Blog Pile

Small Ocotillo Pieces Tweaked

As summer winds down and the school year ramps up, I’ve been trying to refine a bit of the Small Technologies Loosely Joined approach we created last year for our Ocotillo instructional technology initiatives…

For those irregular readers, Ocotillo is a faculty led program that attemps to drive technology agendas here, having been around in various forms since 1987. Last year was the first for a new “Action Group” structure revolving around 4 broad focus areas: Learning Objects, ePortfolios, Hybrid Course Structures, and Emerging Technologies. Each group is lead by a pair of faculty co-chairs who research issues, plan activities and workshops, etc for all 10 colleges in our system. For more, see our March 2005 presentation at the Innovations 2005 Conference. Or see the first year summary report.

Last year, we tried hard to convince the groups to use a suite of open source tools we strung together with some RSS, number 8 wire, and duct tape — each group was supposed to use a blog to document their work (movable type 2.661), use online discussion boards for asynchronous activities (phpBB), and wiki for… well we tried real hard to find some good uses of wikis other than spam targets (UseMod wiki now locked behind a password for editing)– plus we linked each group to our central events database.

Thus from each group, we had RSS feeds from

  • blog
  • wiki
  • discussion board

Because some of the RSS are generated dynamically by calling scripts, I tried to smooth the server action by running timed scripts that would access the RSS, and then write the output (using MagpieRSS) as static include files for the web pages, and updated RSS files.

This is all displayed as a “dashboard” view on the Ocotillo Central site:

I just added a new RSS feed for each group’s events listing (calendar RSS is kind of funky since the date elements are in the future). But I really saw a missing piece was having a single RSS feed that drew from all 12+ sources. I first tried to do a quick one with, but that never updated.

So I rolled up my sleeves, and cooked up a new script that calls each feed, pulls the 2 or 3 most recent items, puts them into an array, reverse sorts it by date, and outputs it as a new uber feed of 25 most recent items:

It’s still a bit new, and much of the new wiki stuff was me updating when I moved our server. I may have to tweak the settings more, but it is working Ok.

Some other changes were cosmetic- For the blogs re-doing the CSS so the pages filled the browser window, giving more room for the content in the center column, and moving some items around on the sidebars. I have a new editing tool for our faculty co-chairs that allow them to edit the “About” blurb in the top left corner of a blog (e.g. see the ePortfolios blog) and a linked “About” page. The tool allows them to edit the text content (stored in a mySQL database) and when saved, it writes the content as static text files that are read into the blog as PHP includes.

A tool in progress will allow the faculty to edit the sidebar lists of resources and group accomplishments. Sure, I could let them loose on the templates, but that gets rather complicated, so I am trying to segment some of the content for the blog sites into smaller… um…. pieces.

More to come…

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.