eduPUNKing a course website!!

I had written about the EduPunk movement earlier, in fact had even designed a logo for it.

A brief description of Edupunk can be found on Wikipedia (a google search will reveal many more). Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Edupunk is an approach to teaching and learning practices that result from a do it yourself (DIY) attitude. The New York Times defines it as “an approach to teaching that avoids mainstream tools like Powerpoint and Blackboard and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and D.I.Y. ethos of ’70s bands like The Clash to the classroom.”

Well, I am no expert on 70’s bands but the EduPunk title does appeal to me. It appeals to me because for the longest tie the main attraction of digital technology, to me, has been this DIY attitude, the fact that I can, over an evening or two, create a stop-motion movie with my kids (here or here), or mashup a commercial, or, in this case, create my own course website. The final product may not have the finish or sheen of a commercial product but it is in some key way “authentic.” It is mine. It embodies me, my sensibility, my approach, my vision in ways that other products can not.

For my entire tenure here at MSU I have constructed my own course-websites, cobbling them together with what I have often jokingly called “duct-tape and magic.” I have even written about this, long before the EduPunk moniker came along (see links at end of post). What I want to describe in this post are my current experiments (for my CEP817 Learning Technology by Design course) using using WordPress as a learning management system, and boy am I impressed!! [My partner in crime in this is Kristen Kereluik, a graduate student in our program.]

CEP817 is a course about design and it is important for us that this idea of design, this concern for aesthetics and usability, be reflected in the design of the site as well. The CEP817 site runs on servers maintained at the College of Education and maintained by the guru of everything, Ken Dirkin. This website runs on WordPress – the same software that runs this blog (though 817 has an independent installation). The design of the CEP817 site is based on a free site-template called blog.txt (designed by by Scott Allan Wallick). The blog.txt theme is an extremely simple theme and has been modified a bit to meet the vision we have for the course.

The site uses a range of images. All the icons are from Iconfinder, & Iconspedia two nifty resources full of license free artwork. Other images are either created by Kristen and/or myself or have been collated from the web. We have used pictures that have been made freely available by their creators (under creative commons) and in each case we have attempted to give credit to the creators.

One of the most powerful features of WordPress is that you can extend its functionality using plugins. Most of these plugins are available free of cost and we use a large number of plugins on this site for a variety of tasks that WordPress could not achieve by itself. A full list of plugins used on this site is given below.

  • Absolute privacy: This is an amazing plugin that allows me to protect the course website from the world by forcing users to register with their name and to choose a password. Users cannot login until approved by the instructors. Version 1.2 | By John Kolbert | Visit plugin site
  • Add Sig: This plugin allows us to add a actual digital signature to the bottom of posts. It picks the appropriate image file depending on who wrote the post. Very cool. Version 1.32 | By Dagon Design | Visit plugin site
  • Akismet: This is a great plugin in general but not much used on the 817 site, because for the most part we have comments turned off. Version 2.2.7 | By Matt Mullenweg | Visit plugin site
  • Authors Avatars list: This plugin helps display a list of users both on the sidebar (as a random picture) or as a list on a page. I see this as being critical for members of the classroom to feel a sense of community. Version 0.7.4 | By Benedikt Forchhammer, Idea: Paul Bearne | Visit plugin site
  • BM Custom Login: This is a fantastic plugin that allowed us to customize the WordPress login screen for CEP817. Students coming in will not see the typical “W” WordPress logo – but rather a very cool and different login screen. Laeeq had written recently on about the importance of first impressions and this plugin really lets us do that. Version 1.4 | By Ben Gillbanks | Visit plugin site
  • Current Date & Time Widget: A simple little widget that does just what it promises! Version 1.0.3 | By Chris Jean | Visit plugin site
  • Executable PHP Widget: This is similar to the text widget in WordPress but allows us to insert PHP code into a sidebar. We use this to create a customized welcome for class participants. Version 2.1 | By Otto | Visit plugin site
  • My Page Order: I use this plugin on this website as well. It allows us to set the order of pages through a drag and drop interface. The default method of setting the order page by page is extremely clumsy, especially with a large number of pages. Version 2.8.6 | By Andrew Charlton | Visit plugin site
  • Search Everything: Nice little plugin that adds search functionality without modifying any template page. IT searches pages as well as posts – something the existing search utility does not do. Version 6.3.1 | By Dan Cameron of Sprout Venture | Visit plugin site
  • Simple:Press Forum: This is maybe the most important plugin that we us. It is a fully featured but simple page-based forum that integrates extremely smoothly with WordPress. It takes on WordPress users (and their permissions) and sets them with a forum, private messaging,… the works. And all that with minimal fuss. In fact, I think it may actually be a bit more powerful than we need. Version 4.1.3 | By Andy Staines & Steve Klasen | Visit plugin site
  • User Photo: Allows users to associate photos with their accounts by accessing their “Your Profile” page. Uploaded images are resized to fit the dimensions specified on the options page; a thumbnail image is also generated. Version 0.9.4 | By Weston Ruter, Dave Wagner’s Dev Site | Visit plugin site
  • Viper’s Video Quicktags: Easily embed videos from various video websites such as YouTube, DailyMotion, and Vimeo into your posts. Version 6.2.14 | By Viper007Bond | Visit plugin site

Well, the experiment continues, in fact it has just started, given today is the first day of the semester. At least for now, I am amazed at just how well and smoothly all these pieces work with each other. The proof of the pudding will of course be in the eating – as students enter the system and start pushing it around. I hope to continue reporting on my experiments and experiences so keep watching this space for updates!

Finally, some early articles related to EduPunk (though the word itself is never mentioned), that you may enjoy reading.

A version of this was cross-posted on the ideaplay.org blog.

6 Comments

  1. Hi. Very interesting site. I found it on Yahoo. I will definately recommend it to my friends. Please keep up the great work.

  2. Hello. This is kind of an “unconventional” question , but have other visitors asked you how get the menu bar to look like you’ve got it? I also have a blog and am really looking to alter around the theme, however am scared to death to mess with it for fear of the search engines punishing me. I am very new to all of this …so i am just not positive exactly how to try to to it all yet. I’ll just keep working on it one day at a time Thanks for any help you can offer here.

  3. Hey great website, I noticed your website when doing some research on how to develop my blog. I was just now inquiring which spam pluggin you utilize for comments as I get tons on my blog.

  4. Thanks for sharing all the plugins. I am just starting to host wordpress on my own site and am especially interested in the Absolute Privacy plugin for use with students. Also, shared the link to Iconfinder on twitter! Awesome site!

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