A foundational aspect of a Connected Course is that participants, students do their work in digital spaces outside of the course site and the institution owned servers but in personal hosted blogs (Domains of Ones Own), free hosted blogs, social media sites. The connected course type hub we are going to build are based on a Wordpress site that aggregates content automatically via RSS Feeds using the Feed Wordpress plugin.
The Common Craft RSS in Plain English video covers it well:
The Wordpress Hub we will pursue here is not the only way to build a connected course (see a collection of 4 other approaches from a 2015 DML Conference panel). But it is one that has worked effectively in many places (see examples below and more that we explore elsewhere in this workshop).
It can be messy, but in our mind, this model works in a way that reflects the distributed yet connected shape of the internet itself.
These are examples Alan Levine has worked on / developed. He has also published a five part Feed Wordpress 101 guide for building sites this way that is a reference we will use.
Many more people have used and are using this same approach. These examples are from an open google doc where we collected examples of connected courses:
We have a demo site that was created the same way here on StateU as you can or will do. In the spirit of the web as a network of networks of networks, A Hub of Hubs is going to try something "meta" -- it will subscribe to all hub sites you create.
This one is subscribing to three different DS106 Hub sites as well a recent site created by Ken Bauer at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico.
When you use our pre-built theme, it will come with Feed Wordpress installed and configured, a clean magazine style theme, and a few other extras to not only aggregate content from the sites you choose, but also to slice and dice them into other views by category.
Below you will find the steps to build a Feed Wordpress syndicating site, as a means to learn how it works. But what sites will you subscribe to?
This is one reason why in our StateU setup we had you make a basic blog! Again are we not clever?
If you add your StateU blog's URL to this form we will all have access to each other's blogs to use as feed sources.
You should get access to the data when you finish the form, but if not, you can always access the responses from the form in its spreadsheet.
Let's make a hub, Bub! The instructions below are available (at least for now) only via the StateU site. Anyone can create an account there to try this pre-built syndication hub. If you want to try this on your own Wordpress site, see the five part series on Feed Wordpress 101.
Click the Install This Application button. This time we will set up the Location settings to put this Wordpress site in a subdirectory of your own site. Because we already have a Wordpress sitting at the root of our domain, we will put this in a subdirectory. You can name it whatever you like, it will become the URL for your site too.
So in this case the site creator wants a blog at the url
course-hub is what they enter for Directory:
The next section is called Versions. Under the Content heading you will see a few options for the template to use; choose Connected Course Hub to install a version of Wordpress with all of the hub functionality built in, and most of the site set up for you.
Now scroll past a few sections until you get to Wordpress Settings. You can edit your own admin user name and password, but it's not necessary-- you can log into your directly from this interface later. So you can leave the random generated values for now.
The only fields you might want to change Website Title and Website Tagline to something that better represents your new site (you can also edit this later in the Wordpress settings).
That's it! Now click the Install button in the bottom right, and just watch the progress bar dance along the screen.
When it's done, you can try the first link to see your site. You will find there, as part of the install, some example syndicated posts, along with a How to Modify this Course Hub post with the same details listed below.
These are some things I ponder before even touching Wordpress. There is even more from Feed Wordpress 101 including a bit more explanation of the syndicate concept.
Once you are working with your copy of this site, here are some first things to do. Let's make your own categories to organize blogs.
In your Wordpress Dashboard, go to
Categories. It will look like this:
You are not required to use this structure; it is an approach that has worked well for other connected courses.
So go customize your categories.
Normally on setting up a site, you would have to set all of the default settings for Feed Wordpress (under the
Syndication link in the Wordpress Dashboard). But we have done all of that for you. Still, you may want to review them as well as the Feed Wordpress 101 post on the setup.
The important things to understand now about Feed Wordpress includes:
This step is not required for the workshop but is included for your future reference.
In this demo site, and likely for a course-sized hub, it's easier to add blog urls directly to the Feed Wordpress plugin. Larger, wide open courses can be set up with a form for participants to add their sites directly (I had dreams of making this into a plugin, but alas, time). How you get your participants blogs (email? LMS) is up to you.
A middle ground solution is setting up a google form to collect participant information. I did this for ETMOOC, and processed over 500 submitted feeds.
For the purposes of this workshop, I made a form so we can share each others StateU (or any other) blog URLs. The idea is to get a collection of URLs you can experiment with. So first complete the form:https://goo.gl/forms/35NnTt6yu0wfKght2
When done you should have access to the responses (or go directly to the spreadsheet).
If you would like to make a blog URL request Google Form just like this one (or at least to start with one loke it), I made a generalized version of one that you can copy to your own Google account.
