Tag Archives: Web Application Development

Posts related to the the Web Application Development work-group.

WordPress Upgraded to version 3.4

The Middlebury and MIIS blogging communities are now running on WordPress 3.4. This introduces three new features.

  • A theme customizer that lets you change your site’s settings and styles in one interface.
  • Automatic Twitter embeds. Paste the URL of a Tweet into one of your posts and it will automatically show up in the post, like the example below.
  • HTML Image Captions. When writing an image caption you can include some HTML tags like <b>, <i>, and <a> to add information to your caption.

Here’s a video that highlights these features.

There is more information available about WordPress 3.4 in their official blog and developer documentation.

New Media Consortium Summer Conference


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

I attended the 2012 New Media Consortium’s summer conference located in Boston at the MIT campus for the first time, accompanied by Joe Antonioli. It was an invigorating several days of talks around new technology and education. I want to introduce you to some of the great speakers and ideas that I encountered. The embedded videos are short but get to the core of many of these ideas. Please take at least a few minutes to scan them and watch further if you find them interesting.

I began the conference with an entire morning session with Dr. Jeff Borden of Pearson called “Personalization : How Far Can (Should) We Go?” He advocates encouraging creativity, giving students safe places to fail but holding them to mastery. He cautions that too much personalization can be a bad thing, when “filter bubbles” over-personalize our experience, but data can provide invaluable feedback to both educators and students. He covers a lot of the same material in the following short video from a different conference. It’s worth watching.

This video, clips of which were shown during Kaltura’s presentation “Enhance Your Online Learning Environment with Video”, highlights the profoundly transformative effect that technologies as simple as YouTube can have. Just the first 7.5 minutes of this video will get this point across:

Several of the talks I attended were about game based learning and gamification as powerful tools for engagement and active learning.

In “Just Press Play: A Unified Game Layer for Education” Andrew Phelps (Rochester Institute of Technology) introduces “Just Press Play” an achievement/badge based system which provides a scale of accomplishment for students to engage in a range of activities and track what they have experienced.

Brett Bixler’s 20+ ways to Add Game-like Elements to Your Learning Designs

During “Which? The Academic Technology Card Game” David Thomas put forth the simple idea “Time is valuable. Entertainment values your time.” We played a card game that “inadvertently” got us talking about academic technology. It sparked inquisition and discussion and it really was fun. The following video is his short TEDx talk “What Makes a Place Fun?”

Helen Keegan urges us to take risks to get people curious. She used a “pedagogy of deception” when creating a fictional person whom the class followed via social networks.

My takeaway was that there really are opportunities to do things in new ways now, genuinely new ways that don’t simply transplant old practices into new technology, that are worth exploring. The message seems to be, take risks, encourage creativity, and get students engaged in learning by leveraging the new social, mobile, visual, storytelling, and gaming technologies.

More to engage with:

New Media Consortium Summer Conference presentations playlist Includes Joichi Ito’s opening keynote.

Tweets (Some top tweets from our own Joe Antonioli!) (click the all link for the full list)

iTunesU contains many of the talks

Sit back and watch our homepage

For the last two and a half years, College Communications has picked a set of one to a dozen stories that are “featured” at any one time on our homepage. When you visit http://www.middlebury.edu, one of these stories will randomly open. Now, another featured story will open after eight seconds, until all of the featured stories have been shown at least once, at which point they’ll start over again.

If you would like to pause this and explore the stories on your own schedule, just click to open one of the story bars. This will stop it from advancing to another story, giving you time to read the title and caption.

New Plugin for WordPress: Show Thumbnails in the Posts List

If you use Featured Images for posts in your WordPress site, you can now enable a plugin for your site that will show these images to you on the All Posts page in the administration interface for your site. This can help you quickly identify posts in the list. The name of the plugin is “Midd Post Thumbnails”. Simply activate it on the Plugins administration page and your posts list will now look something like this.

Easy Navigation Links For On-Campus Browsing

If you are browsing our website on-campus through an ethernet connection or connected to the midd-secure or midd-standard wireless networks, you should now see three links in the top-left corner of any page on www.middlebury.edu. If you are browsing from off-campus, you can log in to the site to have the links show up. These links will let you quickly get to WebMail, BannerWeb and the Portal.

If you’re on-campus you can also get to these resources by typing mail, go/mail, go/email, go/webmail to get to WebMail; go/bw or go/bannerweb to get to BannerWeb; and portal, m, students, facstaff, staff, faculty, go/portal, go/m, go/facstaff, go/students, or go/faculty to get to the Portal. Searching for any of these terms will also bring you directly to these sites and the links to them remain in the site footer. You can also customize how and whether they appear for you in the Portal.

