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Weekly Web Development Round-up April 25-29, 2011

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

To give our colleagues a better idea of what’s changed in our web applications each week, we’ll be preparing this quick list for publication each Friday. Not all of the details of each change are included below, but we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.

Drupal:

  • A bug that caused file upload replacements to fail has been resolved. You can now replace an existing file by editing its file upload node and uploading a new version of the file, even one with the same filename.
  • TIFF images have been added to the list of allowed file types.
  • Added a Google Calendar content type that can be used to embed Google Calendars on pages of the site. MIIS has been using this for their events calendar for some time.
  • The cache files for RSS feeds are now kept in the same location as other cache files, meaning that the feeds will be refreshed with the same periodicity as other features on the site.
  • The full URL of the result page will now be shown below each search result. This was a suggestion we received from the Site Search Satisfaction Survey.
  • We’re now keeping usage data on site search so we can better analyse how its various features are working.
  • Updated the calendar template so that promotional calendars work properly when linking to the originating calendar.
  • On the “business card” style list of profiles, the person’s name will now link to their specific profile instead of the page their profile appears on to handle the case where multiple profiles appear on a single page.

GO:

  • The “my codes” area now lists your codes alphabetically for easier management. Thanks to Chris Norris for this suggestion.
  • “Superadmins” now have additional features available when moderating flagged codes and for determining whether or not a code appears in the site search suggestions.

MiddLab:

Lots of new student project in MiddLab this week from the Spring Symposium. You can follow MiddLab on Twitter and get alerted to new projects as they are added.

Weekly Web Development Round-up April 18-22, 2011

Categories: Midd Blogosphere, video

To give our colleagues a better idea of what’s changed in our web applications each week, we’ll be preparing this quick list for publication each Friday. Not all of the details of each change are included below, but we’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.

Directory:

  • Updated the class photo roster application to work with the new class-group structure in the Active Directory. You will now see separate lists for instructors, students, and audits for each course.

Drupal:

  • Internet Explorer 7 users saw a notice on our homepage about a script taking too long to load. The IE 7 rendering engine has problems displaying over 100 stories on our homepage, so people using that browser will now see a smaller, random selection. If you’re using any other browser you’ll still see all the stories.
  • We’ve switched back from the OSMF player to FlowPlayer temporarily for videos. The OSMF player requires the user to have Flash Player 10 and the distribution image just includes Flash Player 9. We’re going to add a prompt to the OSMF player to let people know they need to upgrade, then put it back in production.
  • Custom splash images now work in Drupal videos. To add a custom splash image to your video use the [video:url image:url] syntax.

GO:

  • We’ve removed the Banner Web Scout which provided pseudo-load-balancing between the two BannerWeb servers through GO. All of the GO shortcuts for Banner now go directly to the primary server with no intermediate steps.

MiddLab:

  • We’ve redesigned some aspects of the MiddLab theme to make the site easier to navigate and provide more space for project content and larger video players. Watch MiddLab next week as many new projects from the Spring Symposium will appear.

State of the Site

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Overview

What follows is a report on the state of notable web applications and sites in use at Middlebury including the College website, the Middlebury instance of WordPress (i.e. sites.middlebury.edu) and a variety of key web applications that provide services widely used by faculty, students and staff.

Box Office

  • Addition of separate billing and shipping addresses when ordering tickets or gift items from the box office, especially useful for parents purchasing items for students.
  • Improved the user interface to make purchasing as a returning customer and identifying seat locations in the seating chart simpler.

CAS – Single Sign On

The Central Authentication System (CAS) was introduced last year and allows you to move between many of our web applications after you’ve signed in once. GO and the main college website were already using CAS this time last year but since then it’s been added to many other applications, including:

  • Course Catalog
  • MediaWiki
  • MiddMedia
  • WordPress

Course Catalog

Over the past two years we developed the Course Catalog application at catalog.middlebury.edu to serve as a clearing house for accessing course information on the web due to the limitations on searching for this information via BannerWeb. The Course Catalog application allows users to search for courses based on a wide variety of criteria (including keyword searching) and properly displays and links-together cross-listed courses. The Course Catalog application also feeds course information to the department pages and faculty profiles in the main Drupal site.

New for this year, the Course Catalog has been extended to add a Schedule Planning tool that allows students to bookmark courses they are interested in, then group them together into weekly schedules to ensure that they do not have timing conflicts and that lab and discussion sections are chosen. These schedules can be printed or emailed to one’s advisor.

