Author Archives: Trip Kirkpatrick

CoursePress Upgrades, January 2016

On January 13 14, 2016, we expect to have a short amount of downtime (should be less than 15 minutes) for CoursePress as we implement some upgrades. Most importantly, we’ll upgrade the core of our WordPress installation from 4.2.2 to 4.4.1. This post outlines some of the more important pieces of information about the new versions of WordPress core as well as some upgraded themes and plugins.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a staff of testers nor are we tasked only with supporting CoursePress, so our testing cuts corners. We focus on the standard site we create for courses, which relies on the Twenty Twelve theme and a handful of plugins. After the upgrade, please check your site to make sure that everything’s still as you expect it to be. Let us know immediately if something’s not right.

In the past few years, WordPress has begun reliably rolling out 2 or 3 new versions each calendar year. We’ve gotten better at keeping relatively current, but less good about advance notice and writing up the differences. I hope this post is the start of better communication, insufficient though it is.

Changes in 4.4.1 Core

  • Most importantly, this version fixes a cross-site scripting vulnerability
  • Removed Rdio embed support
  • Unicode 8.0 emoji, which includes non-yellow emoji (sometimes called “the diverse emoji”)

WordPress’s official blog post on the release of 4.4.1.
Expanded list of changes included in 4.4.1.

Major New Core Features in 4.4 Include

  • Improved look and lay out for images on mobile devices in mobile-friendly themes
  • More possibilities for embedding:
    • WordPress posts
    • Cloudup
    • Reddit comments
    • ReverbNation
    • Speaker Deck
    • VideoPress
  • Accessibility improvements
    • Translation string improvements
    • Improved headings (some non-visible by default for adaptive devices only) in administrative interface screens
    • Greater semantic HTML element usage elsewhere in administrative markup structure
    • (The whole list)

WordPress’s official blog post on the release of 4.4.
Expanded list of changes included in 4.4.
Full set of WordPress blog posts discussing 4.4.

Other Notable Core Changes in 4.3 and Intermediate Releases Since 4.2.2

  • Incorporation of limited Markdown-like syntax in the visual editor
  • Ability to add a favicon for individual site
  • Customize site theme without having to enter the administrative interface
  • Elimination of some cross-site scripting vulnerabilities and SQL injections
  • Squashed bug that allowed unauthorized user role to create post

Selected Updated Plugins

New Plugin

  • Cloner: Facilitates copying course sites. We get regular requests to copy an existing class site for a subsequent term, and this plugin should make fulfilling those requests easier. (We’ve always done it, but it took more time than we liked.)

Selected Updated Themes

New Theme

WordPress has announced a planned release of core version 4.5 in mid-April 2016. We hope that we will be able to adopt this version for CoursePress after the end of Spring term and in time for Yale Summer Session.

Pixelmator v Acorn v Photoshop v GIMP :: Two Aspects

In an effort to find a Photoshop alternative with a significantly lower cost, we’ve purchased both Pixelmator and Acorn. Last fall I worked mostly with Acorn and GIMP, and I’m hoping to use Pixelmator more this fall with the DOCC node I work with.

Creating a defined selection box of X pixels by Y pixels
Acorn: Yes
GIMP: Yes
Photoshop: Yes (link is to one description of doing this in an older version, but I expect it’s been substantially carried forward.)
Pixelmator: No
Animated GIFs
Acorn: No (sin of omission)
GIMP: Yes
Photoshop: Yes
Pixelmator: No
Link

When Graduate Students Become Online Teachers

We created this site with the goal of supporting graduate students with a basic toolkit of knowledge tools for first-time online teaching. [P.S. We do not focus on institutional support that teachers must have to be effective online teachers.]

This resource is a work-in-progress. We have opened up this site as a shared learning resource so that we may learn from others how to better improve this resource. We welcome your feedback!

Faculty Bulldog Days Review

It’s all over but the reflection for the professors and for the CTL organizing staff, and I have finished sitting in on three classes during Faculty Bulldog Days* for spring 2015. Here are some thoughts about that.

Before I talk about the teaching, I can’t thank enough the professors who volunteered to have someone come observe their class. We don’t have a strong and pervasive culture of openness at Yale, so I thank the professors for standing up and making their teaching work more visible. In the same breath, I want to thank the students in the classes for having a stranger (two, in one of the classes I attended) in their midst. The largest of the class sessions I attended maxed out at 20 students, making interlopers noticeable. Naturally, the five-student class had discussed opening up beforehand, but even the others accommodated visitors seamlessly.

