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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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I plan on using Elgg in a K12 environment, particularly my fifth graders. In order to do this in a manner that complies with our school policies and culture, I had to make some changes. Since the Elgg environment is unmoderated, I had to remove all public access to content.

Elgg’s “Walled Garden” does part of the job in that it disables public registration, but any content that users created had the option of public access which would be visible to individuals not logged in.

I created a plugin with a view override that removes this option. Now users have the choice of private or logged in users (along with any friends’ collections) when setting the access to content.

Still, access to the site could be had by RSS feeds and OpenDD. I’m not sure how big an issue this is, but I’d like to be able to do it. Dave Tosh suggested, I created an override of owners’ block eliminating those options. I believe access to these can be had unless I delete the rss and opendd views from the core. That will work, but I wonder if I could create an override of those views that disables them. I plan on looking into this.

No links to subscribe to feeds

I combined my initial plugin, with Marcus Povey’s “Walled Garden.” With “Higher Walls,” not only is registration disabled, but so is public access. Links to RSS and OpenDD feeds are also disabled.

Another issue remains. If access to content is restricted to logged in users, then the Latest Activity on the default main page will remain as a header with nothing below it. I used Customindex plugin to change the mainpage to a login page by pasting:

$form_body = “<p><label>” . elgg_echo(‘username’) . “<br />” . elgg_view(‘input/text’, array(‘internalname’ => ‘username’, ‘class’ => ‘login-textarea’)) . “</label><br />”;
$form_body .= “<label>” . elgg_echo(‘password’) . “<br />” . elgg_view(‘input/password’, array(‘internalname’ => ‘password’, ‘class’ => ‘login-textarea’)) . “</label><br />”;
$form_body .= elgg_view(‘input/submit’, array(‘value’ => elgg_echo(‘login’))) . “</p>”;
$form_body .= “<p>” . elgg_echo(”) . “</a>  <a href=\”". $vars['url'] .”account/forgotten_password.php\”>” . elgg_echo(‘user:password:lost’) . “</a></p>”;
echo elgg_view(‘input/form’, array(‘body’ => $form_body, ‘action’ => “”. $vars['url'] .”action/login”));

into customindex/views/default/customindex/content.php.

Further modifications could be done on the custom index, but this certainly serves the purpose. It is comparable to what one would encounter in a password protected WordPressMU blog.

Now I am convinced that Elgg can be modified to work within the K12 environment. Higher Walls and removing rss and opendd views directories restricts access to the community very effectively. A better solution would disabling rss and opendd through the plugin rather than deleting core files.

Now that these matters appear worked out, I plan to focus more on Elgg in terms of pedagogy. Nonetheless, I will tweak “Higher Walls” over time.

Download

Thanks to:

  • Marcus Povey
  • Boris Glumpler
  • Jens von der Heydt
  • Diego Andrés Ramírez Aragón

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Will Richardson expressed exasperation with a school leader in a recent post as he tried to blame parents for student misbehavior on FaceBook or MySpace. He proposed the schools need to play a big role:

There is a solution to this, one that we all know, but one that for some reason few seem willing to implement other than in the guise of a “parent awareness night” or some type of scary Internet predator presentation by a state policeman. For the life of me, I can’t understand what is so hard about opening up the first and second and third grade curriculum and find ways to integrate these skills and literacies in a systemic way. If you want kids to be educated about these tools and environments, then maybe we should, um, educate them.

He suggests that we not just talk to them about the dangers of the Internet and social networking, rather we integrate these tools in an age appropriate way from an early age.

As I posted earlier, using social networking is valuable for teaching Internet safety. These new literacies are the reality of our kids’ world and future. They are not going to disappear. Like the books we read, they can be used for good or evil. We need to harness these technologies for learning and promote their use as positive forces.

While parents should play a role, many simply do not understand these technologies. Congress has just passed a bill mandating instruction of social networking safety and cyberbullying. Since we must do it, we should do it in a way that is real and relevant, and in a way that teaches new literacies while harnessing their potential.

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