  • Added the Schedule Planning tool.
  • Users can now bookmark courses that they find interesting.
  • Updated the theme to match the new website. Added a custom theme for the MIIS catalog.
  • The printed Catalog is now created via an export from the Course Catalog application rather than being copy-pasted from the site by hand.
  • PDF snapshots of the Catalog are now automatically generated as course descriptions and requirements get edited over the year.
  • Lots of small improvements to the display of course data in search results and while browsing.
  • Can now search for courses by campus — needed for Language Schools that have more than one site.
  • Greatly improved the speed of the application.
  • Improved the feed of courses to faculty profiles to ensure that cross-listed courses are ordered properly.
  • New admin forms that allow the Registrar to suppress incomplete information about upcoming terms during data-entry.

Drupal

GO

The GO shortcut/permalink application has become quite central to the web infrastructure of the college since its launch several years ago. It eased the launch of the new site by allowing links in content to be easily updated en-mass. In the past year GO has become central to our search strategy as GO shortcuts are now provided as suggestions and automatic-redirects when you enter search terms on the main site.

  • Totally new editing interface.
  • Verbose, color coded, messages to indicate successful or unsuccessful completion of actions.
  • Additional input validation to preserve shortcut integrity and prevent abuse.
  • Ability for community to flag GO links as inappropriate.
  • New “Info” pages for every shortcut allow everyone to see detailed information about the shortcut such as who maintains it, what its aliases are, and where it goes.
  • All GO shortcuts are now shown publicly in the GOtionary (with the exception of a few internal shortcuts) to improve the transparency of the system.
  • Enhanced admin interface for flag admins and the new super admin role.
  • Can now switch between the Middlebury and  MIIS GOtionaries.

MiddMedia

  • New “Midd” theme integrates more closely with the current Middlebury theme.
  • Add to MiddTube button allows users to check off the videos they would like to batch add to MiddTube as video posts.
  • We’ve upgraded to Flash Media Server 4, with a lot of new features that we’ll be rolling out and supporting in the coming months.

New Sites

We’ve been able to expand the Drupal and WordPress platforms to add a CMS experience for sites that were previously static HTML files and create new sites to show off and assist student research and projects.

SubjectsPlus

In December, we upgraded from version 0.7 to 0.9.  Changes include:

  • Enhanced security.
  • In addtion to Research by Subject, two new guide types are available: Research by Course and Research by Topic.
  • Widget-based, drag-and-drop control panel for content creators.
  • Multiple subject specialists (guide owners) now possible.
  • Description field override.  This allows for a resource description to be customized for one or more guides, while still allowing the resource record to be shared among all the guides.  This cuts down on duplication of records and/or breaking others shared work.
  • Cloning feature

What do we use this for, you ask?

  • Databases A-Z list
  • Research guides (access via sidebar at go/lib and go/subjectguides among other places.)
  • globally adding EZproxy prefix for off-campus access.

WordPress

WordPress usage has been growing over the last few years at Middlebury and beyond.  In late August, we updated WordPress to v3, a major new release to this platform that introduced features such as custom menus and top navigation that extended its usefulness beyond blogging.

Plugins and New Functionality

Themes and User Experience

We created a number of blog themes for WordPress based on design prototypes developed by White Whale (designers of the main college site).  These blog themes were updated to take advantage of new functionality and to generally provide a flexible, easy to use templating framework that could generate extensible thematic variations and would work on multiple platforms, including mobile and touch enabled.  New features developed in the last 6 months include:

  • Introduction of a standardized header on all blogs that provides quick links to create a new blog, search blogs and a given site’s dashboard
  • New standardized widget areas including 3 sidebars and 4 footer areas
  • Introduction of support for custom menus and top navigation bar for mapping a site’s information architecture (IA)
  • Refinements to navigation UI to highlight current location in IA and provide more navigation links in context to improve usability on sites with many pages (such as sites for courses, projects or documentation)

Usage Analysis

Perspective, an aggregation and usage analysis tool was developed to keep track of how WordPress was being used, what plugins and themes were most popular, which blogs were most active in a given time period and so on.  We also built into Perspective tools for communicating with users so that we could more easily identify all users of a given set of features to allow us to inform them of updates or issues.  These same tools when combined with activity filters have allowed us to identified inactive sites, contact their owners and archive or delete these sites as appropriate, providing the foundation for a contention retention policy.

5 Things We Love About MiddLab

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Five Things We Love about MiddLab

1) You can search for discussions by themes, like Food, Mind & Body, Landscape and the Global Market. And themes are cross-referenced, so that a project like “Hidden Cities: Locating Slums on the Globalized Map” appears under Development, Geography, Population, Race Relations and Urban Living.