So what about that teaching? Because the sign-up form didn’t have a box on it to check for “Yes, I would like any minor mistake or idiosyncrasy made in my class to be splashed across a low-traffic instructional technology blog”, I’ll only mention things I noticed and liked. (Try not to chafe too much at the vagaries, because even revealing the discipline of a class would pull back the curtain a little too much.)

  • A particularly nice technique I saw was using an un-articulated motif in the class but then at some point in the session raising the motif to a conscious level. If activating prior knowledge contributes to learning, working with this idea at varying scales of “prior” — even within one class — makes sense.
  • Another teacher, in an effort that seemed effective, very noticeably phased in participation over the course of the class. Students engaged in heavier lifting at the beginning, with the professor only nudging along; as the discussion got denser and more challenge-laden (in a good academic way, I thought), the professor increasingly helped portage.
  • In a final example, and at the risk of being banal, one teacher engaged very personally with the work under discussion. Fortunately, the work was comedic, so laughter demonstrated their** engagement, but that personal commitment can make the difference for some students.

Taking on affective filters is a fine line, of course: Are you giving students a glimpse into personal meaning or risking scaring them off something they don’t connect with in the same way? My bias is for not hiding how you feel about what you’re teaching, for not pretending that scholars hold absolutely everything at arm’s-length. By the same token, of course, you have to model critical engagement with the topic and critical engagement with how you feel about it.

I pepper my thoughts with conditionals and hedging, because this was drive-by observation. Some classes gave me prep work, some didn’t. Even so, all the people involved in these classes had worked with and through scores of ideas, hundreds of pages of reading, and hours of lecture and/or discussion before I got there and without which I can’t form any strong conclusions. This highlights one of the difficulties in mounting this sort of event. While there’s no explicit pressure to participate, the implicit social expectations don’t go away. If you’re an untenured faculty member teaching in front of a high-ranking admin, who may be from a radically different field’s teaching traditions, how do you keep it together? There’s enough potential benefit (and actual benefit for me) in this event that I hope we do it again, but I hope we never stop trying to make sure it’s a scaffolding exercise for the participating faculty rather than an unrewarding chore.

* Honestly, I wish we’d called it something like Classroom Open House or Sharing Our Teaching, or similar, as I don’t make the same associations with a prospective student event that I do with this. I do hope, though, that prospective faculty hires are indeed able to sit in on a class or three, and not just in their department of recruitment, during their visits here.

** Gender-obscuring pronouns. Live it, love it.

In an item in yesterday’s Yale Daily News about Yik Yak, one professor is quoted as seeing potential there:

[Aleh] Tsyvinski said that as a professor, he rarely gets feedback during the term. He added that he wishes there were an anonymous board, similar to Yik Yak, dedicated to continuous feedback.

Timeline + Map Web Tool Comparison

I prepared this brief for a pair-taught course on monasticism, in which the professors wanted to explore using chronological, locative, and narrative data from historical, ethnographic, archaeological, literary, and visual sources to facilitate sophisticated comparative analysis. In particular, they hoped students would make connections and distinctions between phenomena that were non-obviously juxtaposable. They wanted to present this data visually on a website, using both a timeline and a map, with some navigational latitude available to site visitors.

Best Options

I’ve bolded the most salient items for each option.

Neatline

Pros

  • Allows points, lines, and polygons for representing locative data.
  • Date ambiguity representation
  • Sophisticated object metadata
  • Baselayer choices
  • Active development, at an academic institution
  • Self-hosted

Cons

  • Nontrivial learning curve
  • Sophistication accompanied by sophisticated interface that can be distracting/annoying for students. Requires solid explanation and clearly defined metadata requirements
  • Interface impermanence
  • Standalone, no embedding

Representative Example:Ibn Jubayr

TimeMapper

Pros

  • Google spreadsheet for data store (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions)
  • Data decoupled from presentation
  • Wide range of media embedding
  • Responsive design
  • Embeddable in other sites, such as WordPress
  • Good with BCE dates
  • Simple setup and use

Cons

  • Interface impermanence
  • Limited customizability, though can be deployed to Heroku
  • Uncertain development, sponsored by not-for-profit

Representative Example: Panhellenic Competition at Delphi

Timemap.js

Pros

  • Multiple options for data, including both Google spreadsheet (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions) and local
  • Data potentially decoupled from presentation
  • Self-hosted
  • High level of GUI customizability
  • Baselayer choices (though more limited than Neatline)

