mamamusings

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

Tuesday, 6 January 2004

mt courseware, step-by-step

I’ve had a lot of requests for the templates being used in my newer courseware. And after helping a couple of colleagues through the process of setting it up, I’ve decided to take a stab at writing step-by-step directions for setting it all up. So if you want to give it a try, download the zipped archive of template files, and give these instructions a shot.

Caveat: this is not intended for total newbies. It assumes a solid understanding of MT templates and HTML, and, ideally, basic knowledge of PHP as well.

Preliminaries
For this to work, you need to have your blog on a system that supports PHP4. You also have to install Adam Kalsey’s SimpleComments plug-in, which treats trackbacks as “remote comments” and intersperses them with the comments in chronological order. If you don’t use this, you’ll have to manually put in links for comment and trackback pop-up windows, because my links take people straight to the individual entry when they click on the comment or trackback count for the entry. The advantage to this is that it doesn’t break on browsers that aren’t javascript-enabled (like my sidekick, for example), and that comments are always seen in the context of the original entry, which I think is important (an idea I got from Joi). The downside of this is that trackbacks don’t automatically trigger a site rebuild, so new trackbacks are shown on the main page, but not on the individual entry until the entry is rebuilt. This problem is discussed on Phil Ringnalda’s blog, and he provides a solution that I’ve implemented. However, it’s not for the technologically faint-hearted, as it involves modifying the perl code in your MT software. (FWIW, I am not a perl programmer, but still found the instructions easy to follow.)

First Step: Weblog Config
Create a new weblog in your Movable Type installation, and fill in the appropriate information in the Weblog Config—>Core Setup section.

In the Weblog Config—>Preference section, leave the default post setting to Draft, since most posts will be created in Draft mode so that you can manually set the date after you’ve saved them. Your preferred archive type should be Individual, and the file extension for archives files should be .php (not .html). I recommend not notifying blo.gs or weblogs.com until you’ve finished setting everything up.

In the Weblog Config—>Archiving section, make sure the Individual, Daily, and Category Archives are checked. I like to use post titles as file names, and I like having the daily archivs in a year/month/day directory, so I use the “Archive File Template” info to do that. Here are the settings: Individual archives: <$MTEntryTitle dirify=”1”$>.php ; Daily archives: <$MTArchiveDate format=”%Y/%m/%d/index.php”$> . If you don’t use these archive settings, you may have to adjust the include path for sidebar.inc in your daily archive template, since it’s based on that directory structure.

Second Step: Add Categories
Now you have to add the required categories. I’ve included a PDF “printout” of my Category screen for this; all categories listed there are necessary for the site to function properly.

Third Step: Create Templates
My templates are shown in the TemplatesList.pdf file. You will need to change the output file name for your Main Index to use .php rather than .html, and you’ll need to add several new index files—Outline, Sidebar, and Syllabus. You’ll also need to add a Template Module called heading (down near the bottom of the page).

The contents for Main Index, Outline, Sidebar, Syllabus, the three archive types, and the heading module are all in the .tmpl files in the zipped archive; you should be able to replace the contents with cut and paste.

Fourth Step: Editing Templates
Most of the content for the site is in entries, which are covered in below. But at the minimum, you’ll probably want to change the calendars in the sidebar template (and if you’re not on a 3-month quarter system, you’ll probably want to add a fourth minicalendar). You have to manually change the text label for the calendar to show the month name. Then change the MTCalendar month=”YYYYMM” value to the YM value you want. (January 2004 would be 200401) Repeat for each calendar, and just do a copy and paste to add additional months.

You should also change (or remove) the div near the top of the Main Index template that says “This is the web site for Professor Lawley’s…”, for obvious reasons.

Fifth Step: Test What You’ve Got
At this point, try a site rebuild and make sure everything gets properly generated. Tweak and try again ‘til it works. If you’re beating your head against the wall at this point, leave a comment here with as much detail about your error messages as possible. Comments are automatically emailed to me, so I’ll see your plea and help as soon as I can (or perhaps a passing reader will assist you if I’m otherwise occupied…).

Sixth Step: Adding Content
If it builds properly, it’s time to add some core content. Start with the syllabus components. The syllabus is generated automatically from all items that have the (surprise!) “syllabus” category. Because it doesn’t display date information, you don’t have to worry about what day you create these. However, it does order them by date (oldest to newest), so you should either create them in the order you want them to appear, or modify the dates after you create them so that they’re in the order you want. One of the syllabus items should be information about you—name, contact info, etc. After you’ve created that item, add an additional category of “instructors” to it, so that it shows up automatically in the sidebar.

Now you can start adding your class topics. The Outline template retrieves all entries with the category of “Class Topics,” and orders them by date, providing a link to that day’s material. You should also add a second category of “calendar” for each class topic, which will cause that day to be clickable in the sidebar calendar. (Calendars can only be limited to one category. I didn’t use “class topics” as the trigger category because sometimes I want a day to be clickable—say, a review session or an exam—without having it show up in the class outline.)

Anything else you add for a specific class—readings, resources, etc—will show up when you click on that day in the calendar, but not in the outline of topics.

The “news” “projects” and “discussions” tabs in the navigation each point to category pages that are generated from those categories.

