Thanks to our great Macaulay ITF Michael Porter, there are three new plugins in the WordPress plugin repository which will be fantastic for anyone using WordPress as a platform for teaching (and in the case of the third of them, eportfolios!). Mike developed these specifically for needs we had discovered at Macaulay, but I think there are plenty of others who will find them useful.
- Search by User
Search by user adds an author filter to the post admin page. The drop down list includes all registered users for the site. This grows out of the case of a class site, where all the students are posting, and the instructor (for purposes of grading, or working with the student to see how participation is going, or any other reason) wants to see all the posts by one student, on one screen. The plugin makes that easy, right from the dashboard.
This plugin also grows from the case of a class site, with lots of students contributing, but speaks specifically to the function of grading. We had faculty who were using WordPress to manage class sites, and having students required to make posts as part of the class activities. They wanted to grade those students, and comment on their posts, but to do so in a private way-so that a professor’s response and grade to an individual student would not be visible to the whole class. With this plugin, the instructor can just begin a comment with a token (by default it’s @grade–but can be changed to whatever you want), which marks that comment as something that only the author of the post and the administrator can see. No complicated gradebook or back-end fiddling–the professor just reads the post and makes the grade and comment–but both are invisible to anyone except the student and the professor.
- Site Template
This is the one that I specifically requested, and it’s the one that’s most exciting to me. We were finding that although students had lots of different uses for the eportfolios, the default theme they got when starting a new site didn’t really open up those possible uses. At first I thought I would just create a new default theme, so everyone would start with that, but this plugin gives so much more functionality. Site Template is a plugin that allows site administrators to set up “site templates” for their WPMU or wordpress 3 (with networking enabled) sites. When a user creates a new site, she gets a set of options of different templates to choose–“What kind of site do you want to create?” Each template represents a different type of site, like basic, reflective, resumé/career, photography/artwork, study abroad, travel, fun/whimsical, or of course “other.” Depending which choice they make, students get a specific theme, options, widgets, plugins, placeholder posts, and so forth. But the beauty of this is that we can create any kind of template we like–as many as we like–and even better, none of the choices are permanent. Students still have all the options to change all the features after the site is created. The templates provide scaffolding and starting points, not limits or rigidity. So we have not just one default starting point, but a range of default starting points, and then the complete infinity of modifications growing out of that initial range.
This is one of the real strengths of WordPress, of course–not just that the base platform is so robust and flexible, but that plugin development can make it even more so–pretty much if you want a function, it can be added (although we haven’t yet implemented the clairvoyant-telepathic-post-pre-writer plugin . ;)) And of course all our plugins will always be GPL, open and shared.