Exc-el blogs: StripedPlus Theme available

School uniforms might be OK, but students definitely won’t want uniform weblogs. WordPress offers a wide range of themes, and these can be customised – if you’re hosting WordPress yourself.

With WordPress Multi-User (WPMU), things are a bit different. A range of themes can be made available, but changing any of these will affect all the blogs using that theme. So what’s the simplest way to give students the widest possible options for customising their blogs?

One solution is to provide themes which themselves include built-in, menu-driven, styling options. This blog, for example, is using the 3K2 theme. Users of this theme can choose a Style called Vader, which you can currently see here. Provision is made in that theme for addition of more options, but we’d need to make them up.

The StripedPlus theme, installed today, also offers a high degree of inbuilt user styling to WPMU users. For example, it provides for selection of header and background images, as well as fonts and colours. This one also supports sidebar widgets – in 4 sidebars ( top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) but it’s a single-column design. The “sidebars” appear at top and bottom of the blog, with the top two revealed by mousing over the Navigation link.

We’ll continue to look out for themes that offer this degree of individual styling to student bloggers.

Exc-el Edublogs – now with added Flickr Photo Gallery

Barges on the Water  Jim Lally having a laugh on the 08.11 Yesterday at Musselburgh Grammar, Ollie Bray, Robert Virtue and I we realised that the ability to integrate images, stored in Flickr, with the MGS CDT Department blog could increase the power of the blog. Flickr’s being used to store digital images of MGS students’ work. (Robert Virtue has ensured all the images have been tagged in Flickr with the tag mgscdt, so they are easy to find, a useful tip! See http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/mgscdt/)

We soon found the Flickr Photo Gallery WordPress plugin from Silaspartners. There are some excellent examples of its use on the Plugin page.

That’s now installed and this morning Ewan and I played about with his Flickr account to test it. This post, and the sidebar display of edublogger’s photos, show a little of what can be achieved.

To use it, first enable the plugin. Then you need to use your Flickr account to request a Flickr API key, a fairly straightforward process, and use that to configure the plugin. It’s just a way of embedding within WordPress the information it needs to be able to access your Flickr account on your behalf.

This appears to be a very high quality plugin. It was commercially developed by Silaspartners for a client, but has been generously made available to the open source community. Feedback welcome. Is this something teachers would manage to configure, for example? Or is it something we should arrange for them on request?

Student Blogs: How to handle comments?

We’ve now a growing number of student blogs. These haven’t been given a high profile. Partly, this was to let them get established, and build up their confidence, before encouraging others to comment. Also, we wanted to be confident that we had appropriate arrangements in place for dealing with comments.

Because Craig and Fraser have been doing so well with their blogs (see previous post) we now want to let them start building an audience. That’s why they’ve now earned the first Student Blog links on the Exc-el Home Page.

What have we done about comments? These are often a source of concern. Ewan‘s experience from Musselburgh Grammar School’s blogs  showed that problems are very unlikely, with only a handful of problem comments out of thousands posted.

Because these are the first Exc-el student blogs to have a public profile, we’ve added some additional monitoring. As well as automated protection against comment spam, we’ve arranged that a copy of every comment left will be automatically emailed to a member of staff at the school as soon as it is left. That teacher has full rights on each blog, and can moderate or delete any comments held for moderation.  The flexibility of WordPress MU is proving valuable.

The Amazing… Craig’s Blog!!!

The Amazing ... Craig's BlogIf you’re interested in student blogging you must have a look at Craig’s amazing blog. The title is his – but he’s not kidding.

Backstory: This is one of the blogs started yesterday, just before lunch, by an autistic S1 student who was completely new to WordPress.

He’s already using Pages to build up a web site about his hobby, birds. Here are just some examples:

Not only were Craig and his classmate Fraser reluctant to leave at lunchtime, I notice this blog has been developing this evening. Why not have a look, and leave a comment?

This is a powerful demonstration of how WordPress might be used in the context of the Extreme Learning Curriculum development.

Anti-spam measures

Today I’ve installed Dr Dave’s Spam Karma 2 plugin to protect against comment spam on our WordPress blogs. We’ve had a number of spam comments reported over the last week or so. This is the price of moving to a more popular blog platform, I guess. This wasn’t an issue with the eZpublish blogs, which didn’t attract spam at all.

The Spam Karma 2 plug-in is sophisticated, and judges what’s likely to be spam by using a range of factors. These include, for example.

  • Is the commenter a member of the Exc-el Edublogs community?
  • Are there a lot of hyperlinks in the comment? (often a characteristic of spam)
  • How long were they on the post before commenting?

There are many more factors. If the system gets suspicious, it may ask for a captcha to be completed.

If you’ve got an Exc-el blog and have been affected by comment spam, let me know what difference you notice. It should now be protecting all of them. There’s a huge range of settings that can be tweaked if necessary.

Exc-el WordPress blogs: new 3-column theme and plug-ins added

3K2 screenshotThere’s now a 3-column theme – this one, 3K2, as used by jonesieboy – available, and some plug-ins, including Automattic’s sidebar widgets and the Democracy survey plug-in. Use the Plugins menu in the admin interface to select and activate available Plugins.