2) You can search for projects by people, such as College Horticulturist Tim Parsons, who recently completed a project with GIS Specialist Bill Hegman and several students using modeling software called iTree to create an interactive Google Earth map of all the trees around campus.

3) It’s easy to download materials, like complete chapters from books such as MIIS alumna and faculty member Kelley Calvert’s book about her 2009 cross-country road trip exploring the nation for signs of hope and change, called Hope Walks into a Bar Looking for Change.

4) There’s a handy interactive map you can click on to find Research Centers all over the world.

5) You can join in on any discussion, any time. So what are you waiting for?


MiddLab Discussion Sessions Follow-up

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Thank you to everyone who was able to attend either of my discussion meetings for MiddLab last week! There were a lot of great ideas for the site and upcoming projects. You can now see one of those ideas added to the site in the new Research Centers page which shows a map of all the MiddLab projects. We’re going to continue adding features to the site throughout the semester, so stay tuned.

While we were not able to record the sessions due to some technical difficulties, I have prepared a guide to adding your project to MiddLab. Feel free to edit that page to add your own tips on creating a successful project description or send an email to middlab@middlebury.edu if anything is unclear. I will host another meeting to discuss MiddLab during the Spring semester, for those who were not able to attend, but I’m also more than happy to meet individually with Faculty, Staff, Students, departments, and offices.

Publications Database

During a discussion with Bob Cluss and Colleen Converse, we came up with an idea for a sub-site in MiddLab that serves as a portal to discover publicly available academic publications from our faculty and students. I’ll be working on adding that this semester and welcome you to send documents or (preferably) links to these papers in public databases to middlab@middlebury.edu. If the document is larger than 10MB, please send it to website@middlebury.edu instead. If you already have a site that lists these documents that you’d like to be included, you can also just send that link and I’ll take care of the rest.

Look for this information to be added to MiddLab shortly, giving people both on and off-campus another easy way to find information on the active and ongoing research at Middlebury.

Working More Closely with You

I also want to make you aware of a small change in policy about the inclusion of content in MiddLab. Due to some concerns about the unfortunate rules surrounding some academic publication and to ensure that all research collaborators are willing to be included, we’ll now ask that every person involved in a research project agrees to have it hosted in MiddLab before it is put up. I can also remove content from the site where your name appears if you would not like it published in this manner. You can see any mention of your work in MiddLab by browsing the People page. Please address any concerns to middlab@middlebury.edu.

MiddLab: Call for Projects

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

What are you doing this semester? If it includes working on a project or research covering topics that potentially span multiple disciplines, We’d love to hear about it. You can get in touch by emailing middlab@middlebury.edu.

What is MiddLab?

MiddLab will be a new section of our website that helps push information about scholarly and service work up to the top. We know that there are a lot of great academic resources built by people at Middlebury and many ongoing projects and activities that not everyone hears about or gets to see. The purpose of MiddLab is to:

  • Tell people about this great work.
  • See how it all ties together.
  • Let people contribute to the discussion.

What do you want to know?

We’re very interested in hearing about the project work you’re doing this semester. This includes research projects, service learning projects, student organization work, entrepreneurial ventures, presentations, conferences, seminars and symposiums. This can be work done for any Middlebury or MIIS program or an independent project conducted by a member of one of those institutions.

Because we want to tell people about this work on the web, the project should produce some type of artifact that can be shown on the web: papers, posters, slideshows, videos, a website, a database, a blog. Don’t worry if your project doesn’t have many of these. We’re happy to do the work of converting what you have for the web.

If you don’t have a full project, but do maintain an existing online database or resource, let us know about that too. We’ll aggregate the information into MiddLab to increase the use and visibility or your resource.

What do I need to do?

We don’t want to add to your work, especially in the middle of a semester. To get involved, just submit the online form, or send an email to middlab@middlebury.edu. We’ll need to meet to discuss your project a couple times and you’ll need to help me a bit in handing off materials and checking the final product. More involvement is welcome, but we want this to be available to everyone, from the professor who lives online to the student who thinks a whiteboard is a bit too much new technology for the classroom.

What’s the timeline?

We’d like to hear about your projects this month and get together a couple times during March and April with the intention of having most of the information about the project compiled by the end of the semester. Over the summer, we will work on MiddLab to build out the site with all of the projects collected in this initial phase and host an “open beta” of the site where you can see it coming together. During the next fall semester, we hope to have MiddLab fully operational and allow direct submission and build-out of projects through the site, while continuing this organic process as well.

Thanks for your attention. We’re looking forward to hearing about your work.