mamamusings: August 2, 2003

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Saturday, 2 August 2003

mt as courseware

One of the most active entries I've posted this year was my wish for a good open-source courseware package. I ended up looking at a few of the suggestions, but to get what I wanted, all would have required too steep a learning curve and customization process.

So, today I decided to see if I could leverage my existing knowledge of MovableType to generate something that met my basic needs for courseware. I plan on keeping the grades in our Prometheus-based courseware (saves me the hassle of dealing with password-protected stuff, and importing class lists), but putting everything else into a customized course blog. That allows me to make the course content easily accessible to students, colleagues, and other interested parties--and to allow comments and ideas from people outside of the class to become part of the

The beginnings of the course site can be found at http://www.it.rit.edu/~ell/320/320-031/. I've done nothing yet with aesthetics, obviously, because I wanted to first think through functionality.

I put in a fake due date for a paper, and post-dated it to September 25th. Unfortunately, that pushed the post-dated entry to the first page, which I didn't want.

I could have limited the categories on the first page, but MT doesn't support category exclusion. I thought about installing the ExcludeCategories plug-in, but decided that was too limiting in terms of functionality.

Instead, I installed Brad Choate's MTSQL plug-in, which is far more flexible in what it will allow me to do. I then replaced the <MTEntries> with a SQL-based tag to select only entries published today or within the past 15 days. There's probably a much more elegant way to do it than what I came up with, but it works:

<MTSQLEntries query="select entry_id from mt_entry where entry_created_on <= NOW() AND TO_DAYS(NOW()) - TO_DAYS(entry_created_on) <= 10 AND entry_blog_id = 9">

That fixed the problem of post-dated entries showing up "before their time."

Next, I added a bunch of categories, falling into two groups. The first group was structural categories--like "due dates," "assignments," and "readings." The second group was topical categories--like "HTML," "Unix," and "History."

Then I tweaked the calendar, so that all three months of the quarter would be displayed in calendar form, and only "due dates" would appear. (Though I'll probably change that to include a new category of "class topics" as well.) That allows students to click on a highlighted date to see what's due that day.

The main page will show all current entries, probably with the exception of due dates. It will include news, suggestions, discussion topics, resources, etc. Then there will be two category menus--one for each of the two sets of categories. Students can either see everything posted related to a topic (like HTML), or everything of a particular type (like assignments).

I'll start with comments turned for all entries by default, so that students can ask questions about specific posts. I'll also set MT up to email me with new comments, so that I know when there are questions.

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