Education Opinion

Building the Future of Learning Site

By Justin Reich — August 14, 2013 2 min read

Last week, I wrote a pair of posts about syndication engines in online learning environments, both how they define connectivist MOOCs and how we used them to aggregate content for our Future of Learning Institute. Today, I can share a post explaining the insides of how these things work.

Alan Levine, the architect of our Future of Learning Institute site has just posted a detailed explanation of the guts and pipes of our site (the site, being a combination of mechanical and human interactions, required a mixed metaphor there). In a huge scrolling post, he details just about everything that you’d want to know to build your own syndication-based site for a short term conference/institute. From the intro:

Syndication seems to be in the air, given the amazing stuff Mike Caulfied is doing with Water106. There was also I understand today a ds106.tv episode with Jim Groom, Tim Ownes, and the hatted one, Howard Rheingold, going over how syndication bus works with WordPress (drats to Gila County for having me inside all day for jury duty).

I have grand plans here to document how the Future of Learning site was built, and as I pulled through my notes and the theme code, I got depressed as there are a lot of parts, so I hope I cover everything:

Theming the site and customization steps, features added (“Can we have a Discussion Forum?”)

  • Shopping list of plugins, most key being Feed WordPress
  • Setup for the aggregation with Feed WordPress, wrestling with feeds (ahem Twitter) (ahem Flickr). Deploying the super cool Twitter analytics tools by Martin Hawksey.
  • Implementing Quick Posts, the way participants could contribute to the site via email

A difference for this event from the previous syndication projects I have done is that it was for a shorter time span (a week institute) rather than a course. Since I was brought in to build the site, not be part of the institute, I did not see much directly of how the site was used and presented.

This is one giant ever scrolling post. You have been warned.

It’s a fabulous contribution for Alan to post all of his trade secrets up with a CC-license so we can all benefit from his insights.

The main technical contribution of the site to the world of syndication engines, from my perspective, is the post by email system that Alan set up. Anyone with access to a special email address could contribute to our community conversations with an email that got transmogrified into a blog post. The only way to build an aggregator with a lower floor would be to develop a post-by-SMS system (we’ll do that next time).

As I read Alan’s post, it struck me that this syndication stuff still requires some pretty hefty technical skills. For these kinds of environments to get broader adoption, we’ll need some tech geniuses to tackle things like the FeedWordPress plugin to make the user interface simpler, richer in features, and more robust. But again, having spoken with many xMOOC faculty disappointed with the limits of Learning Management Systems, I’m hoping the demand for tools for learning on the open web will grow and more people will build tools to make them possible.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my publications, C.V., and online portfolio, visit EdTechResearcher.


The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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