For full details on adding feeds, see Feed Wordpress 101 on Feeding the Machine.
But let's do some ourselves. We will add a site to our hub. The easiest ones to add are sites where the entire blog is what we want to subscribe to (all posts). Feed Wordpress will be able to identity the site's RSS feed automatically./
When you go to
Syndication in the Wordpress dashboard, you will see all blogs it is subscribed to; a few of them come with this copy of the site. We will deal with removing these feeds soon. But you add new subscriptions by pasting in the top right field for "New Source".
Make sure it is a full URL (starts with "http://") and that it actually points to the public URL for the blog (sometimes participants will send you a URL that is their private editors view). It mys be a URL that shows the blog when the owner is not logged into it.
Feed Wordpress will try to find the blog's RSS feed- there might be anywhere from 1-6 that it finds; usually it is the first one. If there is a preview of a post in the right box, the feed is good. Click the Use This Feed button.
You should get a confirmation message that the feed was added. We have one more step- to associate the blog with a sub category that you set up earlier. You can click the
Configure Settings link here and then click
Categories from the top settings link, or from any feed in the list, hover over and click the settings like for
Scroll down to the part of the settings with the default Categories used for this feed:
The default settings will add all posts that come into to the site to the Syndicated category. But we can additional sub categories for this blog, say to add all posts syndicated from it maybe the "Cowgirls" and "Town Folk" categories.
This is how you can create different views of your course's syndicated content. Note that any changes will apply only to newly syndicated posts. If you do this at some point after you have been syndicating posts, you will have to manually add categories. Getting this organized ahead of time will save you grey hair.
Your new hub blog will not automatically check sites until we change a setting. But you can manually check all subscribed sites from the list of Syndicated Sites by clicking the blue
Update button at the top of the screen.
You can also click the
Update Now button to the right of a single feed to check just that site.
In a few moments, Feed Wordpress will look for new posts, and if there are, it will create copies of them as new posts on your site.
So how do you automate this? Under
Syndication in your dashboard go to
Feeds & Updates. Under Feeds and Scheduling change the setting from
cron job or manual updates to automatically check for updates after pages load:
What this means is that visits to your site by anyone will keep it updated. Do not worry, it does not check every site on every page load. Feed Wordpress is smart. Savvy. It keeps track of sites in needs to update, and will only bother ones that it has not checked for at least one hour.
This is important to know, because when students publish a new post, it will take up to an hour before your hub will syndicate it.
You may not want to have the demo feeds that came with this blog. Feed Wordpress has some handy options for dealing with feeds you may no longer want to have in the site. When you need to delete or turn off a feed, go to Syndication in the dashboard to see your feeds, hover over the feed you want to edit, and click
You have useful powerful, great responsibility options here!
Any feeds that Feed Wordpress cannot communicate will show up as yellow in your list. There is a "bad feed" in your site now:
The problem is that the blog site entered
https://www.tumblr.com/blog/re-new-media-art is not the public URL or its feed (this is the link a tumblr blog owner copies when they are logged in to their dashboard). The actual public URL for this blog is
Your exercise is to see if you can use a Feed Wordpress actions to fix the feed. Then click the Update Feed button and see if you made that yellow stain go away.
Feeds that show up yellow require a bit of detective work to fix. Often the problem is when you try using a blog's category or tag address to syndicate, when you are trying to get only the posts from a category. Feed Wordpress cannot find their RSS feeds, so you have to manually figure it out.
See the Become a Feed Detective section in Feed Wordpress 101 on Feeding the Machine
This site uses the free Gridbox magazine theme, chosen for its clean layout and use of featured images. A Wordpress plugin takes care of converting the first image found n a post to be its featured image. If none is found, the "swirl" image is used (an exercise for you is to find where this is done ;-).
You might customize the menus. The front page uses a layout driven by widgets, that you can customize, re-arrange, add things to via
Widgets in the section labeled
If you want to promote a post to the "Featured" area, just find it among the posts, and add
Featured as a category. The three most recent will show on the home page, but all can be found via the Featured category link.
Code has been added that the random link will redirect you to a randomly chosen Syndicated post. Another page generates a list of all blogs that are syndicated into your site (there must be one syndicated post from a source for it to show up). /
Now go experiment with adding feeds to your site, either form blogs of other workshop participants, other blogs, or any other source that provides RSS feeds.
Once you have set it up, be sure to follow the direction above to turn it on into automatic update mode. Watch that hub grow!
Animated GIF created with Giphy GIF Maker from the YouTube video of How The West Was One (1962 movie trailer)