conference there is no reason to be stuck on FOMO, as all of the keynote and sessions are archived and available for rewatching via the TV Guide inspired program guide.

There should be plenty of topics of interest there, so put aside NetFlix and pick up what was showed at OERxDomains21.

We Seek Your Stories of OpenETC in Action

What does having your own OpenETC WordPress site, Mattermost Community, or access to Web Apps mean for you? We want to collect these stories to demonstrate the impact an Open EdTech Co-op can have.

Charts and numbers are one way to show this, but personal stories can say a lot more.

As another way of contributing back to the OpenETC we are asking for short stories that can submitted in a number of formats via a new collection of Stories of OpenETC in Action.

Using a pre-built SPLOTbox media theme available to all OpenETC users, you can add a story in video (YouTube or vimeo), audio (uploaded audio or recorded directly to the site), or an image and text. We just want to see, hear, share in your own voice what using OpenETC platforms has enabled for you as a BC student, teacher, educator.

We seek short, five minute stories that convey why your site or experience at the OpenETC is meaningful to you as a student, teacher, educator, internet citizen.

You do not even need to identify yourself or your site, just share as much as you wish. This will also help give people new to the OpenETC a reason to start their own journey.

Explore the stories and we hope you hear our call and share your own.

Also your stories will also help us in a presentation April 21-22, 2021 for the OERxDomains conference to share to the world what is happening here at the OpenETC.

Finally, another way to contribute back to the OpenETC is to nominate someone else’s site that inspires you.


Image credit: Remix of the concept of Rosie The Riveter We Can Do It poster (public domain) with an OpenETC logo designed for us by Bryan Mathers (shared under Creative Commons CC-BY).

Take Control of the Front of Your WordPress Site

The default display of most WordPress themes is the standard reverse chronological listing of published posts (newest stuff first). This works fine as a blog or reflective journal.

But with one small trick, you can take over the front page of any site with the information you want to provide there- an introduction or overview, and invitation to take part, maybe a current assignment. And you can provide that chronological listing to a secondary page.

I have mocked up a demo for this concept for the home of fictitious academic, Dr Blog. It is pure gibberish with filler text from a cosmic generator, random images from pravatar.cc, but also making use of some layouts only possible in the WordPress block editor, which is an open choice for you. But note the front entrance is not a stream of posts.

Okay, I could not resist slipping in a few more tricks like random header images, category descriptions, a wee bit of custom CSS to make the subtitle more readable. These are teasers, but if you want to learn more,just ask in a comment or the OpenETC Mattermost channel for WordPress fans.

Page It In

One of the longer points of clarification in WordPress is the difference between Posts, the things we do the most with, and Pages. They are very similar at the editing level.

Posts are organized by date and also category. But pages exist on their own, and are displayed only via links, adding to menus, etc. A typical use of a Page is the About page that usually comes by default in a new site (and many people ignore) which explains what the site is about. But they can also be used for offering a CV, contact information, a course description, an artist’s statement. A site might exist solely of Pages, maybe if it is more like a book, because Pages can be organized in an outline format.

But for now, the front page trick.

  1. Create a new Page with all the content you want to show up on the front. This can be almost anything. You can change it at any time. Or you could have a series of ones that maybe you swap in and out at different times of the year.
  2. If you want to have an interior page that has the default blog format, create a second Page with a title like “All Posts”, “Reflections”, or even “Blog”. It needs no content.

In your WordPress dashboard, look under Settings and select Reading. The top setting controls the front page layout with the default for Your homepage displays set to latest posts.

WordPress interface for Reading Settings with default setting of "Your homepage displays" set you "Your Latest Posts"

Switch that setting to A static page and use the menus to chose the ones you representing the front page (or Homepage), and optionally, one to show all your Posts (moving the blog post listing to an interior page). For Dr Blog, these settings look like:

The WordPress interface for Reading Settings with "Your homepagedisplays" set to "A static page". Below the menu for Home page has "Meet Dr Blog" selected and "Posts page" has "All Writings" selected

Save these settings, and zip over to your site. The front page of posts has been pushed aside! For Dr Blog, you can still access this via their interior page.

Big Deal or Not?

To me this is a key way to make a site more your own, as you can design anything you want in the front. But it makes sense for many sites to offer a welcome, or explanation, something other than post, post, post.

I would want this in a portfolio site to introduce visitors with information about me

I was nudged to write this from a question emailed from an OpenETC member who wanted to exclude a certain category of posts from their home page. To me, replacing with an information page, and then using categories, menus to direct visitors to specific groups of posts, is effective. In a future post I can share how a plugin like Display Posts (available here) can be used on a front Page to list posts from a certain category, rather than all posts.

