[wp-edu] GSoC 2010, BuddyPress for teaching

Christopher christopher at portallanguageservices.com
Sun Apr 4 14:38:34 UTC 2010

On 4/4/2010 5:47 AM, Stas Sușcov wrote:
> În data de Sb, 03-04-2010 la 19:40 -0600, Christopher a scris:
>> Hi, I just recently joined the wp-edu list and got your comments on the
>> Scholarpress plugin.  I was very excited to see that others were trying
>> to use Wordpress for courses beyond kb-gradebook.
> Hey, thanks for quick reply. I'm also new here so there are a lot of
> things I need to know to understand the demands. Hope I'll get some of
> the answers here.
it will be interesting to see who else joins the conversation. :-)
>> I installed it on my ESL/EFL site and went to configure it to discover
>> that it was more of a reference tool for offline classes than a plugin
>> designed for giving courses completely online using Wordpress. I'm not
>> saying it is bad. I found what it does very interesting even though it
>> is not what I've been looking for.
>> I have been working on my own  testing&  gradebook plugin with the goal
>> of teaching online so the quiz scores get posted to the gradebook as
>> soon as a test is taken not something that requires a CSV file or other
>> manual entry.
> About your plugins, did you publish them to plugins directory?
I haven't one because I only started a few days ago so I'm still making 
rather big changes. It all works for creating the database tables, 
updating the gradebook, adding off-line homework grades, and deleting 
grades, but I still need to figure out how courses would work. Would I 
want separate gradebooks for each course?  Right now I just have fields 
for group and series id(course)   yes it would be easy to add the series 
ID to the course table name, but all the previous entries would still be 
in the old gradebook table and I wouldn't want to deal with angry users 
e-mailing me that their gradebook is now empty.
Also most of the variables are set in my php code instead of options in 
a wordpress options page.  I plan to create one which can override the 
defaults if set, but that requires more investigation.

Currently I'm using a script which uses HTML forms and a separate file 
for the answers. I like this system because it means I'll always have my 
quizzes, but I'm not sure if the general public would want to create and 
upload those files to their plugin directory. I know that most tasks 
that I think are normal and easy like editing HTML, changing a 
variable's value in a script,  and using FTP are extraordinary concepts 
to your average internet user.   I'll probably need a script that will 
generate the question form and answer list file for them.  The functions 
for adding and updating the gradebook are separate so it could be 
replaced with a different quiz system as long as the information can be 
passed to a function in php.
>> I still have to try to set up course descriptions and homework schedules
>> for mine so I was very interested in checking out Scholar press.  I only
>> saw the option to set up one course description and the scheduling seems
>> to be for fixed dates.
>> I'd like homework scheduling and all related tasks to be flexible for
>> days from enrollment so I could have students starting on different
>> days, but their assignments and tasks would be different because they
>> are in different stages yet it would be manageable since it would be
>> following a syllabus.
> Yes, that was the first thing I saw just by reading the existing code/db
> schema. As I wrote already, splitting courses from scheduling process,
> should bring the flexibility you were looking for. The idea is to start
> with defining courses, and select them from a drop down list (sort of)
> when creating schedules. Also this approach, will leave more space for
> options for schedules (of any kind).
Personally I'd want to have a general course info page and a page for 
each course, but there really is no need to do that in a plugin since 
wordpress pages would work fine for that, but a plugin would need to 
have a way to check enrollment for the course perhaps using a custom 
field with the course ID to call the plugin and then check a course 
enrollment table.  If the visitor is not enrolled they would need to 
sign up (and need someway to have paypal integrated on signup or place 
the membership in a pending status at first.)
The only issue I see with this idea (which is what I'll probably do 
eventually) is that someone would need to first sign up with the site 
for the system to check to see if they are enrolled. If they are members 
but logged out of wordpress, the system wouldn't know what to look for.
of course if you don't want to have any control, you could just assume 
that everyone who joins the site is part of each and every course and 
they will take quizzes and tests as they desire. That works fine until 
you get to the issue of giving homework. You don't want every person who 
joins your site to get homework for every course!

>> While Kb-gradebook is ideal for an off-line course to post grades, it is
>> impractical for true online classes to force the teacher to go through
>> that busy work of manually updating a csv and uploading it instead of
>> creating his or her course content online and adding grades as needed.
> You're right. I just think kb-gradebook was created for cases when
> mid-terms or exams are given in written, what you want is more like test
> papers?
I have my quizzes online so when someone takes them, the score is 
calculated and the gradebook is updated right away. Obviously not every 
assignment can be checked by the server, but most can if the test is 
online. That's why kb-gradebook is not right for online courses. It just 
wasn't designed for that purpose.  I'm still hoping to learn how to send 
scores to the updating script for a javascript based activity. I'd like 
to have activities appear too.   I imagine having a page with a course 
syllabus telling the student to read certain pages  and doing certain 
activities which would just take advantage of Wordpress page 
management.  When games are run, the game would update the gradebook 
with a score of 100, etc.  for the logged in student upon completion, 
but if a game is not php, I don't know how to send that information 
through so for the moment I'm stuck with true/false and multiple choice.

