[wp-edu] GSoC 2010, BuddyPress for teaching
joseph.ugoretz at mhc.cuny.edu
Sun Apr 4 15:45:57 UTC 2010
I'm very excited to see where this can go. WordPress as a course management system is really already quite viable--for more experienced and skilled users. For the average teacher, there is still some smoothing out to do.
Let me add a little to the discussion, not from the programmer's point of view (I am decidedly a novice in that area!) but from the teacher's point of view. I've been teaching fully online courses since 2000, and teaching in the classroom for much longer than that (decades, I hate to admit!).
I am currently teaching a fully online course using WordPress as the platform http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/alternateworlds (and I've blogged about it extensively and will continue to do so at http://prestidigitation.commons.gc.cuny.edu ) --and yes, I am using KB Gradebook, yes, the class is fully online, and yes, it's been quite successful.
That point, I think illustrates a critical item that should be included in this project. In providing what teachers need, it's important not to imagine that the way one teaches himself is the only or even the most desirable way. This is true whether we're talking about enhancing classroom courses or teaching fully online courses.
I understand Christopher's (excellent) points about having quizzes that are created online and graded automatically and the grades automatically entered into the gradebook. That would be a terrific feature to have--but it's not necessarily only for fully online classes. Many face-to-face classes could use that feature, too. And it's not at all true that all fully online classes work in that way or anything like it. It's only an essential feature IF your class uses that kind of quiz (with limited options--very specific fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, or true/false).
For many online classes, including mine, the majority of the assignments and grading are not of that type at all. In a literature class (which I usually teach) or an interdisciplinary seminar (which I'm currently teaching), the assignments are papers and projects, which absolutely require the kind of functionality which KB Gradebook provides and which an automatic-grading plugin would NOT provide. Specifically, I'm talking about the ability to provide students with extended feedback and comments, not just a score or letter grade. Any gradebook which does not provide that ability, would not be very useful for this kind of class.
I'm also a little worried about the idea of having any "one-size-fits-all" solution. There are many, many different models of classes and programs. From stand-alone independent-learners, to k-12 classes, to proprietary training programs, to "traditional" higher education in established universities, the variety is huge. And the needs--in terms of assignments, enrollment, assessment, organization, scheduling, etc. etc. are all very different.
It would be a shame to even try to recreate Blackboard or Moodle or any of the other monolithic LMS's that already exist. The beauty of using WordPress (or any small-pieces-loosely-joined solution) is that it can be accommodating to all the different models and approaches.
So I would recommend, very strongly, that any approach to making new LMS-type plugins for WordPress should keep them atomized and specifically tailored to specific tasks.
Let's not have one gradebook to rule them all, or assume that every online course operates in the same way--or every face-to-face course operates in the same way. Let's have the option to use fixed-exact-date as necessary. Self-paced as necessary. Payment, testing, etc. as SEPARATE modules--and many different varieties of each one.
We really should not be thinking of beating moodle or blackboard at their own game. It's not a good game or one that has much of a future.
Again--none of this is meant to be critical in the sense of stopping progress! I'm just ecstatic to see the project getting rolling, and we should see it as opening up possibilities, rather than closing than down.
Joseph Ugoretz, PhD
Director of Technology and Learning
William E. Macaulay Honors College (CUNY)
35 West 67th St.
New York, NY 10023
On Apr 4, 2010, at 10:38 AM, Christopher wrote:
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
>>> 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)
>>> 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
>>>> * 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
>>>> 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
>>>> 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
>>>> 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
>>>> There's also a post I wrote (this is a copycat) about this idea at:
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