I’m currently teaching a first year module on Open Source Software, one of the requirements for which is students write their findings up as blog posts. For that reason I thought it might be useful to be able to keep track of how much my students have been writing. Given there are 80 students on the module, some automation here would also be useful!
I remembered an impressive set of techniques developed by Martin Hawksey for tracking Jisc project blogs, and so I decided to use these as a starting point.
I created a Google Spreadsheet, and a form for capturing each student’s name and blog URL. I then added a couple of scripts – based on Martin’s examples above – to retrieve the WordPress RSS feed for each blog, and put the post count and the date of the last post into cells in the same row.
Now, WordPress only gives you a maximum of 10 entries in a feed by default, but for my purposes thats still enough to get a sense of which students are struggling with their writing tasks. I just use some conditional formatting to show me anyone who hasn’t posted anything, and anyone who has made less than 5 posts this semester.
I’ve experimented with some other layouts, for example using D3.js visualisations, but just a list of blogs with some red-amber-green coding seems to be the most practical.
Another benefit of having the list of blogs in a spreadsheet is it made it quite simple to generate an OPML file to share with students to import into WordPress Reader and follow everyone else on the course.
One limitation is I don’t seem to be able to get the functions to automatically be added to each new row created by the form – I have to paste them over the new rows. Still, overall its not a bad solution.