>> I have also been trying to use Moodle (after trying Atutor) to design a
>> course over much of the last year, but I find its administration to be
>> more than frustrating which is why I've gone to programming my own
>> plugins for Wordpress which I already know and can use for content
>> management. This way at least I can have something up and working for
>> people to use even if it only serves the testing and gradebook function.
> That's why I brought this discussion, let's make something that beats
> moodle.
That's a big goal :) so it is important to let wordpress do what it does 
best and only add the features that are missing like payment, testing, 
homework, task updates, and gradebook.
>> I'm curious how much conflict there is in design and planning of plugins
>> from the off-line course resource to the completely online course. I'm
>> also curious about how much teachers who normally give courses off-line
>> bring their fixed-exact-date-linear thinking to their online course design.
>> Are there any AJAX programmers on the list? I'd like to extend my
>> testing to include adding javascript based quizzes (drag and drop,
>> ordering, matching), but I don't know how to take the results and pass
>> them to a PHP script for processing.
> I know ajax, and can help. Christopher, I'm trying to make from this
> idea a proposal for Google Summer of Code, so would be really cool to
> get a list of features you would like to see in
> current ScholarPress plugin. Also, if there are any plugins that in
> someway are useful to you as a teacher and require upgrades,
> improvements, list them (I will consider adding them to the proposal
> list, port them to BuddyPress). Although the idea is for BuddyPress,
> don't take it as an overhead, BuddyPress already has plugins for
> Group Wikis and Forums, and bringing learning tools into it, is exactly
> what a modern Moodle should look like. WordPress is cool, but using
> BuddyPress makes it just more powerful.
> Looking forward you reply.
I like Buddypress, but I don't think it is currently a good option for 
course management. It is great for more interaction (like the messaging 
system)  and forum integration, but the code is very new and Buddypress 
generates a huge amount of mysql queries so you'd almost have to have a 
dedicated server for more than a few students on the site at a time.  
Why force the user to have Buddypress to use a plugin?  Making a plugin 
depend on another plugin to work is not great design. If that other 
plugin breaks or changes in a way that is incompatible, your plugin 
stops working too!
It would be for the best to let the plugin do what it is supposed to do 
with or without Buddypress so no functionality would be lost if 
Buddypress has to be disabled due to server load or compatibility issues.

Well, for scholarpress to work for me, it would need to be redesigned to:
1. give homework and other tasks based on days from course enrollment 
(I'd like to see email updates sent to enrolled students. It really 
isn't practical to expect students to log in to the site frequently to 
know what they should do.)
The mailpress plugin added an autoresponder option, which is great, but 
I am not sure how to automatically add someone to an autoresponder 
series since I've only just set that up for a general list.  Perhaps it 
would be good to check with that plugin developer and see how that is 
done perhaps the same code could be integrated and the tables could be 
shared so that when a logged in wordpress user joins a course, they are 
auto-added to the autoresponder series for that course? Yet again I 
wouldn't want to have to have Mailpress installed to get the alerts sent 
I suppose this would require learning how the wordpress mail and cron is 
set up.
2. set membership to pending and/or have a paypal option. There should 
be a course id number which can be changed by the admin so I can later 
use the same table info in my own plugin(s)
3. allow more than one course be added.
4. not force me to use the plugin's course pages since Wordpress is the 
CMS. I don't need bloatware! The plugin should not manage content. It 
should manage the course features... I hope that makes sense.  Wordpress 
should continue to manage site registration and user profiles (an issue 
I have with Buddypress for using separate profile data)

>> Christopher
>> On 4/3/2010 6:22 PM, Stas Sușcov wrote:
>>> During the last #wordpress-gsoc chat, Jane pointed me to the
>>> ScholarPress, a community of WordPress plugins developers that are
>>> writing code to make WordPress useful in education. Their plugin,
>>> Courseware is built for WordPress and currently offers the following
>>> features:
>>>         * manage schedules
>>>         * manage bibliography
>>>         * manage assignments
>>>         * manage general course information
>>>>  From what I heard the plugin also works with BuddyPress, but making it
>>> depends on WordPress (shortcodes, wp-admin) isn’t exactly a perfect
>>> integration. The idea what came is to port ScholarPress to BuddyPress.
>>> In details, to make SP aware of BP groups, and treat them as classes of
>>> students. Assign schedules per group, add bibliography to scheduled
>>> courses, so on for assignments. From the upstream TODO list, I also saw
>>> the need of a grade-book and I would also add a notification system
>>> (send a private message if a course is upcoming or a new grade was
>>> posted).
>>> More on the internal part…
>>> It will require changes like, split the courses apart from schedules.
>>> Because SP will be groups aware, it will be more logical to create
>>> courses and link bibliographies and assignments to them, after what
>>> publish them in a schedule. Also I would consider adding an upload
>>> option for the courses that require annexes or attachments (later, you
>>> can bundle those with Google Docs viewer or psview).
>>> About the gradebook, I liked the idea used for kb-gradebook, and I think
>>> it’s the bare minimal implementation of grades assignment I can consider
>>> as a starting point (read the csv file, and assign group members to
>>> marks).
>>> About users…
>>> In most of the education centers students are managed using a LDAP or
>>> ActiveDirectory. So bringing some core functionality into such a plugin
>>> also should be considered. I know you’ll jump that there are plenty of
>>> plugins that offer LDAP integration, but hey, none of them (afaik) will
>>> offer you options to integrate two baseDN’s into the same instance (this
>>> can be really useful for role mappings also, divide students from
>>> teachers).
>>> I’m a student and at our university I had the opportunity to play a
>>> little with Moodle, so the above idea is based on my experience. It
>>> would be nice to hear some opinions from persons who are really involved
>>> into teaching process and what would they like to see in such a new
>>> ScholarPress.
>>> There's also a post I wrote (this is a copycat) about this idea at:
>>> http://sushkov.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/scholarpress-buddypress/
>>> Thanks.
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