I’ve used this for a previous course site that used the TRU Collector SPLOT theme for have students share responses, but I changed out the front page to reflect the current assignment. I also used this for a current course home page, using the stock Twenty-Twenty theme, but those pesky blocks to provide a custom layout.

I bet that others here are using this “trick”, I would love to see more examples to provide. And for future WordPress tips, let me know something you want use to cover.

This is one small way you can assert a bit more control over a WordPress site. I have many more in my bag, but I am sure others do too.


Featured Image: Take Control flickr photo by Rasta Taxi shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license modified by Alan Levine to be better cropped for a blog header.

Blocks or Not? You Decide

Few things divide WordPress folks as much the [relatively] new Block Editor, aka “Gutenberg” vs the venerable Classic one.

You are either one side or the other.

A frame by frame Photoshop edit by Alan Levine of the numerous Rabbit Season / Duck Season GIFs found on giphy and very much in murky copyright waters. It’s parody!

The 2500+ WordPress sites here at the OpenETC all run from a shared install of the software, so we constantly try to balance everyone’s desires. We allow all users to choose Rabbit or Duck via the Classic Editor.

Recently we changed things for new sites to be set by default for the Block Editor- this may have triggered notices for all WordPress users, but no one is taking away your Classic Editor. You still get to choose. You can check and manage your WordPress Editing environment under SettingsWriting in the Dashboard / admin area of your site. These are your options and you can change them anytime.

I’m Fully Into the Block Editor (Daffy Duck)

Copy these options under SettingsWriting

Even if the user is just you, set Default editor for all users to Block editor and set Allow users to switch editors to No. You will not lose any content, and your previous posts will all show up in the “Classic Block” which is close to the old one. All new posts will be done in the Block Editor.

I have gotten rather accustomed to the Block Editor. It means each paragraph is its own thing. Yes, I still stumble over things, but as the features have expanded in the last year, I am liking the structural things I can do in pages that previously called for plugins and theme specific interfaces. I have accepted the Block Way (but am free to cuss at it any time).

I’m Not Giving Up My Classic Editor (Bugs Bunny)

Copy these options under SettingsWriting

Even if the user is just you, set Default editor for all users to Classic editor and set Allow users to switch editors to No. You will keep on using the editor you love and cherish. We will try to make this available to you as long as we can.

But the future direction of WordPress is aimed at the Block Editor, and officially support for the Classic Editor plugin stops December 31, 2021. That does not mean Classic goes away, but it might have implications in the future as the WordPress Core evolves.

I am on the Fence and Prefer to bounce Back and Forth (Bugs Duck? Daffy Bunny?)

Copy these options under SettingsWriting

Set Default editor for all users to whichever one you prefer set Allow users to switch editors to Yes. This means that any author on your site can use whichever editor they want on a post by post basis. With this setting, when you look at the lists of posts in your site, it indicates which one it will use by default. If you hover your cursor over any title, the quick links provide the tools you can use to edit in either one! You choose.

To me, this makes it a bit more complex, but might be preferable as you are learning to adjust to the new editor, but or important work, yo might want to use Classic if it is more productive for you.

To someone reading your site, it makes no difference which editor you use; both editors generate good old HTML. It’s more of an issue on finding a way to continue writing and publishing while learning to ride a new editor.

If you have any questions concerns, leave a comment below. But better join us in the OpenETC Mattermost where we have a WordPress channel for getting answers, or just publicly displaying your love or loathing of the Block Editor. For an illustrated guide to editors, switching, and more resources, see Troy Welch’s post explaining this to users of the Thompson Rivers University TRUbox WordPress site (which works just like this one, and is also under Troy’s nurturing system administration care, please remember to thank Troy!)

Do you want more information, tips about using the Block Editor? We do have a few plugins available that extend its capabilities even more.


Featured Image: Pixabay photo by Matthias Böckel edited by Alan Levine to include WordPress and OpenETC logos.

Open Education Week: Share An Inspiring OpenETC Site

OEWeek 2021

Monday starts Open Education Week, a celebration and showcase including more than 165 activities and events taking place around the world. The schedule is always reflecting your local time. Share what you are doing or experiencing in social media frequently during this week using the #OEweek tag.

BCcampus Activities for Open Education Week

BCcampus has a full slate of activities worth tuning into- we highly recommend the Open Education Challenge series –

This series is a fun way to get a taste of  Open Education Practices (OEP) – over the course of 5 days, we will release 2 challenges per day.  A challenge is a micro activity that you can do in 10 minutes or less that will cover a small aspect of open education.

