Posts by Adam Franco


Group support added to WordPress

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

We are pleased to announce the addition of a much-awaited feature to our WordPress site network. As of today groups added to sites can automatically maintain their membership over time. Site administrators will no longer have to go back into WordPress and regularly bulk-add groups to grant access to new group members.

In the WordPress Dashboard
When you add users to a WordPress site by group the new default option is to keep the group in sync:

Adding a new group to a site, keeping the group in sync.

Adding a new group to a site.
Note the new “Keep in Sync” option.

All users currently in the group will be added to the site with the role you specified. Members of the group who already have a role with greater abilities will not have their permissions reduced. Members of the group who already have a role with less abilities will be raised to the role specified for the group.

The groups synced are shown in a list and can be removed if desired.

The groups synced are shown in a list and can be removed if desired.

Over time, as people are added to the group, their roles in the site will be updated whenever they log into WordPress. If a person is removed from a group they will have their role in the site removed when they log into WordPress if their role hasn’t been manually changed to a different level.

More details about group-synchronization are available in the LIS Wiki.

In the Course Hub
In tandem with this new feature in the WordPress dashboard, the Course Hub now automatically adds class-groups to WordPress sites when adding WordPress Resources. When you add a WordPress Resource to the Course Hub the screen now includes an option that lets you specify what role to give students in the WordPress site. (Instructors will always be administrators of the site.)

Choose which role to give students in the WordPress site.

Choose which role to give students in the WordPress site.

When you save the WordPress Resource in the Course Hub three class-groups (instructors, students, and audits) are added to WordPress site and kept in sync. Instructors no longer need to do the extra step of going to WordPress and adding the class-groups to the site. As well, new students enrolled during the “Add/Drop Period” will automatically have access to the WordPress site when they log in after their enrollment has processed.

The instructors, students, and audits groups are automatically added to WordPress by the Course Hub.

The instructors, students, and audits groups are automatically added to WordPress by the Course Hub.

If you delete the WordPress Resource from the Course Hub the users and class-groups it added will be removed from the WordPress site, however the site itself will not be deleted automatically.

Looking back at comment-spam in WordPress

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In February 2012 we started noticing a large influx of new comment-spam coming into our WordPress system that the built-in anti-spam plugins weren’t able to handle. To combat this annoying plague we created a new plugin that instantly killed any comments trying to submit an “author URL” along with the “author name” and “comment text” now that the “author URL” field is hidden.

In the year and a half since this plugin has been in place across our blog network it has blocked an average of 40,000 spam comments every month.

| year | month | spam blocked |
| 2012 |     3 |       14,814 |
| 2012 |     4 |       19,956 |
| 2012 |     5 |       18,225 |
| 2012 |     6 |       15,937 |
| 2012 |     7 |       29,232 |
| 2012 |     8 |       24,073 |
| 2012 |     9 |       25,973 |
| 2012 |    10 |       42,514 |
| 2012 |    11 |       49,265 |
| 2012 |    12 |      106,128 |
| 2013 |     1 |      103,850 |
| 2013 |     2 |       72,944 |
| 2013 |     3 |       38,336 |
| 2013 |     4 |       35,125 |
| 2013 |     5 |       32,975 |
| 2013 |     6 |       35,011 |
| 2013 |     7 |       28,218 |

While some spam is bound to get past any automated filtering, we hope that these efforts have alleviated most of the hassle of dealing with spam comments in WordPress.

Change Moodle site availability from the Course Hub

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

By default, when you create a Moodle site it is set to be “not available to students” to give you time to add site content before students can access the site.

Unfortunately, the “availability” setting can be a bit hard to find in Moodle settings. To make this important setting easier to change and its current state more visible, you can now set its value from right in the Course Hub when creating or editing the Moodle Resource:

New Course Hub / Middfiles integration

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

New for the Fall 2012 semester is integration between the “Classes Folders” on Middfiles and the Course Hub.

When you put files in the HANDOUTS/ or SHARE/ folders of your class folder, a “Middfiles Class Folder” resource will automatically be added to your Course Hub site. This resource provides a link that allows students to easily browse the files without having to mount a network drive. There is nothing extra you need to do. Read on for more details.

Middfiles is now securely accessible via the web

This summer LIS added WebDAV support to Middfiles, a new feature that allows any Middfiles file or folder to be shared securely via a web-addressable URL. What this means is that you can now put links to files and folders into email, blogs, and websites. When a user clicks on the link they will be prompted to log in before their browser downloads the file. To try it out, go to and copy-paste a link to a file.