— — —
Okay, that’s all I can think of. I’m sure I’ve left something out, or made something more complicated than it needs to be. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments, and I’ll edit this entry as need be. Have fun! And do let me know if you’re using the courseware, so I can brag about it in my annual self-evaluation. :)

(Anybody feel like making me a nice little courseware button that people could add to their sites when they use this to link back to me?)

Update: I’ve made a button, and added it to the archive, as well as adding code for it (and the link) to the sidebar template. Here it is: Elizabeth Lane Lawley's MT-based Courseware

The image needs to be placed in your main blog directory.

Posted at 9:46 PM in: courseware
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Comments
Comment from Brandon on January 7, 2004 7:37 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Liz, this beats the pants off the bloated courseware most colleges use. Excellent, really excellent.


Comment from Robert on January 7, 2004 12:08 PM (Permalink to Comment)

This comment would probably seem more sincere if I wrote it after the current semester at RIT, but one cannot always contain one's self...

My Professor ROCKS!
MT may be a wonderful instrument, but Lawley provides the sheet music.


Comment from Mariann on January 7, 2004 5:08 PM (Permalink to Comment)

I didn't find the TemplatesList.pdf document in the zip package, just a category list and archiving specs. Is it possible to get the templates document?


Comment from Liz on January 7, 2004 6:39 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Ooops. Fixed that, uploaded a new zip file to a different server, and changed the URL in this post to point to the new file. Thanks for letting me know.


Comment from Carlo on January 7, 2004 7:25 PM (Permalink to Comment)

I'm going to second the "My Professor ROCKS!" statement. :-)


Comment from George on January 8, 2004 3:54 PM (Permalink to Comment)

It's also probably a good idea to install MT Blacklist to zap any comment spam.


Comment from KF on January 9, 2004 3:35 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Liz, I'll say it again: you're the best. I installed and began set-up this morning, and it's running like a dream.

It's not the best button possible, but I'll email you one I whipped up at Adam Kalsey's buttonmaker interface.


Comment from KF on January 9, 2004 4:03 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Okay, one small hitch, and I can't tell if it's my install or what: the sidebar isn't appearing in my daily archive pages (i.e., if you click on a calendar date or on a class topic in the outline), but it shows everywhere else. The template looks like it ought to be fine. Any ideas?


Comment from Liz on January 9, 2004 4:16 PM (Permalink to Comment)

KF, it's probably the PHP include path on the daily archive template. My include path assumes that you've got the archives/year/month/day path, and thus uses a ../../../.. path to find the sidebar.inc file.

If your daily archives are located in a different path (say, in just the archives directory) you'd need to change the include path for sidebar.inc to reflect the right number of directory hops. (I've modified the instructions to reflect that, too. Thanks.)


Comment from KF on January 9, 2004 4:42 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Never mind. When I copied and pasted your archive settings, they pasted in with curly quotes instead of straight quotes. Everything's good now.


Comment from Rob Wall on January 26, 2004 11:15 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Wow - what an easy to manage hack of MT. I want to show this to some of my colleagues who use Blackboard, then ask them why they are paying for a product that does not have any demonstrable advantages!! (And if they answer about the exams, I'll show them many many freely available scripts for doing just that).

One correction, though - your daily archive path seems to be incorrect, and should read:

index.php

At least, that seemed to fix up my problems.


Comment from Rob Wall on January 26, 2004 11:38 AM (Permalink to Comment)

Oops - ignore my last comment. I have the correctly formatted fix on my blog: http://www.omegageek.net/blog

(Liz - feel free to delete or edit my comment to fix up my error)


Comment from C Shafer on February 1, 2004 12:49 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Just installed a test site on my server. The initial build went fine, but on submitting a post I get the following error message:

Error! rebuild error: Building entry 'Spring '04 Syllabus' failed: Build error in template 'Individual Entry Archive': Error in tag: You used 'MTPingID' tag outside of the context of a ping; perhaps you mistakenly placed it outside of an 'MTPings' container?

Has anyone else run into this? I'm new to MT, and am not sure how to correct the problem, IF it is acually what it says it is.

Otherwise, the design looks really hopeful, and I look forward to possibly working with it further for my freshman writing seminar at Cornell.


Comment from George on February 1, 2004 2:58 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Did you install the SimpleComments plugin? If not, I wonder if that's causing the error.


Comment from Liz on February 1, 2004 5:55 PM (Permalink to Comment)

George is right...that errors sounds like SimpleComments not being installed.


Comment from Kekawaka on February 1, 2004 9:28 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Well, after letting it sit for a few hours, it has started working. Maybe it was a simpleComments issue. I did install the plugin during the initial setup, but who knows! LOL!

Thanks for the assistance. :-)


Comment from C Shafer on February 1, 2004 9:30 PM (Permalink to Comment)

Oops, that post went out with the wrong screen name. -- C Shafer, aka Kekawaka


Comment from D Hacker on February 5, 2004 10:42 PM (Permalink to Comment)

So how would you go about duplicating your blog structure within the same MT site? Let's say I created a Courseware blog for one teacher and I wanted to do the same for multiple teachers. While the 20 mins or so doesn't seem like much a much shorter time to get things started would be apprecated.


Comment from Liz on February 7, 2004 11:57 AM (Permalink to Comment)

D, there's no way to do that right now. At some point, I may try to coax a student into writing an app that would automate some of the process, but that would probably require that the courseware be installed on a mySQL-based system so that I could more easily manipulate the database.


Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna