3 Ways to Edublog – Web Syndication

Academic blogs can be used by professors in many different ways depending on their subject matter, lessons, and pedagogical goals. To guide you in the decision of what approach will be best for you to achieve your pedagogical goals we have created the series 3 ways to Edublog. In this series we will feature 3 distinct pedagogical and technical ways to use your blogs as educational tools in your classroom. 

Web Syndication

Web syndication is when a professor gathers the website/blog material from the students into a classroom blog. The way this syndication is done is with the activation of a plugin called FeedWordPress. According to the plugin description:

“FeedWordPress is an Atom/RSS aggregator for WordPress. It syndicates content from feeds that you choose into your WordPress weblog; the content it syndicates appears as a series of special posts in your WordPress posts database. If you syndicate several feeds then you can use WordPress’s posts database and templating engine as the back-end of an aggregation (“planet”) website.”

Whenever a student creates a wordpress blog, a RSS feed address is assigned to that site. By activating the FeedWordPress plugin and configuring it to fetch the posts from the students’ site with their RSS feed address you can bring all of their posts, or select posts with a particular tag or category to a class website.

Pros and Cons
There are particular benefits for using this approach.  If some of your students already have wordpress blogs as public platforms or as professional portfolios and if you would like for them to be able to continue owning, managing, and customizing their own blogging environments this is the best approach. Also, this approach may encourage them to blog and reflect about other issues that are not directly related to your class that could be helpful in their development as a student and creative thinker.

Blogs offer students and faculty great opportunities for interaction with each other. Commenting on each other’s blog posts is a great tool for reflection and understanding of peoples views on particular issues and classroom content. WordPress blogs allow for customization of blogs with the use of widgets and some of the widgets show recent comments. This capability is very helpful to aggregate and show blog comments from an edublog classroom has many students. With FeedWordPress, so far, this is not possible. Comments only show on the original posts, in the original hosted blog.

For instructions on how to setup FeedWordPress click HERE. If a student blog feed doesn’t syndicate you should read THIS. If you want to know more about blogs click HERE.

When student blog feeds don’t syndicate …

If you’re a faculty member using the FeedWordPress plugin to syndicate (aggregate) your student blogs into a courseblog, you may occasionally experience errors with regard to blog and category feeds, or encounter situations where a blogger’s content is simply not showing up on the motherblog at all. Here’s a very common error you might see in the FeedWordPress admin page while attempting to add a blog feed:

This particular error often means that the blog you are attempting to syndicate has privacy settings enabled. Unfortunately, the breed of motherblog that relies on remote syndication of content will not work if the sites it is attempting to syndicate are not fully open to the web. In any case, if you experience this error–or others like it–visit with your students to 1). ask whether they have privacy controls enabled or 2). whether they’ve just categorized something incorrectly (in order for category feed URLs to sync properly, the remote bloggers must be categorizing their posts properly).

If your students are electing to blog privately, please see our recommendations for managing privacy in courseblogs. There are ways to have a fully open courseblog and still let individual students contribute private posts that are only visible to the blog admin.

 

Setting up FeedWordPress to aggregate category, tag feeds

Every WordPress blog on the planet has a standard RSS feed address. Just tack on “feed” to the end of every WordPress blog URL, and there you have it. For example, this site:

http://blogs.baylor.edu/feed

That’s all well and good, but if you want to drill down and only syndicate certain content from a site–not the whole blog–you can actually use a feed URL for a category or tag (all categories and tags in WordPress have their own feed URLs, too). For more information about WordPress feeds, visit http://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Feeds.

If you’re setting up a courseblog or “motherblog” as an instructor and need to aggregate multiple feeds from other WordPress sites using the FeedWordPress plugin, the first thing you’ll want to do is have your student bloggers create a category or tag specifically for their class posts. If your students are blogging about things other than their class, you don’t want their other content being fed into the motherblog.

Before you begin, however, it helps to know what the site-naming convention is in Edublogs, and that is: http://blogs.baylor.edu/sitename, where “sitename” is the first and last name of the student as it appears in the student’s email address, minus any underscores or hyphens. So if a student has the email address of john_smith-hines2@baylor.edu, the sitename would be http://blogs.baylor.edu/johnsmithhines2. Also, you will need the feed URLs (web addresses) of that category or tag for each site you’re aggregating.

  1. First, choose a category or tag name, doesn’t matter which. Let’s say you decide to use the category name “history1305” for your course. Have the students visit the Dashboard, click “Posts” and select “Categories” in the sub menu:

    Type in the name of the appropriate category in the “Name” field and and click “Add New Category” at the b0ttom. Once the category is created, the students will have to remember to assign the relevant posts to that category in order for the aggregation to work properly:

    (Alternatively, choose “Posts > Post Tags” instead of “Categories” if you prefer to use tags instead–the process pretty much works the same).

  2. Now it’s time to get the right feed URLs for your student’s blogs. You will use the feed URL for the particular category or tag you had your students set up in step #1. In a nutshell, you’ll need to know the standard structure of WordPress category or tag feed URLs:Category feed URL structure:
    http://[YOUR_SITE_NAME]/category/categoryname/feed

    Tag feed URL structure:
    http://[YOUR_SITE_NAME]/tag/tagname/feedSo if the category is “history1305” and you need to know the category feed URL for the “johnsmithhines2” site above, it would be:

    http://blogs.baylor.edu/johnsmithhines2/category/history1305/feed

    …and if you’re using the tag “history1305” instead, the feed URL would be:

    http://blogs.baylor.edu/johnsmithhines2/tag/history1305/feed

    NOTE: As they appear in URLs, categories and tags are not case-sensitive; in addition, if the category or tag you’re contains two separate words, it will be hyphenated in the URL. Thus the category “history 1305” would appear as “history-1305” in the feed URL.

When you know what a feed URL looks like, you can start adding those to your motherblog using the FeedWordPress plugin for automatic syndication and aggregation. If you haven’t activated the plugin yet, visit the Dashboard and click “Plugins.” Find “FeedWordPress” and click “Activate.” Once the plugin is active, you will see a new link called “Syndication” at the bottom of the left navigation bar in the Dashboard. Click that link, and then on the following screen, you will see a field where you can add all of your feed URLs:

That should be it. If it’s easier to have your students email their feed URLs to you, I would request that. But at the very least, knowing how feed URLs should be constructed will help you troubleshoot feed problems later on.