Cobbled CMS Part I

Despite what I may have said in my last post, I am attempting to take the two things I need and use them linked from a class website for my on-site History 103 class this semester.

I need a few information pages with links (the syllabus, the homework instructions, the grading policies) and two special features: a gradebook and a place where students can post their historical theses and, for those more advanced in their work, the evidence they discovered.

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I began yesterday with Engrade for the gradebook and PBWorks for the wiki.

This required some preparation. I wanted students to have the same password for each, and for signing in to be easy for them. On Engrade, it appeared that to I had to put in everyone with a “engrade-lmlane-xxxxx” password, with xxxxx being unique digits. I chose the digits from within their student ID numbers, not using the whole number so we’d still have privacy protection.

In PBWorks, I set up Classroom Accounts because I didn’t want to use their emails, and I wanted to set the passwords the same as for Engrade. Problems immediately arose. I could not see a list of names with passwords (only “Classroom Account”) after I entered all the students (tech support said this should have been emailed to me, but it wasn’t). Every time I tried to add a student (some added late) it made me say how many, then considered the new folks as the only list, so again I couldn’t print a list with the passwords.

As I continued to work, I had some assumptions that carried over from PBWiki, which I had used a couple of years ago with great success. But things had changed. I could no longer back things up without a Premium Account. So although I had promised students they could not erase everyone’s theses by mistake because I could put them back again, I couldn’t guarantee that. In addition, I couldn’t seem to list things by User. In fact, there were very few settings in Users I could change. It began to occur to me that a wiki wasn’t the best tool for what I wanted anyway, and if log-in was difficult, why not use something else?

So I looked at Wetpaint and Ning. Rejecting Ning initially because of the ads, I went to Wetpaint and two nasty things emerged: no more ad-free education accounts (as of August 11!) and I couldn’t remove the many tabs (“photos”, “video”) making it look very social. Ning let me remove the tabs and set things up as posting forums, so I’ll try a private Ning for this.

Then back to Engrade. At first I was angry and thought to give it up, but now I’ve decided we’ll keep working with it. It turns out that the “engrade-lmlane-xxxxx” thing is just for students to sign up the first time. They can then change their name and password to whatever they want. But then I had an email from a student who couldn’t get in, so today we used Gtalk to troubleshoot together. It turned into an hour of me doing tech support because Engrade is so busy trying to protect the student, that they prevent me from seeing (and thus changing) her username or password. All I could change was the access code, but then it wouldn’t take the same email address. Workaround was to keep adding more accounts for her — ick. I’ll keep going with it anyway and see what happens.

To be continued…

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