The term ‘dashboard’ currently seems to have a similar effect to marmite, you either love it or hate it. Fortunately it looks like the trend is towards increased personalisation of the way data is presented for both visual and exploratory purposes (an example of this is Thomson Reuters finance system Eikon), so if you don’t like marmite you can have something else instead.
One of the reasons I like using Google Spreadsheets is it’s a fairly easy environment to pull data into, provide specific views and share with others. Recent examples of this include the work I did providing a summary of the discussion activity within the open online course LAK13 (btw the recording of the recent ‘Geek Out’ webinar covering this is available from here). This example takes the existing Atom feed from Canvas discussion boards, which contains all forum posts, and provides some lite summary of activity (shown below – click to enlarge).
When faced with a similar challenge for ocTEL it made sense to evolve this existing work rather than reinvent. As previously outlined in the ocTEL course recipe, we use the WordPress platform as a course hub, creating additional functionality using plugins. For the discussion forums we use the bbPress plugin. Like the rest of WordPress, bbPress creates a number of data feeds that we can use for forums, topics and replies. As far as I can tell though these feeds follow the WordPress global reading settings for the number of items available and are limited to RSS2.0.
One of the really nice things however about working with WordPress is once you have you basic stack of plugins its easy to customise using your themes functions.php script. And that’s what we’ve done for ocTEL. Using WordPress’ extensive codex documentation we can see it’s possible to create our own feeds. So by adding this custom action in our theme functions.php and including this feed template in our theme folder we have an Atom feed for all our forum activity. With some very minor tweaking of the Canvas example mentioned above I’ve now got an overview of ocTEL forum discussions dashboard.
[If you have your own bbPress forums you can use the code above to create your own data feed and File > Make a copy of the spreadsheet to dashboard your forums.]
So now we have some insight to the ocTEL forum activity it raises some interesting question. Besides turning the insight into action the questions at the top of my mind are: how do we promote this data endpoint? what other data feeds and formats would be useful? How do we license the data? Your thoughts as always are very welcome.
PS My colleagues Lorna Campbell and Phil Barker have recently published an Activity Data and Paradata briefing paper