Author Archives: Trip Kirkpatrick

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
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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!

WordPress Filename Bug

A large Thank You goes out to Heather Klemann of English for alerting us to a bug in WordPress's handling of certain characters in filenames when you upload files to the Media Gallery. In short, there are certain characters that won't get handled properly by WordPress, leaving you with a file unreachable from the web browser. WordPress developers are aware of the bug but can't agree whether it's WordPress's problem or a system administrator's problem. For the time being, you are, unfortunately, the best source for the workaround.

Broadly speaking, you have two nonexclusive options:

  1. Avoid having any of the characters below in a filename you upload to Academic Commons.
  2. When you upload a file to the Media Gallery, verify that it has uploaded successfully by going to its entry in Media Gallery and accessing the View link you get when hovering over the entry. (On a mobile device you may need to tap the filename, then find and tap the View Attachment Page button.) For non-image files, you may need to click/tap the link in the post that then appears to check it.

We'll follow this one with WordPress and let you know when it's fixed or that it won't be fixed. (For what it's worth, the same roughly goes for Classes*v2.)

Character Description
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Site Updates, March 2014

Some new things on this site or in progress:

Twitter feed

We're not the most active tweeters in the world, and we RT as much as we tweet (possibly more than we tweet), but we do think that the things we mention or pass along in that stream are of interest. As of this post, it's in the righthand sidebar. Of course, you could just follow our account.

Delicious Stream

We were pretty respectable Delicious users once upon a time, back when it was del.icio.us and then some. But we fell off as time went on. Now that we can and do find and share links in many ways, it's gotten easier again to tie those ways together (in part provided RSS sticks around). I've brought the Delicious link feed back — to the righthand sidebar as of this post — and hope it will be of use. Other feeds that we have out there may get brought back as and if we reactivate our work with the backing sites.

Broken Links and Other Cleanup

Every now and then, we run Integrity, a linkchecker, on the site to make sure we're keeping content accurate where we have control over it. Our rule of thumb is that when we link out, we're depending on the target to provide a permalink or reasonable facsimile thereof. We've sometimes got to dig to find it, but that's the goal. Site we have read/write access to, however, we need to check on every now and then. We hope you'll benefit from these, even though we know it's small-margin work. But trying to keep our corner of the open web free-flowing is work worth doing.

Academic Commons Release Notes for February 2014

Here are the notable changes to Academic Commons between February 1, 2014 and February 28, 2014. We're a week late on this, in a sense, because we (that is, I) write this update only on Friday, and this is the first Friday after the close of February.

New Plugins

Just one this month: WP QuickLaTeX
From the plugin author, this plugin "Insert formulas & graphics in the posts and comments using native LaTeX shorthands directly in the text. Inline formulas, displayed equations auto-numbering, labeling and referencing, AMS-LaTeX, TikZ, custom LaTeX preamble. No LaTeX installation required. Easily customizable using UI page. Actively developed and maintained." You can read more at the WordPress plugin page or at the QuickLaTeX homepage.

New Themes

No new themes this month. See one out there that you'd like? Reach us at itg@yale.edu. (Caveat: Themes must be on the WordPress site itself or from a WordPress-recommended vendor and must work painlessly with our installation. We're on version 3.5.2 as of today, just so you can check.)

Fixes/Enhancements

Though it's not a fix per se, we want to mention that we are working on a fix to the deep-linking problem. Currently, if you follow a link to something other than the homepage of a restricted site, the login process ends with you getting unceremoniously dumped onto that homepage rather than your intended destination. This happens whether you are trying to reach a post, page, or the Dashboard. We're very close and hope to have this fixed before the end of March.

Bright Shiny Objects at ELI 2014

Yesterday, I returned from the 2014 ELI Annual Meeting. For many reasons, I'm highly ambivalent about this conference, starting with the appellation.

"Annual meeting" feels like a corporate shareholder meeting, though I'll allow that they may have been just trying to get away from calling it a conference or symposium or what-have-you. As well, I understand that the association conducts business at and through this event. However, the name also speaks to a broader sense I have about ELI that there's not sufficient thought put into evaluating how the conference transpires.

The last time I went, in 2012, for instance, there was an official backchannel run through something other than Twitter. Silly, even way back then. This year, one of the sessions had a topic that was to be "crowdsourced". Some people I talked to hadn't heard of the session and the chance to vote on a topic, the topic wasn't (ever?) announced, and when I went to the room at the appointed time there were all of two people there. Similarly, I had major headaches getting on the hotel wireless network after the first day, but between not needing it for long enough to bother solving the issue and having an adequate connection through my phone, I didn't discover until my last day that the password had been changed. Though I'm on Twitter nearly constantly during conferences, it's possible I just missed the notice, but I don't think so.

Beyond the logistical issues, ELI has always felt very tech-deterministic. Until going to a session from the wonderful Gardner Campbell, I heard nearly nothing about the personal, emotional, affective side of things.

Even there, it was in a chimera session (you can hear me ask about it during the Q&A once the session recording is available sometime in early May) that paired him with a duo talking about the details of LTI integration and ed tech interop standards. He was kind enough to not insist I declare my thoughts on the matter, and did his best to describe the connections between the parts. Just the same, his talk felt more like the conference I wish I had gone to and the second half more like the conference I got.

Some more small parts:
• Applause goes to the ELI organizers for having a hands-on Arduino workshop. I've wanted to try this out for quite a while, but never had the right opportunity. On the other hand, why weren't we allowed to take the kits home with us? If ELI paid anything like retail for the kits, it still would have only been $2000. Not chicken feed, but several of us felt a little deceived. Others suggested the kits might be going to charity; this would be a fantastic idea, but ELI should have communicated that if so.

• ELI didn't organize any social events. In this case, I'm not concerned whether ELI were to underwrite attendees social interaction financially, but it seems like something that would benefit the organization.

• Predictably, there was some confusion at some points whether the Twitter hashtag was #ELI14 or #ELI2014. Eventually, #ELI14 seemed to struggle to be a space for people to say things publicly yet not in the official record.

Strangely enough, later the conversation on the main hashtag got affected by the alternate universe.

• The app provided by EDUCAUSE worked very well for me, letting me see the whole schedule, mark sessions that interested me, aggregate my marked sessions into a separate agenda, and evaluate the sessions. Really nice. Except that the alerts in the app were extremely sparse and late and therefore not useful. This would have been the place to put notice of the hotel wifi password change, as a makerspace session cancellation was, but nothing. I can't comment on other features of the app, since I only used the schedule and alerts on advice from a colleague who attended the big EDUCAUSE in the fall.

• Good sessions I attended: "Rapid Evaluations of Emerging Instructional Technologies", "Experiential Ed Models", "How Do You Know If Your Faculty Development Program Is Effective?", "Google Glass", and Gardner Campbell's part of "Learning Design, Objects, and Tools".

• Finally, my strongest ambivalence comes from the continued emphasis on specific tools as the solutions to general problems and from the continued absence of context emphasis. Over and over, I got the sense that presentations started with the use of a tool and — fiat lux — showed how it could help you, too, lose weight, grow hair, retain students, improve efficiency, and reduce cost. Oh, and scale up. Believe me, I deplore the pressure to make public profession of an article of faith: "Technology shalt not lead pedagogy, but rather the other way around." If we in academic technology are so distrusted by pedagogues (some of whom are us), the problem is in our practices, not in our rhetoric. And yet there we were in New Orleans talking about how this or that tool allowed us to address a problem, explore a new approach, save higher education from extinction. This is a blog post in itself, but it feels a bit like we've been bamboozled by the bright shiny objects we are supposed to understand better than most, prestidigitated into thinking that [object N] is the thing, when something always on your head is better framed as something like "posthuman computing" or "wearable computing" or "physiology-integrated technology". I'd love to see ELI as an organization consider these issues when assembling the next annual meeting slate of presenters.

Academic Commons Release Notes for January 2014

Here are the notable changes to Academic Commons since January 1, 2014.

New Plugins

Just one this month: WordPress Google Form
From the plugin author, this plugin "[f]etches a published Google Form using a WordPress custom post or shortcode, removes the Gooogle wrapper HTML and then renders it as an HTML form embedded in your blog post or page."

New Themes

Just one this month: Clean Retina
This theme features, among other things, a customizable header and menu; the ability to set featured images; a choice of one, two or three-column layouts; responsive design; and prepackaged layouts included.

Fixes/Enhancements

The Query Multiple Taxonomies plugin had a problem, displaying "there are 0 entries" in the appropriate context but linked to a missing entry. It's now hidden when there are 0 entries returned for a query.

It's Not Just Weird Twitter That's Weird

You've heard about (or seen for yourself) the phenomenon known as Weird Twitter (too many NSFW for me to crawl through for an example, so here's a search that will start getting you there), but it turns out that Twitter itself flies the weird flag as well. A little over a month ago they announced they would stop supporting HTTP plaintext connections to the Twitter 1.1 API, requiring everything to use TLS/SSL. Perhaps since WordPress does not develop Twitter applications as a core part of its operations, this change didn't get filed in their bugtracker until after the switch had been flipped. Properly, WordPress devs contacted Twitter to ask about things, and a Twitter dev seemed to me to say that they would look into some sort of failover, but as of today the oEmbed provider in 3.5.2 still does not work for tweets.

The weirdness comes because Twitter keeps making changes with little regard for third party developers and even for average users. Remember when they decided to not-block accounts that you had selected for blocking? (Later reversed, yes, but still. And it's not like 75 million sites run WordPress or anything.) Inarguably, Twitter is a corporation whose primary mission as a capitalist actor is to gain money, not a public commons. But whether they call twitterers customers, clients, users, investors, or people, irritating them (us) enough makes that bottom line hurt, too.

As Arlo said, though, that's not what I came to tell you about. I'm here to tell you that we've updated Academic Commons (in part thanks to an old post at "And now it's all this") so that embedded tweet URIs are broken now, but should be fixed by midnight tonight. Let us know in the comments whether your site has broken embeds on or after 25 January 2014. WordPress has implemented a fix on their end, but we likely won't upgrade to that fixed version until the summertime, at which point we'll all join hands with WordPress and Twitter and sing a happy song.

I can't even come up with a good image for weird twitter, but maybe that's best considering many deny its existence.

Pushing WordPress

Color photograph of a woman pushing a gigantic hay rollSince we are in semester-open mode, I get to do one of the things I really like doing for ITG, which is getting out and talking with/to students and instructors in class. Nearly always — and such is the case right these days — I'm there to talk about Academic Commons.

Once upon a time, ITG had grand visions of building an aggregated source for many tools, documentation, and ideas around key educational technologies such as mapping, wikis, and robust cross-linked annotating. Alas, our eyes were bigger than the increases in our staffing budget, and as everyone knows, people are more important (and expensive, and their [our] importance is indicated in part by the expense) than software to running a good educational technology outfit. Currently, consequently, Academic Commons equates to Yale's institutional WordPress installation, used respectably across Yale College. Not surprisingly, writing-intensive disciplines and courses make the most use of it. Of these, the Department of English makes the greatest concentrated use, thanks in part to many hours of work by departed ITGer Robin Ladouceur as well as the efforts of former ITG intern Sam Gamer.

Strangely enough, though, I will only visit five class sessions in these first two weeks of classes. On the one hand, I could assume that all the other classes using WordPress sites are comfortable making their site their own in part through shared discovery. On the other, I'm a little worried that courses limit their use of the platform to what's obvious. Given that only about 25% of students in classes I visit have any experience with WordPress, and only about 50% have experience in any content management system (I ask each time), it's not unreasonable to think that there are opportunities being missed to use WordPress for something more complex than a shared editable space. (Not that that's all bad, etc. etc.)

This past term, however, an instructor used WordPress more nearly like an LMS, even assigning grades to student work in the site. This term, one instructor is doing the same, and another course (instructor + TF) will be mounting an online exhibition, following a bit along Charlotte Parker's excellent model, produced as part of her senior project in American Studies. As well, more instructors in English will use WordPress sites for workshopping texts this term. (Currently we use Digress.it for this, but CommentPress seems to have restarted development and I will be re-evaluating it.) Signs of hope, or continued outliers? I don't know, but I'm going to keep on trying to get the word out to both students and instructors about the possibilities.

[Creative Commons licensed image via Flickr user BailyRaeWeaver]

We've Missed You

Color photo of hand-made origami card reading "welcome back"No, really! It's been great to take a hiatus from blogging for ITG, but it just isn't the same without being able to talk to you. Yes, you. And you, and you, and . . . especially you, there, in the back.

What did you do on your winter recess? We all had a mostly restful time. Some of us left the country to visit family, some of us went farther north in this country and ended up needing to replace a chunk of our car's clutch the day before our birthday. (This second one was not me.) We all disconnected for a little while and are ready to start the term.

What are we seeing on the horizon for this term? For one thing, we're going to start rolling out in this space more information about what's happening with Yale Academic Commons. We haven't done a great job keeping the Yale community using WordPress updated with when we add or retire Themes or Plugins, nor with when we are upgrading the WordPress core and what the major changes are with that core upgrade, and that's going to get better. For another, we're undertaking some strengthening of our group's ability to work in certain areas of contemporary academic technology, most notably GIS. In collaboration with GIS specialist Stacey Maples of the Yale Library, Alina and Trip are going to raise their own skill levels and assemble a small handful of workflow patterns for some kinds of GIS work so that you can incorporate thinking about it more quickly and easily into your pedagogy or coursework. Finally, in March we are planning a showcase for some of the work faculty do in their classrooms with mobile devices, primarily iPads. This event will likely take place toward the end of March in the TEAL classroom at 17 Hillhouse Ave., and will give you a chance not only to talk to peers about how they make the most of mobile affordances, but also to try out some mobile devices and consider whether/how you might integrate them into your teaching.

These are just a few of our undertakings for Spring 2014, but we've always got more irons in the fire. We're also always open to hearing what the Yale community thinks is important. What gaps are there in your pedagogy or coursework that academic technology might address? What great tools or processes do you use now that more people should know about? Tell us in the comments or at itg@yale.edu.

[Creative-Commons Licensed Image via Flickr user joybot]