Thanks also to Adam Franco for setting up Edge Side Includes so that we can show custom content to on-campus people while still delivering a cached copy of the page to make your browsing experience faster.

New Portal Customizable Links and Feeds

We’ve just finished adding some new features to the portal and mobile site. You can now add to, and remove links from the links module. In addition, there is a new module “My Feeds” which will generate an aggregate (combined) feed of any feeds that are added to the module. Details are available in the documentation that is available on the wiki.

Screen shot 2012-03-28 at 10.01.44 AM

WRMC added to the Portal and Mobile site

You can now listen to WRMC 91.1 FM on the go, anywhere in the world on your mobile device and computers. Both the High Quality (192k) and Low Quality (96k) streams are available by clicking on the WRMC logo on the mobile dashboard or hovering over the icons at the top of the portal to see the WRMC option which appears in the second row. Remember, you can use the portal customization features to move it up in the list if you want to make it even easier to find.

Top Picks from DrupalCon 2012 Denver

We (Adam and Ian) were in Denver, Colorado this week attending the annual US Drupal convention. In addition to attending sessions, we were able to connect with colleagues from other institutions including Amherst, Wellesley, Lawrence University, UNH, and CSUMB. We sponsored a “birds of a feather” session, with Amherst, to introduce interested parties to Monster Menus, a Drupal module that Amherst and Middlebury use to add a site hierarchy and manage permissions on our site. This session was surprisingly well attended by about thirty participants and we had a lively discussion about Monster Menus’ capabilities and limitations. We also attended multiple sessions on using Drupal in higher education to hear what people at other schools were doing with the platform.

All of the sessions can be watched on the conference website (use the tabs across the top to browse each day’s sessions). Adam and I will highlight some that we found especially engaging, but if there’s one we missed that you think others would enjoy, please share it in the comments.

Keynotes

Dries Buytaert: Dries is the guy who created Drupal and currently runs the leading Drupal consulting business and serves as President of the Drupal Association. His talk covered where the development team is focusing for the Drupal 8 release. There are three main areas of focus, (1) mobile compatibility, (2) modernizing the development API with the Symfony framework, and (3) improving the user interface for content authors. He announced a tentative release date of August 2013 for Drupal 8.

Mitchell Baker: Mitchell is the “Chief Lizard Wrangler”, the head of the Mozilla project that produces the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email client among other efforts. She talked about the “Maker Ethic” and how the goal of Mozilla it to enable and promote the freedom to create, write, and publish. As she describes, the Firefox browser is but one product to enable this freedom and only one of the many projects Mozilla is engaged in.

Luke Wroblewski: Luke gave a very entertaining presentation arguing that we now need to develop web applications for mobile devices first and worry about the desktop experience second. He presents amble data backing up this assertion, which is guiding the mobile-first goal for Drupal 8. Adding responsive designs for mobile interfaces to our platforms is a 2012 goal for the Web Applications Development workgroup here, so we’ll be doing a lot of work in this space shortly.

Ian’s Picks

Designing Fast and Beautiful Maps: This talk describes the TileMill and MapBox mapping tools, showing how you can transform a simple spreadsheet into an interactive map interface that can easily be added to a Drupal site (or any other website). Though this is probably not something that we’d use for the main campus map it looks like a great tool for one-off mapping projects including student research. By the way, if you have a map that you’d like us to feature on the site or in MiddLab, contact me and I’ll be happy to help you get that map online.

I just want to edit a node and Five things we need to create an awesome experience for content creators: These discussions describe the initial thinking about the user interface for content creators in Drupal 8. While we won’t be moving to that platform until late 2013/early 2014, and some of the decisions about the platform may very well change by then, this is an early warning about what to expect. I should note that some of the features they discuss, like inline editing, are already available to us thanks to the Monster Menus module developed by Amherst.

HTML 4 S – While We’re Waiting for the Revolution: We spent a lot of time thinking and talking about adding HTML5 features to our sites, but that’s not always possible due to assumptions made by the back-end systems as well as browser compatibility. This talk discusses the steps we can take to get “close enough” on HTML5 adoption and some of the pitfalls we’ll encounter that are specific to Drupal, though much of the information here is Drupal-agnostic. I’ll give a small warning that the speaker is quite colorful and animated in his speech.

Adam’s Picks

Real World Performance Analysis: How to Identify Performance Problems in Your Own Sites: This talk provides a good strategy for tackling performance issues in Drupal sites without wasting time on optimizations that won’t have a big impact.

Keeping The Lights On – Operations and Monitoring Best Practices:  This session is focused on practical tools and techniques you can use to keep “your fingers on the pulse” of your site, from availability to performance to security.

 

Also, we were able to enjoy Colorado for a bit before the conference.

Looking forward to next year in Portland, Oregon, or perhaps Munich or São Paulo later this year!