Wordpress: Buddypress Courseware

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by Adam D. Scott | June 2012 | WordPress

The BuddyPress (BP) Courseware plugin by ScholarPress transforms our WordPres site into a learning management system. This plugin provides educators with the ability to post and organize course content, assignments, bibliographies, and schedules. BP Courseware works by extending the BuddyPress group functionality. Each courseware-enabled group receives a courseware dashboard where teachers and students can quickly access and post course content. The BP Courseware plugin is ideal for managing multiple courses by the same instructor or for an entire academic department.

In this article by Adam D. Scott, author of the book WordPress for Education, we'll cover techniques to install and configure the BP Courseware plugin. Once the plugin is installed, we'll develop content for a sample courseware course by adding course information, posting assignments, grading student assignments, creating a bibliography, and managing the course calendar.

Installing and configuring BP Courseware

As BP Courseware is a plugin that runs atop BuddyPress, we must have already installed, activated, and configured BuddyPress.

To install BP Courseware, log in to the WordPress dashboard, hover over Plugins in the left sidebar, and choose Add New. Search for BuddyPress ScholarPress Courseware and install the plugin.

BuddyPress Courseware requires the Private Messaging BuddyPress component to be enabled. If you have disabled Private Messaging, you will be prompted to enable it before activating BuddyPress Courseware. To enable Private Messaging, log in to the WordPress dashboard and visit the BuddyPress Components screen.

BuddyPress Courseware settings

While BuddyPress Courseware will work immediately, there are a number of settings that can be adjusted to ensure that the plugin meets our needs. To access the BuddyPress Courseware settings, log in to the WordPress dashboard, hover over BuddyPress in the left sidebar, and select Courseware.

Global settings

BP Courseware integrates with BuddyPress groups for course management. By default, we must enable courseware individually for each group. Checking the Enable Courseware globally checkbox will turn courseware on for all new groups. This is useful if groups are used exclusively for course management.

If you intend to use BuddyPress groups for other purposes, such as student project collaboration, the Enable Courseware globally option should remain unchecked. In this scenario each group will require enabling courseware manually. To do so, follow the instructions given in the Enabling BP Courseware section later in the article.

Collaboration settings

Within BP Courseware we are able to define users as either teachers or students. By enabling the Collaboration settings option, any site user with a teacher role has the ability to edit and add courses, assignments, and schedules.

Make assignment responses private

When students submit an assignment their response is public to all site users. By enabling the Make assignment responses private feature, student responses will be visible only to the teachers and the student who has completed the assignment.

Gradebook default grade format

The default BuddyPress Courseware Gradebook format is numeric. Within the Gradebook default grade format settings we are able to choose between numeric, letter, or percentage grading for assignments.

Webservices API integration

BP Courseware has the ability to integrate with WorldCat and ISBNdb web services to aid in locating books and articles. To integrate these services with BuddyPress Courseware, follow the links from the BudddyPress Courseware settings screen to sign up for a free API key.

Customization

Cascading stylesheets (CSS) are the files that control the look and formatting of a web page. BuddyPress Courseware allows administrators with advanced web skills to create a custom stylesheet for fine grain control over the look of Courseware.

Renaming the groups page

BP Courseware utilizes the BuddyPress group feature for course content. While the term Groups makes sense in the context of a standard BuddyPress installation, it can be confusing when using BuddyPress Courseware as a learning management system. To prevent this confusion, I find it helpful to rename the Groups page to Courses.

 

To rename Groups:

  1. Log in to the WordPress dashboard.
  2. Create a new WordPress page titled Courses by hovering over Pages in the left sidebar, and choosing Add New. Title the page Courses, leaving the page content blank, and click on the blue Publish button
  3. Adjust the BuddyPress page settings by hovering over BuddyPress in the left sidebar and selecting the Pages tab. In the menu next to User Groups, select the Courses option and click on the Save button.
  4. Delete the Groups page by clicking on Pages in the left sidebar. From the All Pages screen, hover over the Groups page and click on the red Trash link.

Setting Courses as the site home page

Using the BuddyPress Courseware plugin, we may wish to enable our Courses page as the site's front page. Doing so will allow students to quickly access course information and prevent confusion regarding how to find the courseware dashboard.

 

To enable the Courses page as our site's home page:

  1. Log in to the WordPress dashboard.
  2. If you have not already done so, create an empty page titled Blog
  3. Hover over Settings in the left sidebar and select the Reading tab.
  4. From the Reading Settings screen, select Front page displays | A static page option.
  5. Select Courses from the Front page menu choices and Blog as the Posts page

Creating a course

When setting up a course we must first create a BuddyPress group.

To create course or group:

  1. From our public facing site, visit the Courses page (or Groups if not renamed).
  2. Click on the Create a Group button.
  3. From the Details screen, provide a Group Name such as the course name and section number and enter a Group Description such as the course catalog information.
  4. On the Privacy Options page, select This is a public group, allowing any site member to join.
  5. Complete the installation by optionally adding an avatar image and inviting members.

Enabling BP Courseware

Once the course group has been created, we may enable BP Courseware. This step may be skipped, if we selected Enable Courseware globally from the BuddyPress Courseware settings screen.

To enable BP Courseware:

  1. Visit the page of the newly created group.
  2. Click on the Admin tab
  3. Click on the Courseware link from the row of links below the Admin tab.
  4. Below Courseware Status , select Enable to enable BP Courseware for the group. Optionally, if you wish to keep student assignment responses private, select Enable below Private Responses.
  5. Click on the Save button.

Courseware dashboard

Within BP Courseware, the courseware dashboard acts as the course home screen for both instructors and students. From the courseware dashboard, instructors are able to add and manage course content. Students use the dashboard to access course materials and submit assignments. To access the courseware dashboard, visit the Courses page (or Groups if unchanged) and click on the Courseware link located below the course/group description.

The teacher dashboard appears as shown in the following screenshot:

The student dashboard appears as shown in the following screenshot:

Adding course content

Adding course content to BP Courseware allows educators to easily organize and share course information with students. The BP Courseware plugin provides a structure for managing course lectures, assignments, quizzes, grades, resources, and schedules.

Lectures

Adding lecture information allows instructors to share course notes, resources, and slides with students in a structured format. While the term lecture implies the lecture format of university courses, I find it useful to think of lectures in terms of teaching units. The lecture pages can serve as a resource for a chunk of course content.

To add a new lecture, click on the Add a new lecture button from the course dashboard. We may then edit the content of the lecture much in the same way as a WordPress post adding text, images, links, and embedded media.

Lectures will appear in the Latest Lectures section of course dashboard, with the most recently posted lecture appearing at the top. This allows students to quickly access the most recently posted course lecture.

Assignments

BP Courseware provides a means for us to post assignments and collect student responses. The assignments can take multiple formats, allowing students to respond to questions, upload a file, or embed media.

Posting assignments as a teacher

As a teacher, we have the ability to post assignments. To post an assignment, visit the course dashboard and click on the Create an assignment button. This will take us to the New Assignment screen. From the New Assignment screen, we may enter the details of the assignment.

From the New Assignment screen, assign a title to the assignment and enter the assignment description and necessary information. This acts much in the same way as WordPress posts, allowing us to enter text, images, media, and links.

In the right column, we may choose the corresponding lecture topic and select the assignment due date.

Once the assignment information is complete, click on the Publish assignment button to make it visible to students.

Submitting assignments as a student

Students can access assignments by clicking on the All Assignments button or viewing the Latest Assignments from the course dashboard. By clicking on the Assignment Title, students can see the detailed assignment information written by the instructor. Clicking on the Add a response button, will give the students an opportunity to submit the assignment.

