Blog server, the next piece in the jigsaw

As part of my blog server solution I was not merely content to stop at the provisioningbof blogs to my pupils.  As part of our curriculum for excellence roadmap we have tried to bring video editing into the heart of the curriculum.  But taking and editing videos with pupils is fraught with issues; first you need sufficient hardware for large groups of pupils to use, so I bought as many flip cameras as I could, next with PCs on the networked policed  to the hilt to prevent network abuse (and rightly so) how do you provide users with local storage to allow users to store and edit this data without the need to send it the length and breadth of the network and kill your network servers with high bandwidth traffic?  Well my solution here was purchase a large number of 4Gb USB pen drives (chi-Ching, yet more money) which would allow users to save their work and edit the videos on.

 

Now next we need suitable video editing software, well I’m still working on that.  I’m trying to buy licences for Adobe Premiere Elements for the Faculty but at the moment we simply have to make do with movie maker.  Although this is already proving limiting for our needs as we start to push the boundaries of our aspirations.

 

Lastly, we come back to the blog server, I’d like to embed the pupils work in their blogs but WordPress doesn’t come with a video player, I can’t use YouTube as the pupils are filtered from it because of the uncontrollable types of content that they may choose to happen upon whilst visiting the site and this left me looking to supplement the WordPress element of the blowsy server with my own YouTube clone.

 

This has been quite a battle and forms the next part of the story of my blog server.  All I’ll say here is that I’ve tried both PHPmotion and Clip bucket and I’ll discuss them next.

Using the blog server with pupils

Having had a reasonably good day today where a number of pupils were able to start using their blogs the pupils in my S1 class have started to enjoy using their own blogs.  The blog server only works within the intranet which gives us security when posting the work that the only folk to see it will be their fellow pupils.  Even though at some point I’m sure that this will cause trouble we are all experimenting with the blog server for the first time.  So what have we done?

 

Well, when setting up the blog I have down loaded 62 different themes?  Why 62?  No particular reason really these were those that I liked and which I felt gave the greatest contrast of styles which I felt were appropriate for the pupils.  I’m sure that I’ll be deleting some of them when I discover their weaknesses.  However, I’d also like to think that we will be developing some themes of our own in due course.

 

After choosing a theme most pupils have then entered an introductory message to their blog.  I’ll need to develop a template for this to try and encourage the correct calibre of extended writing.  And I may even speak to the English department a bit about this, not that I’ll be stopping there I’m hoping to see French, Social Subjects work and RE etc all having meaningful work on the blog.

 

Next we have been adding some graphics, uploading them to the media library and including them within the posts.  Not only that but using the Plugin Audio Player we have uploaded an mp3 of the podcasts which then pupils have been developing earlier in the year (before Christmas) which the have created as part of that element of the course.

 

Links, the pupils have created links to their friends blogs.  One of the limitations of having a blog server on the intranet is that they cannot search for blogs using google.  So having links between blogs is important and I’ll need to look for a plugin for Multisite that can perhaps create an index list of blogs on this server.  If one exists!

 

We have a wireless network using a  radius server which allows us wireless access within the school.  Our switches also had an upgrade during Easter and this allows our apple devices to connect to the network too.  One of the successes of this is that iPhones, iPads and iPod touches can using the WordPress app (which I’m using right now) to post to their blogs within our intranet. At the moment we haven’t released the proxy settings to our pupils as we have some questions which need answered about a few issues concerning the use of personal devices within the school.  But the scope to open up ICT using these devices could be tremendous and if the blogs are being used to celebrate success and manage pupil’s personal learning then surely the inevitable benefits far outway a few misgivings.  Ultimately we are expecting a large element of pupil responsibility to be evident otherwise we will have to ban pupils using more draconian measures but again in a school of 1250 pupils the number who actually cause bother or who would challenge these rules is by far in the minority and shouldn’t be used to penalise the majority.

 

Pupils will be expected to administer their own blogs, only allow friends to post comments, to ensure that comments are moderated before they are posted and as yet this has been the case.

 

Overall, whilst the power requirements to make this a feasible solution for the school remain uncertain because of the power of the hardware. The educational benefits for the classroom have started to become a tangible reality if albeit for a minor who are helping me to test the system.

 

Is this Curriculum for Excellence?  Yes! As a vehicle for lots of things the potential of a humble blog for each pupil has tremendous value to what the curriculum could deliver.

Testing the blog server with pupils

Having spent almost two and a half years On this project it was a great sense of achievement to finally have some pupils using the blog server. It also, was not without it’s hiccups. Th Blog Server was used by two classes in this school the first a colleague of mine allowed a small group of his pupils use it. His only response was that whilst it worked it was a bit slow.

Not completely unsurprising as the hardware was an old computer with 512 Mb Ram, an Intel Celeron D Processor and two 80Gb hard disks. Whoo-whee!!! Not exactly bursting with lots of power but it’s a start. Anyway, it was struggling to allow the pupils to access the dashboard simultaneously so I’m currently taking a two pronged approach to solve these issues. First, I’m looking for a better box, a proper server and one will come my way in due course. Second, I’m looking for optimisations which can be implemented on the server.

Optimisations

There are two optimisations which can help improve the performance of the blog server. Caching the PHP pages generated from WordPress and cache the database queries. Both these optimisations save processor operations and can speed up the web server’s responses to the users.

There are a number of WordPress plugins which can be used to cache these pages. I’ve tried WP Super Cache and WP optimisation. Plus others which I’ll post later.

The latest test with 7 users worked well and fairly fast. The educational benefits are starting to become evident following this test of this one fact I remain pleased and positive.

Optimisation of the Blog Server – 9/6/11 19:55 (Blog server, multisite, mysql, optimisation, php, testing, wordpress)

Ok, so the story so far…

I’ve built the blog server, it is now installed on the network and this involved routing the blog server to look through the network’s proxy server. The problem with trying to achieve this is understanding the nature ofna network which is not your own. I found various articles here but configuring the network was a bit tricky.

Here are the articles which I used for advice
article 1
article 2
etc

I also created a plain HTML file which was very useful it had embedded content for YouTube as this would prove if the problem resided with my WordPress installation. This indeed prove to be a master stroke on my part. As indeed I did have an issue with the wordpress setup. There seem to be a myriad of hidden options which can be added to the wp-config.php file and some of these do the trick!

Blog Server Demo

This is a wee video which I shot using one of the mockup servers that I created. But basically you’ll get the idea!

 

<iframe src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/nQP_jlUD9OE?hd=1″ width=”480″ height=”390″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen”></iframe>

 

It has taken a long time but the real version went live on our network last week. Now all I need to do is get my pupils involved in using it!