Yay For Vanilla

I decided the other day to install some kind of forum software for my students’ use, and I was looking for someone free, easy, and somewhat configurable. Given that I’ve never installed a forum, or maintained a board, I was a little nervous about how setting it up, but I went off and downloaded a copy of Vanilla and spent about five minutes setting it up, about half an hour grabbing some extensions and prepackaged themes and styles for it, and about ten minutes setting up those, and now I have a functional discussion board on my website. (Not this one, the my students use.)

What was relatively painless, and while there might well be better software solutions out there, this one was easy for me, just barely configurable enough, and it looks like it will do the trick.

I’ll have install a second board (with a different address) for my writing class, sometime tonight: I’ve decided that setting up a forum with the same “blog” template I’m using on the board I linked above is easier than reconfiguring an existing blog template to make it do what I want it to do… which is, in fact, to give central prominence to posts and threads already under way, while offering an up-front and easy opening for students to start their own discussions as well. We’ll see how this changes student participation in the “blog” component of the course; I’m hoping it’ll become more interactive. One bonus is that the forum doesn’t distinguish between posts and comments, making it easier for me to scale participation in some ways… though I’ll have to pay closer attention to the discussions there if I’m to stay on top of things.

I’m also thinking of getting students to do collaborative writing work (in a couple of classes) using the document share function on Google Documents. Streamline, streamline, streamline. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the most efficient human beings on campus in a few months?

Yeah, yeah, I know… teachers should nurture modest hopes. Then again, it wouldn’t take to many technological hacks to boost the average student’s productivity, if the student were willing to pick up and use the technology deposited at their very feet. We’ll have to see, I guess!

10 thoughts on “Yay For Vanilla

  1. Gord, I went to your class site and I like the graphic novel idea. I hope you publish a link to it on your blog here as I would love to check out what your students do.

    might give them added motivation knowing at least one person will read it.

  2. EFL Geek,

    Oh, when the whole thing goes online, I’m going to do my best to blitz the international blogosphere with it, not just the K-blogosphere. (And I told the students so, too.) I may also try give a link to someone at the English-language dailies, and if it gets on the global radar somehow, then I will try bug the big Korean-language dailies to do up something about it. It’d be nice if these little meme about class projects going out into the world spread — it’d help short-circuit the black-hole of soon-disposable homework that you and I went through just the same as most students do.

    Some of the best students in my department — really, I’d imagine, some of the best on campus — are involved in this project, so I think they really can produce something cool, if they can hack the organizational stuff and knuckle down to work in a consistent manner.

  3. That’s cool, thanks! I’d be happy for as much coverage as possible, when it actually goes live. The tentative date is Dec 1st, which will leave the rest of the semester for their final write-ups of the project and a little wrap-up.

    (Maybe also a small chapbook run so everyone can have one copy, plus one for the library, a few extras for some other profs on campus, and so on.)

  4. Hey Gord – I hope that Vanilla works for you. You might get a kick out of knowing that Mark O’Sullivan, the designer and programmer, is a friend of a friend of Jack Illingworth.

  5. Will do – we met a few times in Montreal and once in T.O. I think. I don’t see Jack as much as I used to (I’m living in Japan at the moment, doing a year of fieldwork for my doctorate in anthropology) but I’ll definitely pass on the regards.

    (Bonus fact: Vanilla also comes to you straight out of Saskatoon, Canada!)

  6. Woah, my hometown! How the hell does Jack have a friend in Saskatoon? I though people always moved OUT of that city, not into it.

    Well, you’ve seen him more than I have in years, I’d bet… unless you met him in Toronto back before he shifted to Montreal, where I met him.

  7. To be precise, Jack (and I) share a close friend with Mark (a repatriated Saskatoon native). Jack and I are old mates from our days as undergrad basement dwellers. We still see each other from time to time, most recently in June, so I expect you’re correct on the frequency angle. Looking forward to reading more on the blog.

  8. Thanks, Stephen. Yeah, I haven’t seen Jack… I think, actually, in six years. Talked on the phone a few times, but that’s it. Miss the bastard, though… and of course, your name is familiar just from Toronto stories.

    (EDIT: I can’t remember if you were in the house when the huge guy turned up with the tombstone and the bucket of fried rice, but… there’s a warm haze of weird Toronto stories floating in long-ago-sodden memory banks here.)

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