learn/do/reflect/teach

Learning reflection

Learn: The actions I’ve taken and thinking I’ve done for this learning goal.

WordPress demonstrates the separation of content and form that characterizes the most recent incarnation of the web.

When I presented my webinar as a midterm, I expected to be able to screencast “live” websites and manipulations to make it more interesting to the viewers. Thanks to technology issues in my rural community (i.e., library connection’s bandwidth), that did not go well. I had sent draft slides to my instructor so she could see them, but I modified them quite a bit to present live online. So my planned discussion and questions ended up being displayed on a slide (where I had put them in the draft version, planning to take them out and into notes). Rather than use that recording here, I decided to remake it and make it closer to what I had envisioned.

Here’s what I learned trying to create the presentation with a PowerPoint add-on called iSpring:

  • I used PowerPoint to create the visual contents. Because my PC’s microphone or soundcard is not good, I used an Android app, Tape Machine, to record the short narrations using my Droid Bionic’s microphone, which has a much better sound quality. I can save these on Dropbox via my Droid and then insert them into the presentation as local files.
  • I used iSpring Pro to create the flash version of the slide show. Previewing the presentation on my local screen worked well; all sounds, video, and slides were there.
  • When iSpring creates the contents, it will also create (because I set the system to do this) an HTML file. Supposedly iSpring says just copy some of the code there (using the “<object” tag) and put it on your page. That did not work here in WordPress.
  • In order to get this to work, I had to use a plugin called “Top Flash Embed”; it grabs the SWF file that runs the presentation.
  • I uploaded most of the content via WordPress’s media uploader, except for the first video file, which was too big. I had to upload that via FTP on my host.
  • I noticed that the sounds and videos get stored in a “data” folder when I created and saved the local version. Because the presentation wasn’t running correctly after I uploaded the files, I surmised that the applicable have to be put back in a data folder (within the same folder the SFW file resides)  in order to appear properly in the presentation. And that worked!
  • The help and tutorials at iSpring are relatively useless. I got much more savvy by looking at WordPress Flash plugins and the WordPress Codex.

I’m thinking I learned enough with this little venture that I should create a tutorial on how to do it. I bet other iSpring users would find it useful.

Another leg of the journey leads me to investigate custom post types. I’ve found tutorial on Creative Web Ideas, which is helpfully organized by the steps in the process—including the planning and thinking—but, alas, I have to fork out some money to get the full information. However, even the starting diagram taught me a way to think about setting up custom post types. It’s one thing to simply know how to create a type, but what’s more helpful to me is to have a process it fits into. That helps me make decisions about whether to invest my time (or money).

 

I’ve found a lot of tutorials online (thank you, WordPress community) about custom taxonomies and I’ve determined that they will work for my portfolio. In fact, I’ve created four different taxonomies for my content, including this post.

Here are the wonderful tutorials I’ve used (in conjunction with the codex):

Taking Custom Taxonomies to the Next Level by wp Tuts

A Guide to WordPress Custom Taxonomy by Six Revisions

I’ve also used a plugin called Taxonomy Creator, which has sped up the process of creating the taxonomies—however, I’m glad that I went through the tutorials so that I could understand more about how the code works.

Custom Post Types

My next step is to investigate whether custom post types make sense to use in conjunction with custom taxonomies. My main goal for all of this is to learn more about WordPress, but my secondary goal is to use all this categorization to organize my portfolio by the work I’ve done and want to do.

I start with Justin Tadlock, who is great about providing help to non-programmers like me without getting impatient or smart-alecky. He wrote Custom Post Types in WordPress, and my immediate takeaway was to stop thinking about “post” as in blog post and start thinking that this tool is really about types of content. This site was also helpful and reminded me to keep in mind, always, that primarily WordPress is a database system. The tutorials that are most helpful to me tend to talk in those terms rather than in “blogger” terms.

So I have created custom taxonomies—WordPress development, learning technologies, and writing—and am now going to attempt to use them. The cool thing is that one can create categories within the custom taxonomies, making them nimble and useful as hierarchical organization tools. Now my next step is to figure out how they can display on the site.