Cons

  • Old code
  • Interface impermanence
  • Mobile interface unknown
  • Embeddable as an IFRAME only, usability unclear

Representative Examples: Google spreadsheet with additional arbitrary data points, Themed data

MyHistro

Pros

  • Entries commentable
  • Dedicated iOS application for mobile use
  • Clear data export to CSV, KML, and PDF
  • Embeddable
  • Easy to use points, lines, polygons
  • Variable placemark colors
  • Can ‘play’ the timeline like a slideshow
  • Semi-automatic semi-multilinguality

Cons

  • Tightly coupled data and presentation
  • Privileges linear reading, though not a requirement
  • Unsophisticated design
  • BCE dates don’t seem to get calculated and stored accurately

Representative Example: Early Mesopotamia

Commonalities

In all cases, you’ll have to identify distinct start and end dates rather than using century-level notation. The individual dates don’t have to be more precise than a year. BCE dates are often added by prepending a negation sign before the date (e.g. -200 is 200 BCE).

Additionally, it always needs to be said that at any moment, development on any of these might cease or changes in browsers and student browser usage might render the code unusable. Even on the options being actively developed, the development team might make a material change in the interface, altering substantially how it looks and works. Other technological or cultural changes can’t be ruled out.

Other Options

Most other choices focus on locative storytelling, constraining a visitor to moving along a linear path:

ITG Helps with a Creative Classroom

We’re glad to see Professor Elihu Rubin’s thoughtful use of technology in his pedagogy getting some notice. Late in the spring, Professor Rubin’s work on Interactive Crown Street caught some news, and a couple weeks back (don’t ask us how we missed it) there an item appeared in Yale News about his investigation with students into New Haven’s infrastructure. Professor Rubin and the students in the cross-listed Architecture and Political Science course created an online guide by using Yale’s Academic Commons, an instance of WordPress founded and managed by the Instructional Technology Group. Pam Patterson of ITG as well as Ed Kairiss and Edward O’Neill of Educational Technologies supported the course.

Interactive Crown Street Installation Opens

We’re thrilled to recommend to you an installation this weekend that we’ve worked on in various parts:

INTERACTIVE CROWN STREET

A “Pop-Up” Urban Research Field Office
@ 200 Crown Street
Friday, May 2 — Sunday, May 4
Facebook icon

Opening Reception is Friday, May 2, 6.00 pm. Events are scheduled but participants may come and go as they please. Please distribute — Interactive Crown Street is Free and Open to All!

Congratulations to Professor Elihu Rubin, to Florian Koenigsberger, and to the whole Interactive Crown Street crew!

Mobile Technology Adds New Dimension to Nature Walk

Pulled from ITS Monday Morning News, written by Gary Kidney, Deputy CIO, Academic IT Services

On the afternoon of April 22, I took the opportunity to accompany Dr. Marta Wells and students from her Ecology and Evolutionary Biology 223L class on a nature walk to visit trees the students adopted at the semester’s start.

Tom introduced me to a 150-year-old White Oak and acorn candy. Austin showed me a flying-dragon orange tree with inch long thorns. Kelly told the story of the discovery of a presumed-extinct sequoia discovered in China that led to a 1940’s repopulation of the species. Natalie showed me how to make perfume; we couldn’t use the flowers of her epaulette tree because it was too early in the spring. Samuel screened a music video of a stately beech near the planetarium.

What amazed me was the engagement in learning demonstrated by the students and how that learning ranged from science, forestry, biology, and horticulture to story, music, video, poetry, and history. It was truly a multidisciplinary learning approach that rooted students from far away to a place in Yale’s lawn. Austin told of visiting the nursery where his orange tree began its life in Southern Oregon. Years from now, when Kelly returns to Yale as an Alumna, I suspect her sons and daughters will climb in her redwood. I witnessed some of the great teaching and learning that makes Yale such a fantastic place.

You can learn of the work of Marta and her students by visiting the Yale Nature Walk website. Go visit the students’ trees on a sunny spring day. A GPS map will take you to each location. Take along your mobile device to snap the QR codes to learn the science, read the stories, enjoy the poems, and watch the videos.

Academic ITS helped with the project, thanks to the work of Alina Nevins and Matt Regan. A loaner set of iPads, some support with the website, and a creative faculty member made a learning environment for this class in which you can share (but you missed the acorn candy). In my afternoon with this class, it was easy to see that their leaning was also fun.

Nature Walk