The challenge series is open to anyone but has been designed for educators who are new to open education. You might have heard about OER, open textbooks, and perhaps even open pedagogy but if you don’t know where to find them or how to use or create them, then this is for you. This isn’t a bootcamp or a crash course in open education, it’s more of a tasting buffet of appetizers, designed to allow even the most time-constrained educators to participate.

(listed here as part of Open Education Week)

And take note- the Open Challenge site comes to you right from the OpenETC! https://oechallenge.opened.ca/ Maybe that site is… inspiring?

An OpenETC Activity (for this week and beyond)

The OpenETC is launching here an ongoing activity for Open Education Week . Let’s celebrate and recognize the wealth of open educational practice amongst more than 2500 WordPress sites housed in our co-op.

We provide yet another means of small but valuable ways of contributing back to our co-op. The ask is that you nominate someone else’s opened.ca site that somehow speaks to you, inspires you.

Meet OpenETC Inspire

https://inspire.opened.ca/

The ask here is to share not your own site, but someone else’s at the OpenETC. All that you need to do is (a) find an inspiring site; (b) Make a screenshot and copy the web address; and (c) share that information into the Inspire site.

As examples, see the ones we seeded for this launch or see what happens when you pick one at random.

How do you find a site to share? Currently the sidebar of the main OpenETC site displays the 20 newest sites just started here. We are at work to build a dynamic directory, but for now we have a mega list of over 2100 OpenETC WordPress sites. Explore a few and find one that speaks to you. If you are teaching with an OpenETC blog, you could share a student’s site (or students could share their course sites or peer sites).

The only rule is that anything submitted must reflect a site hosted at opened.ca.

Think of what we might build if we take on this bite sized Open Education Week challenge. And as a bonus, this site is built on a SPLOT WordPress theme that is available for OpenETC members to clone as their own.

Inspire Was Inspired

In the spirit of reuse, remix, the idea for the OpenETC Inspire (and we name it honor of the original) came from a project in the DS106 open digital storytelling course. In 2012, for their final project, two students proposed what they named inSPIRE as a place to honor and share the work of other ds106 participants. It became an ongoing activity in future ds106 courses and demonstrates a valuable, connective characteristic of open communities.

The original ds106 inSPIRE site (still available) https://inspire.ds106.us/

The spirit of ds106 inSPIRE site is as relevant or more nine years later.

A key part of the ds106 community is the connections between all of the pioneers. We have knitted together an intimate community that is not only participating in its structure but also creating it. The in[SPIRE] project wants to build a narrative of these connections in an ever-growing diagram. Be a part of the project and submit works that have inspired you and watch the diagram grow!

ds106 INSPIRE SITE Description

We invite anyone to find an inspirational OpenETC site and share it in the Inspire collection. More than that, we hope you get a chance to partake of some of the many activities of Open Education Week.


Featured Image: Unsplash image by Ave Calvar modified by placing the OpenETC chicken logo behind the phone.

Asking As Contributing

As alluded into my hello post one key way to contribute something to the OpenETC is to ask a question. Doing this is a double win– when answered, it hopefully helps you, but doing so in public helps others.

Still, I sense often there is a reluctance to ask something in public, due to that inner voice that may whisper “you are an idiot! everyone knows how to do that.” That voice is a liar. And to reiterate my ability to mess up in public, when tweeted I misspelled my own blog post title.

Yet there is another wonderful aspect about asking questions in public. Educators are eager to help answer! It feels good to do. It’s great medicine in anytime, but especially in pandemic times. I usually like to teach in networked spaces where my students can answer each other’s questions before I can. And no, I am not trying to get out of work — it creates more of community feel when the answers come from each other.

And that’s why the openETC Mattermost channels are a prime place to contribute by asking questions, answering, offering resources, encouragement, and yes, the every helpful reactionary GIF (I leave it to the reader to imagine one below). We have an ideal set up in the OpenETC “Team” for anything, the generic Town Hall channel is a good starting spot, but we have specific places to ask about Mattermost, WordPress, and the Sandstorm / Web Apps.

List of the OpenETC public channels in Mattermost including "Mattermost", "Off-Topic", "Tech Help", "Web Apps", and "WordPress"

And it need not just be technical things to ask about here.

There is also a pending plan to set up something to curate “asks” and “answers”, and no, it’s not an FAQ. A Frequently Asked Question page always sounds ideal, but perhaps it is me, but I almost never find the Q I have much less the A.

Step into the channels and ask and answer each other. That’s the smallest big way to be a part of and give back to the openETC.


Featured Image: From one of the Asks and Offers activities led by the community building champion Nancy White

Asks
Asks flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Hello Co-op

I am ungraciously late in responding to the Welcome to the OpenETC post written a month ago by Tannis Morgan, but as we know, Pandemic Time is warped. Thanks for the warm welcome to my role here as OpenETC Community Coordinator.

