On Tuesday this week we released the Glow Blogs e-Portfolio plugin

The biggest reason for creation of a blogs in the Glow Blogs system has be e-Portfolios. There are 10s of thousands in the system. Until now the system used was based on one of 60 different e-Portfolio themes created by Alex Duff during his time at Education Scotland.

The old system had a couple of problems, firstly the creation of blogs was time consuming due to the way the old Glow Blogs were hooked into SharePoint, secondly the themes all needed maintenance and updating. This maintenance would be expensive as the 60 themes were all different. The amount of development and testing would have needed more resource and time than we have available. The first problem was solved when the blogs were decoupled from Sharepoint in October last year. The e-Portfolio plugin solves the second.

Early on in our planning of the new WordPress blogs in glow and the migration of the old plots we decided that the best way to tackle this was to move away from theme based e-Portfolios to ones based on a plugin.

This plugin would produce profiles from posts that were added to the blog. The profile is really the only way that the e-portfolio blogs differ from a standard blog.

Initially our thoughts were to separate the e-Portfolios and other blogs onto two different instances of WordPress with different functionality. At the start of development it became apparent that this would be both technically difficult and would risk loss or damage to the data in the system. As we got nearer to the old system being shut down it was decided that the e-Portfolios would be developed in a future phase after the initial migration and upgrade to the WordPress software.

During this time we did develop the requirements for a new system, and over the past year I’ve discussed these plans with a lot of our stakeholders. The requirements were put together and rationalised beautifully by Sonali Nakhate who was first the business analyst and then project manager for Glow Blogs.

We finally had space and time to start developing the e-Portfolio solution and Stephen Harris was brought into the team to carry out the development. Stephen took our ideas and turned then into an elegant solution that fits in seamlessly with the WordPress backend. For example on the profile creation screen you can reorder the sections of the profile by drag and drop. You can also tab through the sections and use the arrow keys to move the sections up and down.1

Running along side this development and feeding off the requirements was the creation of a test plan. David Orr and Grant Hutton from the Glow test team planned to test all of the new functionality and equally importantly that the new features does not break any of the old ones. As development finished the test team fed back and the odd bug were found and squashed. It is testimony to Stephen that the testing took less time than planned allowing us to get to release ahead of schedule.

The development and test teams are coordinated and run by Geoff Turnbull Glow’s technical architect, Geoff also fed into all aspects of the blog requirements gathering and development from the start. Many other members of the Glow team fed into the process along with colleagues from the digital directorate and other parts of Government (procurement, security and more). All of the blog team are also involved in other parts of the Glow program too.

There are still two other phases of e-Portfolio work planned, the adding of class sets to user mange to and a way for teachers to easily see activity from the pupils they are working with without having to visit individual sites to check for activity. I am look forward to watching these developments from a bit further off as my secondment finishes at the end of this month.

One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of my secondment has been the chance to work in the blog team alongside these folk who both understand their respective jobs and how they fit together. In the past when I started blogging and podcasting with my pupils I hashed and bashed my way through the technicalities, it has been delightful to see the way this can be done well at scale.

We are developing some help for the e-Portfolio plugin on the glow blog help site.

I think the biggest smile I’ve had on my face in the last couple of years was on first seeing this page.

Featured image: Team Working Flickr by Mauro Public Domain.

Lost Puppy

Lost Puppy flickr image by Tim Shields Creative Commons – CC BY-NC 2.0

Here are some notes around the effect that the glow blog migration will have on e-portfolios hosted on the WordPress instances. There are two main things to consider, users/members of blogs and links to access blogs.

User Management Issues

We are currently migrating the blogs, including e-portfolio blogs, to a new WordPress Server initially running the same version of WordPress 2.9.2

The set up will mirror the existing set up, an instance for each Local Authority. The URLs will stay the same.
The permission on the blogs and their private/glow only/ public setting will stay the same.
Only users who have previously visited the blogs while logged onto glow will have the same access.

Going forward the settings for blogs will be handled in the blog rather than Sharepoint. This is partially because the new Sharepoint is cloud based and cannot be customised in the same way as the old glow portal and partially because of the advantages of having blogs stand on their own two feet (see below for details).

Users who were granted roles on a blog though the old glow group in which the blog was created, but have never visited the blog will have to be added again. (There is no trace of these users in WordPress and therefore no way of migrating them). You can mitigate against this providing problems by asking those users to visit the blogs before the switchover. After migration Admin Users will be able to add these (or any other) users in in the blog admin dashboard.

I’ve covered more about User Management in a previous post: Blog Migration Notes: Users.

Finding your e-Portfolio

If users followed the advice on setting up glow blogs as e-Portfolios they would have created a group in the old glow portal to hold links to groups of e-portfolios. After the switch over to the new authentication in early October (3rd) the old portal will not be there.

There will be a need for teacher and pupils to be able to access blogs there are a few possibilities in the short term.

  • Lists created before the portal was migrated to O365 will still be there in your O365 group.They will be buried in the migrated content but can be resurrected.
  • You could copy and paste the list from old glow and paste into a new glow group.
  • You could recreate the lists. This would be my favoured option as I would distribute the work to pupils.

For the third approach you would need to create a space when pupils could add their e-portfolio URLs. This could be a links list in O365 or a share word document in OneDrive. Pupils would need to have permissions set so that they could add to the links or have edit permission on the document.

As a teacher I would not use links like this, too much work. I would bookmark them in my browser and put all the bookmarks in a folder. I could then log on to glow and open the folder of links in tabs. This would after a wee wait give me a set of tabs that I could quickly go through to visit each portfolio without clicks.

Post Migration Development

After migration it intended to move into phase 2 which will be an upgrade of the blog software from 2.9.2 to 3.9

Phase 3 will include improvements to the service, adding plugins and themes to increase functionality.

In Phase 3 it is the intention to improve the setup of e-portfolio blogs by improving the setup, improving how posts are organised and how the profiles are produced from those posts.
It hoped that this work should be completed by March 2015

WordPress only

The main advantages with moving the set up of blogs and e-portfolios away from Sharepoint to the WordPress server itself will be:

  • We will be able to keep the WordPress install a lot more up to date. This will allow users to benefit from new features as these are added to WordPress. With the old glow blogs it seems that it was to hard to upgrade WordPress.
  • The setup of e-portfolios will be shortened. currently I find it takes around an hour to go through the setup with a class of pupils assuming each pupil has access to a computer/device. Removing the Sharepoint element of the blogs will speed things up in the short term.
  • In the medium term the new blogs should let us develop new functionality which will speed things up even more and reduce the opportunities for making mistakes.
  • We should also be able to develop the portfolio functionality of the blogs though plugins. This could make the organisation of posts and production of the profile snapshot simpler.

Please get in touch if you have any questions about the glow blog migration.