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As I ramp up our school’s WPMU blog platform, I look forward to rolling out the new 2.7 interface. I have updated and tested my favorite plugins. DSader’s More Privacy Options, and Peter’s Collaborative Email still work. To make things even better I found a pair of plugins that will make our configuration more secure and give greater control over user privileges.

First off, there was a security hole wherein students could view pending comments that have not been approved by an administrator. Dean Matteson discovered this flaw when he realized that student comments were appearing without his having reviewed them and wrote about in his blog. He came up with a plugin that blocks access to the comments page.

Looking for new plugins for our school site I found the WPMU Menus plugin that not only solves this problem, but it allows you to enable or disable not only comments, but almost every other function in the dashboard interface. Site Admin Options reveals new choices.

wpmu_menu

The screen shot encompasses only half the options available. Beyond security, this allows administrators to greatly simplify the back end user interface making it easier for younger students to navigate.

wpmu_menu2

This takes care of the comments security issue. I tested it further by appending edit-comments.php to the blog backend urls. I was still unable to access the comments page and it redirected me to the profile page.

The next plugin of particular interest is Role Manager. Role Manager is not a WPMU plugin. It must be enabled and configured on each individual blog. Role Manager allows you to change the permissions on any existing role or group of users. It also allows you to create new roles as well. Go to Users–>Roles.

roles1

While logged in as admin, you can also configure the permissions of an individual user by accessing their profile.

roles2

Of course, if you give a user the permissions to access a feature, you also need to enable access in the Menus.

I look forward to relaunching our school blogging platform this March with a fresh new back-end interface, greater security, and a simplified dashboard for our students. If anyone has any input regarding use of WPMU for the K12 setting, I’d love to hear from you!

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WordPressMu 2.7 was released a few days ago. I have been using the beta version on my BuddyPress test installation and our school’s blogging platform. At school the updates from 2.6 to 2.7b to 2.7 went without a hitch by means of ftp. On the BuddyPress site, the svn switch from trunk to tag 2.7 was a breeze.

I have been using WPMU since December 2007 for our school’s blogs starting with version 1.3. In the space of 13 months, there have been ten versions of WPMU, each representing significant improvements.

Version 1.5.1 brought a badly needed overhaul to the administrative interface and each incarnation including 2.6.x and 2.7 have built upon these improvements. To contrast the differences take a look at the following screenshots. The first one is an administrative view of the blogs page in version 2.3:

Credit Jim Groom

Credit Jim Groom

In version 1.3 all administrative options are under the site admin tab. Most weren’t as cluttered as Jim’s installation, but it gives you an idea. In stark contrast, here is the blog view in version 2.7:

wpmuadminblog

The new version looks strikingly better, but it also adds much to the navigation. The left side navigation. Clicking on a menu item brings up any submenu options. The Top menu bar were moved above the blog header and integrates viper007bond’s WordPress Admin bar. The bar can also be configured to appear on nonadministrative site pages once a user is logged in.

I look forward to customizing WPMU 2.7 for our school blogs. It will also be time to revisit the plugins that will help secure and administer blogs in a K12 setting. I’ll be writing about options soon. Are there any others using or considering use of WPMU for the K12 environment?

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My students now have a Prologue microblog that they are using actively. I thought that I would also set up a microblog as a companion to this regular blog site for my own use and that of others.

Unlike the student microblog, this one is open for public viewing and comment. In addition, I set it up so that anyonce can register and post as well. I’ll leave it this way unless there are any problems.

Take a minute to view the Prologue counter-part to this site. Feel free to register and post yourself, if you would like to get a feel for microblogging.

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I have been intrigued by Twitter since going to our state Educational Technology conference. I know it has potential and I’ve been eager to give it a try. When Will Richardson blogged about the WordPress theme Prologue, I was excited. First, I am reluctant to use “hosted solutions” especially with elementary students. Secondly, we already have a WordPress MU installed on our server space.

The first obstacle was that the theme was not packed into a zip file as most templates are. I had to learn to use a subversion client to gather the file for the template (Subversion or SVN is very cool as I have discovered and I plan to explore this avenue more). Once I put the files into a folder to ftp up to the server, it is a simple matter of selecting the Prologue template. Next, I wanted to change the opening message. After a brief look through files, I found the text in line 13 of post-form.php in the template folder. I created accounts for my students and I was good to go–or so I thought. To make this work, users had to be set to “author.”

It is all working now and my superintendent has given me the go ahead to try this out with the provision that I keep it out of public view. Only the students and I can view the contents (Using the “More Privacy Options”) extension for WordPress). Students will give it a test run today. I’ll post later along with a link to a folder with all the Prologue files for easy download.

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While the sample is miniscule, I noticed a tremendous difference in the amount of blogging among my students along gender lines. No matter how you cut it, the girls create more blogs, longer posts, and more comments than the boys. This was surprising because the majority of the blogs that I have encountered were written by males.

I wondered whether this was a quirk in my classroom, or did this reflect a larger trend. Searching the Internet I found a research paper: Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging. This little tidbit summarizes their findings:

We have assembled a large corpus of blogs labeled for a
variety of demographic attributes. This large sample
permits us insight into the demographic distribution of
bloggers. We have found that teenage bloggers are
predominantly female, while older bloggers are
predominantly male.

This is consistent with what I have observed in my fifth grade classroom. While they each have a blog, the girls’ participation is clearly greater. They are more likely to comment upon their life in and out of school. They clearly view it as an extension of their existing social network–a way to keep in touch with their friends beyond their face-to-face time. This is particularly important as we are very rural and many students have limited opportunity outside of school. The research also reflects some of my observations:

Male bloggers of all ages write more about politics,
technology and money than do their female cohorts.
Female bloggers discuss their personal lives – and use
more personal writing style – much more than males do.

While the boys are enthused about having blogs, many seem to view it more like graffiti. They enjoy making their mark and showing everyone they have been there and are capable of showing it. The challenge is to increase their meaningful participation.

I wonder if other educators whose students have blogs have noticed the same trends. If so, then what strategies facilitate greater participation among the males in the classroom.

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