The other benefit of this new feature is that Middfiles can now be easily used as file repository by classes primarily using a blog or Moodle site. If you have large files to share that are too big for the blog or Moodle, just put them in Middfiles and copy-paste the…/… link to the file into the blog or Moodle site.

Course Hub / Middfiles integration

As mentioned above, the Course Hub now automatically creates a “Middfiles Class Folder” resource when you put files in the HANDOUTS/ or SHARE/ sub-folders. This scan happens every few hours, so if you need the resource to appear more quickly, you can add it manually to the Course Hub.

In addition to providing the resource-link in the Course Hub sidebar, the Middfiles Resource provides a detail-view with the class-folder paths needed to map a drive to the class folder on either Windows or OS X. Class Folder PUBLIC_HTML/ sites

While LIS does not actively provide support for building static HTML websites, some instructors choose to build their own HTML websites and serve them out of the PUBLIC_HTML/ sub-folder of the class-folder on Middfiles. If any files are placed in the PUBLIC_HTML/ sub-folder a “Middfiles Public Website” resource will be automatically added to the Course Hub. If files are moved or removed from the PUBLIC_HTML/ sub-folder the resource will automatically be removed.

Upcoming MediaWiki Changes

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

We will soon be updating MediaWiki to the latest stable version, 1.18.1. While there are many changes behind the scenes with this update, the most visible change is that the what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor, FCKeditor, is no longer supported by its authors and will not run in either of the two latest versions of MediaWiki.

In its place we have added the WikiEditor, the default editor on Wikipedia, which helps users insert proper wiki markup into pages:

Please try out the new editor in our testing sandbox (available only on campus or via the VPN) and let us know how it works for you in the comments below.

While it isn’t WYSIWG, new editor has the following benefits:

  • It won’t corrupt some pages like the FCKeditor would when certain formatting was used.
  • The included ‘Preview’ and ‘Changes’ tabs let you quickly view the results of your changes without saving.
  • Your Wiki-editing skills can be used on Wikipedia and any other MediaWiki wiki.

Reduced comment spam in blogs

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

During the past few months we have been seeing an increased amount of comment spam coming into WordPress ( that follows a distinctive pattern: the comment text is useless, but unoffensive and contains no links itself, while the Comment Author Website field contains the URL of a commercial site. Because the comment text doesn’t contain any links, the comment doesn’t get picked up by WordPress’s existing spam filters and until now would be held for moderation.

Here is an example of this type of spam:

Comment Author: canada goose kensington parka
Comment Author Email: Lan…
Comment Author Website: http://www.canadagoosejakket…

You made some respectable points there. I regarded on the web for the issue and found most individuals will go together with with your website.

The point of these spam comments is to use the Comment Author Website field to plaster the web with links back to the spammer’s site in order to make the site seem more popular to search engines.

WordPress’s built-in anti-spam tools ignore the Comment Author Website field and only look at links in the comment text. This used to be sufficient since it is unlikely that most readers will click on the comment-author’s name and follow through to their website. As well, adding links in the comment text allowed spammers better control in how to present the link so that it had the most impact on search engines. Because of the success in filtering of the comment text, spammers have now moved on to other techniques, just trying to get their links to exist anywhere on the page, even if they aren’t ideally positioned.

To combat this form of spam we have removed the Comment Author Website field from the comment form. There are few legitimate needs for this field and it was originally added to allow people to link back to their own blogs — a nice feature, but not necessary. By removing this “attractive nuisance” we can instantly mark as spam any comments that submit a value for the Comment Author Website even though this field is no longer shown in the form.

As of today, this type of comment spam will no longer even be held for moderation — it will be dropped into the “spam” category right away. In the first two hours since this change has been in place it has blocked 70 spam comments that would otherwise have required moderation by the target blogs’ administrators.

New Course Hub Feature: Create Lab/Discussion Sites

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As of today, instructors can create Course Hub sites for lab, discussion, independent study, and other section-types that do not have Course Hub sites automatically created.

Lab/discussion Course Hub sites are not needed for the majority of courses as the lecture/seminar sites usually suffice. However, they may be useful in the following cases:

  • The lab is taught by a separate instructor with its own resources and syllabus.
  • You wish to create separate resources (e.g. Moodle sites) for each discussion section.

Below is a brief screen-cast describing how to create additional Course Hub sites.

Basic steps for adding an additional Course Hub Site:

  1. Go to your Course Hub dashboard.
  2. Click on the Manage Course Hub Sites link for a given term.
  3. You will see a list of all sections you are teaching in that term.
  4. Click the Add Course Hub Site link next to any section.