In WordPress, you can create custom taxonomies. I’ve been reading some tutorials (such as http://net.tutsplus.com/tutorials/wordpress/introducing-wordpress-3-custom-taxonomies/) and I’ve started to wonder whether that might be a way to set up this portfolio system. In this approach, I would be creating a custom taxonomy to use for organizing the different aspects of my portfolio rather than relying on WordPress’ built-in taxonomies (categories, tags, and link types). These custom taxonomies can also be hierarchical, too. I’m just not 100% sure what the benefit of these versus categories would be. Here is a possible taxonomy I first thought of for this:

  • (Goal/subject)
    • Learn
    • Do
    • Reflect
    • Teach
  • (Second goal/subject)
    • Learn
    • Do
    • Reflect
    • Teach

And so on. There seems to be a lot of repetition here, though, so I’m wondering whether a better taxonomy—which may also be both easier to implement and easier to add to—would be something more like this:

  • Learn
    • (Goal/subject)
    • (Second goal/subject)
    • (Third…etc.)
  • Do
    • Goal/subject)
    • (Second goal/subject)
    • (Third…etc.)
  • Reflect
    • Goal/subject)
    • (Second goal/subject)
    • (Third…etc.)
  • Teach
    • Goal/subject)
    • (Second goal/subject)
    • (Third…etc.)

There are times when self-directed learning runs up against the need for advice. I may want to find a way to ask someone via WordPress about whether this is a solution to my organization dilemma. I’ve also stumbled upon the idea of custom post types, which may or may not be another approach. And the next questions I would need answered with this approach, though, are about how to display this structure as a menu on my site.

Update an hour later:

From Justin Tadlock, a WordPress guru:

with WordPress 3.0. . . and the introduction of custom post types, the usefulness of custom taxonomies will increase greatly.
Post types are your forms of content. Taxonomies are the glue that holds that content together, linking it in all kinds of neat ways.

So what I’ve concluded is that each of the goals/topics in this portfolio would be a taxonomy (and could have subsections), and each could use four post types called “learn,” “do,” “reflect,” and “teach.”

I spent most of yesterday reading the WordPress Codex about categories. Prior to then, I had thought using categories was a nice way to simply identify what a post was about but that they were not really all that important otherwise. However, now I know that categories help form an important organizing principle for WordPress-based sites. So yesterday I created my categories for the PLP and installed two plugins: first, the Category Template Hierarchy, which adds several templates (which are PHP documents) to the hierarchy of templates that are the bones of WordPress: “In WordPress, the (X)HTML structure and the CSS style sheet are present but the content is generated “behind the scenes” by various template files.” This plugin makes a bunch of different templates that I may or may not end up using.

I also installed the Category Content plugin, which displays a list of the posts in WordPress that are in that category only on the category page that comes up when you click on a category in the menu. On this page, for instance, it shows only those posts (so far just the two) that fall under the category WordPress Sites. It’s at the right side of the page in the Related to… box. By using this plugin, I also realized that any widget—including a simple text box—can be modified to show on all pages or on selected pages of the site. This means, perhaps, that I can create a text (and HTML) widget with links to projects I have completed or examples within that category. I have to think more about this because that’s a lot of hard coding that won’t automatically update, that I have to remember to update when I add stuff. It may not be an efficient solution to how to link ongoing learning to resulting projects within a category, but it might be a first step.

(Hm. Perhaps I will need to write a plugin along the way?)

Anyway, yesterday I created a new template for a category page that shows the category name and my goal (see above). The layout of the page will be the same, but the category and goal will change based on what is clicked in the Learning interests… box at left. The nice thing: this is not hard coded at all. It uses only the category name and description that I set up once in the WordPress system for category management. I set the description to contain my goal for that learning category:

This section of my website is devoted to my professional (learning) portfolio, and so to set it up I needed to do some thinking and learning. I’m comfortable with WordPress, but I am not a programmer; I needed to figure out how to make the site do what I wanted to do, and that means I need to learn more about WordPress.
Thus, one of my goals is to delve more into the inner workings of WordPress, and luckily for me there are a whole lot of resources and tutorials out there. Last night, I spent about two hours on this question:
How can I set up sections of my PLP organized around particular subjects or goals so that I can blog about my ongoing learning experiences while also showing the projects I have or am working on as examples of the outcomes of that learning?
I started investigating WordPress page templates, but I quickly discerned that category templates would work better. That way, I create posts and identify them with categories. The menu at the left on all pages shows the list of categories, and by clicking on the menu it will show only those posts that are in that category. Sounds perfect!
However, my next step is to do some programming. What I would like to do is, for instance, is make a category like this one, WordPress Help, and not only be able to show posts like this one but also show links to specific projects or outcomes associated with that category. This means that I will need to create category templates so that when the category is displayed, the page has specific elements for that category that are different from elements for other categories. And, for my own sake, without hard coding html.
Obviously a trickier step, and one I need to investigate more. For instance, I need to determine whether some of these questions are helpful:
  • does a category template allow different, non-hard coded elements on its page?
  • does a category template allow different sidebar widgets?
  • can links somehow be coded with the categories so that they show up on only that category page?
  • can tagging help with some of this sorting?

And a big question is also, how can I set up a process so that this organization doesn’t get way out of hand?


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