In blogging, I never start until I have a title and image in mind, this is a riff on the default post in most WordPress installations, itself a nod to an old tradition in computer programming.

I’m not writing here to talk much about myself, Tannis said a lot, and Google has the rest, but I will toss my calling card site with maybe the most ideal domain name (that’s a long story) at http://cog.dog – that is a WordPress site used in a non-blog post format, and I hope to relay more that there are many many more ways to use WordPress than a series of reverse chronologically ordered posts.

I have had long running collaborations with BC educators, in fact that was my first experience as a young, green instructional technologist maybe in 1996 when I was invited with a colleague to do a workshop at Douglas College and two laters got an invite back for the provincial organization that was the predecessor to BCcampus.

All of this just says I am old.

I was fortunate to have spend 5 months as an Open Learning Fellow at Thompson Rivers University, thanks to folks like Brian Lamb and Irwin Devries who made that possible. That was the egg laying for these SPLOT things you may hear me yammer about.

But being colleagues with Brian and Gran Potter and Tannis got me a backdoor into the OpenETC and access to these platforms. I should say this is a fantastic opportunity for any teacher or student in BC to have access to these platforms, free from the commercial ties that you sell some of your soul to use similar hosted platforms.

When Tannis approached me with an offer to take on this role, it took nanoseconds to say yes. In our initial conversation I had an insight, that mat or may not be meaningful to you (whomever you are reading this). The WordPress service offered here is technically no different from the “free” service at WordPress.com, and the functionality of Mattermost is similar to what you can get at Slack.com.

But this was a difference that popped into my head. At these free commercial sites, you actually have no awareness or even think about who your “neighbors” are on the shared service. But at the OpenETC, even if you never give it a thought, you might take into account the other few thousand WordPress sites here are all people interested in education, learning, art. Even if you do not interact, there is an affinity amongst people who use OpenETC services.

One of the reasons I did not leap out of the gate is that when I teach media, like audio/video/image editing, before they start creating media, I want my students to spend time reading/listening to a range of examples so they can get a sense of what is possible.

Similarly, on becoming this “OpenETC Community Coordinator” I’ve been rummaging around the blogs, the Mattermost Spaces, the Web Apps, just wandering and taking in the place.

I do have ideas of some things to start/introduce here, but I take my lead from what folks here want and need. A big part of my work is going to be championing the idea here of “Contributions Not Contracts.” This means spreading the spirit that there are small things everyone here can do to contribute, not in cash or technical magic, but ones that can help other.

This quasi-planned startegy means encouraging more participating in, asking/answering questions, sharing ideas in the Mattermost space. This is the best place to ask for help. I regularly here directly from people who ask a question but do not want to ask in public “so I will not sound stupid.”

Here is some truth I learned long ago. If you have a question, I bet there are 10,100 times as many people with the same question, all of them not asking because of this fear.

So I will be publically “stupid” often just to break the ice 😉

Mattermost is great for help when you need it, but the answers float quickly away downstream. So we have some thoughts about the ways OpenETC members can contribute by helping curate those useful tips, and ideas. And we are also going to open up some new ways to shine light on the excellent work we see happening here.

I was going to build a new WordPress site for sharing the “OpenETC Community Coordinator” coordinating, but it makes the most sense to do it right here. We will share these newsy and blabby posts around, and soon will add a signup form to get updates.

You see, I rather like blogging, and while many have giving it, I see it as more vital and important now than ever to be publically writing. When I teach, it’s always part of my approach to have students reflect (openly or privately, it’s the writing that matters).

Okay, what’s next? I have that one ready– shortly I am going to reveal a first low barrier way to contribute something valuable here.

You should also know that I firmly believe that all of this edtech work should have a sense of fun, joy, and often whimsy to it. There’s enough seriousness happening around us, and while we should not ignore it, we should also not let it steal away from our humanness to be joyful creatures.

So reply here with comments, ring me in mattermost or in twitter or send me a postcard in the mail. I want to know more about what everybody is interested in, what you want to do with these platforms (heck also what they cannot do).

One more caveat. My position here is funded by BCcampus (if there is any value in this, please thank them, if not tell them to kick me to the curb). But it’s only for 1 day a week or my time, so I am split in many projects.

And I am the only one here getting a paycheck. All of the people who keep the lights on here- the leadership group of Tannis Morgan, Grant Potter, Clint Lalonde, Brian Lamb, Anne-Marie Scott are all doing this volunteer basis. And do not forget that Troy Welch, who fixes the leaky server and tends to all the updates and bugs, is also a volunteer. They are a great group to be roosting around here in the Co-op Coop with.

Stay tuned here for more stuff.

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