For standard assignments, students will be presented with a text input area similar to the WordPress post editor. Within this text area, students may type a written response, add links, embed media, and attach files.

Viewing student responses

Instructors have access to all student assignment responses, while students are only able to view their own. To view student assignment responses, visit the individual assignment page and click on the Responses button, located in the right sidebar. This will present us with a list of student responses. Clicking on the individual assignment link, will take us to a screen containing the student's assignment response.

Gradebook

BP Courseware provides us with a Gradebook feature for assessing student assignments. To access the Gradebook, visit an individual assignment page and click on the Gradebook button, located in the right sidebar. This will take us to the Gradebook screen for the assignment.

For each student, we are given the option to enter a grade value, a private comment, and a public comment. Once the grades and comments have been entered, we may click on the Save grades button.

After an assignment has been graded, students will receive a message containing the grade. Students will be alerted to this message by a notification, but may access their grades directly by visiting the individual assignment page. The grade is posted in the Assignment Meta sidebar of the assignment page.

Bibliography

The Bibliography is designed so that educators can easily maintain a list of course materials and resources. To add entries to the bibliography, visit the Courseware dashboard and click on the Manage bibliography button. From the Bibliography page we may add entries manually or import them by pasting information from BibTeX. The bibliography is ideal for courses utilizing a wide range of materials.

BibTeX is a tool for formatting references. It is typically used in conjunction with the LaTeX typesetting system. More information can be found at http://www.bibtex.org.

Schedule and calendar

The BuddyPress Schedule page functions as a course calendar, automatically containing assignment due dates as well as manually managed schedule items. To view the course calendar, visit the Courseware Dashboard and click on the Schedules link.

To schedule more items, click on the Add a schedule button from the Courseware dashboard. Complete the New Schedule form and click on the Publish Schedule button once it is complete. New schedule items will be added to the calendar as well as featured in a list format on the Schedules page.

WordPress for Education Create interactive and engaging e-learning websites with WordPress book and ebook
Published: June 2012
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Teacher and student roles

There are two roles within BP Courseware: student and teacher. By default, the site admin has a teacher role and all additional site users are considered students. Users may request teacher role permissions by adjusting the BuddyPress account settings.

To request teacher privileges:

  1. Prompt the user to log in to BuddyPress.
  2. Once logged in the user will access the Edit Profile screen by hovering over My Account in the BuddyPress toolbar and selecting Profile | Edit
  3. From the edit profile screen, the user will need to click on the Courseware button.
  4. The user may then select the Apply for Teacher radio button and click on the Save Changes button.
  5. Prior to being granted access as a teacher, the site admin will be required to approve the user's request. The site admin will receive a message stating that the user has requested teacher access.

    To approve the access, click on the link contained in the message to visit the user's profile screen and select the Teacher role.

    Help and support

    The BP Courseware plugin is in active development and evolving to meet the needs of a diverse set of educators. ScholarPress, the group behind the BP Courseware plugin, provides a number of resources including a BuddyPress Courseware Handbook user support forums and a ist of recommended additional plugins. We can access this information through the Help button located at the top of the BuddyPress Courseware settings screen on the WordPress dashboard. For the latest BP Courseware updates and project news, visit the ScholarPress BuddyPress Courseware site

    Summary

    In this article we saw how the BuddyPress Courseware plugin can turn WordPress into a fully-featured learning management system. To accomplish this, we installed the BP Courseware plugin, added course content, created course assignments, managed the course bibliography, and maintained the course schedule.

WordPress for Education Create interactive and engaging e-learning websites with WordPress book and ebook
Published: June 2012
eBook Price: $17.99
Book Price: $29.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

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About the Author :


Adam D. Scott

Adam D. Scott is an educator, designer, digital book developer, husband, and father living in Connecticut. He has been a classroom teacher for six years, where he focuses on web technologies with project based outcomes. Adam writes about the intersection of design, technology, and learning on his personal site, www.adamdscott.com.

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